Easiest desktop BSD distro

Chad Perrin perrin at apotheon.com
Wed Mar 30 16:01:20 UTC 2011

On Tue, Mar 29, 2011 at 02:45:27PM -0500, Jason Hsu wrote:
> I want to learn BSD.  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.).  

A word of caution -- as you have probably noticed in responses already:

FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD (the most well-known three BSD Unix systems)
are each developed as complete OSes, from kernel through userland.  This
is different from how Linux-based systems are developed, where the kernel
is its own, completely separate project, and people collect software that
they think go well with that kernel into a distribution package.  That
distribution package comprises an OS, but the OS "developers" in this
case are often more like kit assemblers rather than software developers
(though there's usually a lot of software development involved in
ensuring everything gets integrated into a smoothly working whole, too).

These OSes in the Linux world are typically called Linux "distributions",
or "distros" for short.  This means that, for instance, Mint is a Linux
distro.  By contrast, FreeBSD is not a "distro" of any particular
project; it *is* the project.  Both Mint and FreeBSD are operating
systems, but Linux is just a kernel.  FreeBSD is a BSD Unix operating
system because it is an OS descended from the original BSD Unix.  Mint is
a Linux distribution, because it is an OS assembled as a software
distribution package based on Linux.

The term BSD itself stands for "Berkeley Software Distribution", because
BSD Unix was originally a software distribution package based on a UNIX
foundation, assembled to a substantial degree by Bill Joy.  The current
BSD Unix systems, however, have departed from that model; the development
of the software that makes up the core OS is no longer a distribution of
software developed separately and collected into a smoothly-working
whole.  In each of the major BSD Unix software projects, the OS is now
developed as a cohesive whole, each separately from the others (though
they do share code a fair bit).  The BSD in FreeBSD is there for
historical purposes, rather than because "Berkeley" or "Distribution" is
in any way particularly accurate or relevant now.

As such, you may encounter some poorly specified, potentially confusing
statements that "BSD has no distros" or something like that.  Hopefully
this explanation will help clear up any confusion you may encounter.

> But the challenge of BSD have so far proven too much for me.  It would
> take too long to configure FreeBSD to my liking.  I couldn't figure out
> what to enter in GRUB to multi-boot Linux and BSD.  I tried PC-BSD,
> GhostBSD, and DragonflyBSD in VirtualBox.  I've found PC-BSD
> agonizingly slow to install and operate, and KDE didn't even boot up
> when I logged in.  GhostBSD has too many things that don't work, such
> as the keyboard on my laptop and my Internet connection on my desktop.
> DragonflyBSD didn't boot up in Virtualbox.

Perhaps if you could tell us where you encountered problems, when you
tried to "configure FreeBSD to [your] liking," we could point out some
different ways of doing things that would get you from zero to functional
OS in relatively short order.

I occasionally give PC-BSD a try, to see how suitable it is to
recommending for people who just want to avoid the Microsoft taxes
(including antivirus subscriptions, et cetera).  My impression is that it
is much like Ubuntu, in that it interferes with my ability to get things
done.  I guess I'm the wrong person to ask about something like that.

It is possible that some of the problems you have had with various BSD
Unix flavors is related to the fact you are trying to run them all in a
virtual machine.  Abstracting the hardware away from the OS might
introduce difficulties in getting everything working properly.  You might
be better served by installing something on "bare metal" -- directly on
the hard drive -- if you have a machine you can spare for that purpose.

> I recommend Linux Mint as a first Linux distro.  It's user-friendly,
> well-established, widely used, includes codecs/drivers that Ubuntu
> doesn't, and has a Windows-like user interface.  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.

PC-BSD is pretty much the analogous choice for BSD Unix based systems, I
think.  It is possible that many of PC-BSD's problems relate to its use
of KDE4; I'm not really sure.  It is possible to install a different
desktop environment or window manager and use that instead, though.  That
might relieve some of the difficulties you have with it.

> So what do you recommend as my first desktop BSD distro?  What desktop
> BSD distro is so easy to use that even Paris Hilton or Jessica "Chicken
> of the Sea" Simpson can handle it?

The sad truth seems to be that, unless someone else sets up the computer
in advance, some vapid media whore like Paris Hilton or Jessica Simpson
will not find any BSD Unix flavor that she can effectively use.  I doubt
either of them would have any more success with Linux Mint or MS Windows
without someone else setting up the computer in advance either, though.

Still . . . I understand your meaning.  People talk about the wonders of
Ubuntu and Mint and PCLinuxOS and so on, but in my experience they just
come with a different set of problems than the less user obsequious
approaches of Slackware and FreeBSD.  (Actually, I'd call Slackware's
installation "user hostile".)  The fact of the matter is that FreeBSD can
be very user friendly, but it is mostly friendly only with those who are
willing to invest a little time in the relationship.  By contrast,
something like Ubuntu or Mint is very friendly with any random person who
comes along, for the most part -- as long as that person bends to every
whim of the OS in question, doing things exactly as that OS dictates.
I've never been able to maintain a relationship like that, but I suppose
your mileage may vary.

On the other hand, FreeBSD offers an installer image not only for CD or
DVD, but also for USB.  Linux distributions like Ubuntu still leave
setting up USB flash media installer to the efforts of people willing and
able to grasp the process of turning a CD ISO into something suitable for
creating a bootable installer on USB flash media -- a process *well*
beyond the capabilities of not just Paris Hilton, but probably even most
famous people who can read.

One of the most important and helpful resources for getting an OS up and
running, configured the way you like, is the FreeBSD Handbook:


I have even found it invaluable when trying to get something working on
Linux-based systems.  It does not provide All The Answers, but it gets
about as close as anything -- especially when using it for FreeBSD
instead of Debian Linux -- and it is the kind of investment in the
relationship that FreeBSD rewards, too.

If none of this sounds like much fun, you may want to consider giving BSD
Unix a pass for a while, and come back to it when you feel more inclined
to invest some time up-front.  As vi is to Notepad, so FreeBSD is to
Ubuntu or Mint, I think; it requires some nontrivial up-front investment
in learning how it works to get full benefit out of it, but once that
investment is made it pays off in a big way.  That's how I see it,

> 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.

This is kind of a show-stopper.  You pretty much have two options for
downloading your own OS installer: get something minimal, in which case
you need to be able to download software as you install it -- making the
process of getting the installation process up and running much quicker
and less frustrating -- or get something more compehensive, in which case
you have to wait for hours and hours to get the installer itself.  It may
make more sense for you to order a CD or DVD installer for delivery to
your home, if you do not want to deal with the download times to get a
working system running.  If spending money on delivery of something that
you may not even like once you get it seems a bit unreasonable to you,
perhaps someone would be willing to snail-mail an installer CD or DVD to
you.  This last option is much more likely if a generous person who would
mail something to you lives in the same country as you, of course.

Of course, snail mail takes longer than a 12-14 hour download, but you
don't have to dedicate a bunch of computer resources to waiting for
something to appear in your physical mailbox.  It's a trade-off, like
anything else in life, I suppose.

Chad Perrin [ original content licensed OWL: http://owl.apotheon.org ]
-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: not available
Type: application/pgp-signature
Size: 196 bytes
Desc: not available
Url : http://lists.freebsd.org/pipermail/freebsd-questions/attachments/20110330/0661953d/attachment.pgp

More information about the freebsd-questions mailing list