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KichigaiKitsune

Finally able to: Review PC-BSD/FreeBSD9.1 desktop!

This is it folks, the last geeky, operating system related, Linuxy-Unixy dorky journal I've got in me. Mostly because I'm still on holiday from class, and I have FAR more important shit to worry about.

Note that these techy journals are part of my resolution to make journals about things I enjoy and like, rather than unfunnily bitching and ranting about everything I detest. So, if this stuff isn't your bag, be tolerant, please. I do indeed have more interesting journals and, of course, stories coming.

It's 2am, I have no idea what woke me up, and I have to be up early in the morning to go out, so... yeah, typical day for me. Anyway...

For those who don't know, "BSD" (as in, University of California, Berkeley, Software Distribution) is a descendant of AT&T's Unix. There was a lot of trouble, years ago, about who owned what and so forth, which was a little shitty of AT&T, but let's leave that alone, because it's pretty much sorted out now.

BSD gave birth to Mac OS X, and if it weren't for BSD, you wouldn't be sitting here reading my journals. It shares common ancestry with Linux and in many ways is very similar - indeed, it's one of the handful of truly viable alternative operating systems out there, and it's totally free.

I decided to give it a try not too long ago, when I first started out experimenting with alternative desktop operating systems, and I was totally flummoxed at first.

Regardless of your expertise at using Microsoft or computers in general, the Unix world can be a bit of a surprise to you at first. There's a totally different way of thinking involved, for multiple elements of your computing use, and switching from Linux distributions to BSD can also be a little bit jarring.

FreeBSD, for instance, does not come bundled in a "distribution." Linux distributions are called that because they are actually a blend of "GNU" userland tools (GNU is an operating system in-and-of itself, another alternative) and the Linux kernel (the core part of the operating system; remember KERNEL.EXE?), and they're configured and bundled with things according to the developers' opinions.

So, when you download FreeBSD for the first time, you might be surprised to see it comes with NOTHING but the original work of the developers. It's all one, monolithic piece, and it doesn't borrow from GNU or Linux. In fact, as a result, it has no graphical desktop environment for instance.

Can you install one? Of course! The Unix-like world is huge and far more populated than you might think; the X(org) Window system works just fine with every Unixy system! You add all this stuff yourself, which is possible, if a bit surprising for a beginner. Can BSD make for a great home operating system? Well, ask a Mac owner. Of course it can.

So, I went through the backbreaking labor of setting up my first FreeBSD and Gentoo Linux systems not long ago, and I can tell you it's not for everyone. Luckily, there are several distributions of BSD that come with the extras necessary to set up your home desktop system. Yay!

PC-BSD has an excellent installer and is considered one of the best, most user-friendly operating systems and installers on the planet today. It's ultimately nothing more than FreeBSD with the extra desktop crap bundled with it. This is what a typical person is going to want to use, and it's what I'm technically going to be reviewing, rather than a stripped down, customized build of FreeBSD.

I recently acquired a low-end desktop PC, and I had plans to turn it into a media server almost immediately. Though Windows was on it, it wasn't activated and I wasn't entirely sure it was a genuine copy, so I bumped that and installed BSD9.1. It's not a hefty system, so I wouldn't have got much use out of Win7 anyway.

Now, there's an important question here: is it fair to only judge BSD on hardware that is 100% known to work its best (like Mac OS X), or is it only fair to use a random, typical desktop PC? I say the latter, because BSD has to compete with both Linux and Windows in this arena - how can it really stand up as a challenger to Windows or Linux if users have a reason to be genuinely afraid it won't work on their granny's normal, nothing-fancy computer?

So, this is just a typical desktop PC here. Intel i-5, 3.33GHz, 2GB installed RAM, Intel Ironlake. This is nothing special, no odd graphics card setup or any atypical hardware.

I made myself use BSD for a week or so, and although this isn't the best amount of time to truly form an in depth understanding or affection for the operating system, it's given me enough to go on.
I listened to music, movies, did my writing on it and whatever else I could do on such a limited system, up to and including organizing my furry porn folder. Because.

Here's the thing. Problems cropped up almost immediately.

First of all, BSD does not work with TrueCrypt. As I explained in a friends-only journal awhile ago, I got into the habit of using TC volumes to back things because my father is a homophobic, marginally tech-savvy jackass. It's just a smart thing to do. If someone steals my external hard-drive, they might be able to use it, but they can't trawl it for private data.

OK, but how about just taking the things I need out of the TC volume and putting it on a USB stick drive? I mean, USB drives need to bloody work, right? Oh dear, none of my USB thumbdrives are being detected - period. I can't mount them.

I try a larger external hard-drive, which works, but very cumbersomely. Auto-mounting is disfavored with PC-BSD using KDE. A mounting manager program handles it - though it seems to ignore me when I ask it auto-mount volumes I've mounted before. Hrm. Uh. It can't dismount volumes, for some reason. It's just not working, I have to go into the terminal and do it manually.
In fact, this is one bumpy road! Sometimes things aren't mounting, sometimes I see multiple mount points spawning...

