Easiest desktop BSD distro

Polytropon freebsd at edvax.de
Tue Mar 29 21:43:29 UTC 2011

On Tue, 29 Mar 2011 14:45:27 -0500, Jason Hsu <jhsu802701 at jasonhsu.com> wrote:
> I want to learn BSD. 

I may emphasize the word LEARN. You'll see why later on. :-)

> I find that the best way to familiarize myself with a distro
> is to adopt it as my main distro (for web browsing, email,
> word processing, etc.).  

This is a typical use for FreeBSD. For example, I'm using it
as my home desktop for many years now.

One thing to keep in mind: In opposite to the Linusi, FreeBSD
does not come in different distributions. It is ONE operating
system. The base system is standardized. You can install
additional software by two means: either from source, using
the ports collection, or from precompiled binary packages.
Depending on your needs, one solution may be better than the
other. You can also use both ways in combination.

Systems like PC-BSD use the FreeBSD operating system (the base
system) and come with software preinstalled and preconfigured.
PC-BSD is very KDE-centric (which maybe is no problem). It
also has a third way of installing software: It seems to be
primarily intended to be friendly to those users who feel
familiar with the strange concept of downloading stuff with
a web browser when they want to install something.

> But the challenge of BSD have so far proven too much for me. 

There is EXCELLENT documentation that will help you: The FAQ
and the handbook can be viewed online. They cover the most
common things related to FreeBSD.

The friendly community of this mailing list will also help
you if you encounter a problem. Please be patient and read
the documentation FIRST. Really, it is that simple, and it
is important.

> It would take too long to configure FreeBSD to my liking. 

Admittedly, building and configuring a system from scratch
takes some time. It also REQUIRES you to have certain knowledge.
Trial & error will lead you nowhere (except into problems).
Still, as you wanted to LEARN FreeBSD, this is a good chance.
You'll learn the basics of UNIX, which are ESSENTIAL if you
want to survive in the UNIX world, no matter if you are on
a BSD, on Linux, or on one of the commercial UNIXes; basically,
you will find yourself in "learning by doing".

> I couldn't figure out what to enter in GRUB to multi-boot
> Linux and BSD. 

As I'm not a "multi-booter", I would assume that it is
sufficient to add an entry to the GRUB configuration file
to point to the slice / partition where you did install
FreeBSD into. It should be /dev/sda<n>, where <n> is the
correct partition number.

FreeBSD also has its own boot loader. The default MBR boot
system boots FreeBSD. You can also install the boot manager
which would allow you to boot FreeBSD or Linux. I've been
using it in the past, but that was maaaaaaany years ago.

> I tried PC-BSD, GhostBSD, and DragonflyBSD in VirtualBox. 

Do you plan to use FreeBSD in a VirtualBox environment or
do you have the chance to install it on "real hardware"?
If so - DO IT. You'll often see better results.

There's also FreeSBIE. It's a lightweight and versatile
FreeBSD live file system that you can boot AND USE from
CD. It's very good for checking hardware compatibility.

> I've found PC-BSD agonizingly slow to install and operate,
> and KDE didn't even boot up when I logged in. 

Maybe you should direct your PC-BSD related questions to the
respective boards or mailing lists.

> GhostBSD has too many things that don't work, such as the
> keyboard on my laptop and my Internet connection on my desktop. 

Okay, that looks like a total no-go.

> DragonflyBSD didn't boot up in Virtualbox.

I'm not sure if this OS - derived from FreeBSD - is primarily
intended for desktop use... but as the BSDs are multi-purpose
operating systems (embedded, desktop, server, mixed forms), it
should be possible...

> I recommend Linux Mint as a first Linux distro. 

I've been starting with Slackware in the 90s... :-)

It taught me the UNIX basics that I can now apply ANYWHERE in
the UNIX world. I'm not sure most "user-friendly" distros do
that anymore, as they tend to hide the essential stuff behind
GUIs. When there is no CLI, you won't learn ANYTHING.

> It's user-friendly, well-established, widely used, includes
> codecs/drivers that Ubuntu doesn't, and has a Windows-like
> user interface. 

The last point would be a no-go for me as I know much better
interfaces (more user-friendly, more productive) from my "IT
career". :-)

Codecs are no problem on FreeBSD, you install them as any other
software. Keep in mind that because of lawyer-blah, lobby-blah
and idiots-blah the codecs are not included in the base system.

> For those with older computers, I recommend Puppy Linux or
> antiX Linux as a first distro.  I'm looking for the analogous
> choice in the BSD world.

All the BSDs have hardware requirements (for the respective
operating systems) that make any "modern" Linux cry. Basically,
you need to CHOOSE WISELY which software you use. There is lots
of good stuff that can even turn "grampa-PCs" into usable
workstations. For example, I have a 300 MHz P2 with 512 MB
RAM and 6 GB disk that still works very well and all (!) the
so-called "modern" stuff.

> So what do you recommend as my first desktop BSD distro? 

There are no BSD distros. :-) Use FreeBSD.

> What desktop BSD distro is so easy to use that even Paris
> Hilton or Jessica "Chicken of the Sea" Simpson can handle it?

No idea who those persons (?) are. Please try to understand
a simple fact: PCs aren't easy. They've never been. They
probably never will be. Use your brain. Use your eyes. Read.
Observe and conclude. Think. With those simple tools you will
be able to install FreeBSD very fast.

See the documentation (handbook, FAQ) about how to install
FreeBSD and then add one of the big two (KDE or Gnome) as
a GUI. From there on, define your target. Install the
programs you need. Configure them.

THIS is the ONLY way you LEARN something.

> Please keep in mind that I have a slow Internet connection,
> and these BSD distros are ENORMOUS.  It took some 12-14 hours
> to download PC-BSD.

It comes as a DVD, right? For FreeBSD, you can start with the
small CD file to boot into the installation. Required files will
then be transferred via Internet. You can also use CD #1 for
that, or the live file system (should be able to be used as an
installation starter too, not fully sure).

Oh, and please remember: Everything that I've said is just my
very individual opinion, my own experience. Everyone else has
the right to express a totally different opinion.

Magdeburg, Germany
Happy FreeBSD user since 4.0
Andra moi ennepe, Mousa, ...

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