Now, USB thumbdrives worked fine when my netbook was running FreeBSD, so I'm not sure what's going on here.

I'll just pop over to a virtual terminal and - oh hey, the monitor just went screwy. Why can't I switch to a TTY? Didn't this happen with my netbook too? This problem is known to the BSD community, and it's a sad fact that several of the newer Intel integrated graphics processors are just jerks. Unfortunately, there's no way around the fact that Intel may be the most common processor brand out there.

It's tough to blame BSD's developers for this. They're doing the best they can, and a home desktop system is hardly their number one priority. Regardless, many users using nVidia report success, as do quite a few Radeon/AMD users, so you might be totally fine using a kickass graphics card. In this case, I am not, but this isn't a major deal breaker. This is a little workstation for writing, movies and dirty stuff.

Internet works fine. YouTube and Nostalgia Critic, fine. Nothing to report here; of course BSD works fine over an ethernet connection - it's probably more reliable than Windows. Who do you think developed the TCP/IPv4 stack? You have internet today because of BSD, NextStep and Steve Jobs (yes, that Steve Jobs), to name a few.

Gaming? Not a great option for gaming. It's possible, thanks to Wine and a Linux compatibility layer, but it doesn't stack up to the alternatives here. If you're gaming, boot into Windows, Linux or OS X.

Overall, nothing is terrible, however there are a few hiccups now and then that mean I don't feel comfortable trusting the system. I'm currently writing this using Linux Mint, and I trust every part of this OS that I use regularly - I would bet my life on the fact that it won't crash if I plug in an external drive, mouse or HDMI monitor. That it won't lock up and fry when I open a chapter of my stories. I can't imagine a situation where I'd need to bet my life on an operating system, but just sayin'. I could.

Meanwhile, as I write this, the BSD computer is a foot away, crashed because of a screensaver. For no apparent reason; it will require a reboot. Luckily I had nothing going on there! Guess it's time to disable that screensaver... real pity, because it's an awesome one.

One important factor in whether or not people enjoy using an operating system is the desktop environment - to be blunt about it, it decides more often than anything else whether or not a person can enjoy using an OS. It's sad that this first impression means so much to people, though understandable, because these systems are unlike Windows. You can use dozens of different desktop environments and software suites, all extremely customizable. Windows, by comparison, is very boring. Don't like the default, KDE? Change it!

FreeBSD/PC-BSD looks like an absolute joy when used on a system that it plays nicely with. It's a solid operating system, and when running minimally as a server or firewall it's virtually unstoppable. A typical desktop PC may or may not work fantastically with PC-BSD, which is sad, because PC-BSD is otherwise an excellent operating system for a typical or beginner user. A computer-illiterate grandmother could absolutely use it and be right at home, even install it herself. Oh, did I mention Compiz works with it? Huzzah for the desktop cube!

I once saw a vociferous FreeBSD supporter declare "so what [if BSD doesn't have the same hardware compatibility of GNU/Linux]? Do you have that hardware? If not, then what's the problem?"
This is a good point, and very true. However, it loses a lot of its weight when you realize that some of the hardware BSD seems to have trouble with is actually very common - if we were talking about special things here and there that didn't work, that'd make sense.

One thing worth noting is that, though it doesn't support the very popular TrueCrypt, Free/PC-BSD is very secure. Home directory encryption that just works (Ubuntu/Mint's has never worked for me) and passwords at boot? GPG? Excellent security tools and jails? Overall robustness and the simple fact that, like Linux, you never need to worry about a virus?

Either way, it's worth checking out, yes. However, at this point, using this random, typical desktop PC I've got here, my conclusion is that PC-BSD is no better qualified than GNU/Linux or Windows 7/8 for home desktop use. For all its benefits and uniqueness, it's too unstable running on this hardware (Intel Ironlake). Definitely an education experience, however, and I learned a lot.

In many ways, FreeBSD at the moment is how many people envisage Linux - Linux has made incredible steps forward in the last few years, to the point that I've gone from disregarding it utterly to embracing it. BSD will get there, but for the moment there's just that slight chance that it won't work perfectly for you. As such, a fair comparison is impossible. If you have the right hardware, you'll love it. If you don't, you might be unhappy with it.

If you're impatient or are happy with what you've got, stick with it. If you want to give it a shot, absolutely do. Then you'll have bragging rights! "Oh, you use Windows, huh. I use Unix. Yeah. No big deal."

You'll be a douche, but you'll be a happy douche.
Viewed: 32 times
Added: 5 years, 9 months ago
 
indorri
5 years, 9 months ago
Heh, about that last bit, even given Canonical seems to be a bit of an up and comer, Ubuntu still gets a few interesting looks and queries from people. Maybe if/when it becomes more prevalent and I can go all <hipster>"I was into Linux before it was cool"</hipster> then I can go into Unix/BSD. :P

Granted, the Apple people have me beat at that, technically speaking. But then again I owned a Mac right when OS X came out for a year, so nyeh.
KichigaiKitsune
5 years, 9 months ago
Ironically, you do somewhat run into people who are like that when you're using Ubuntu/Mint anyway. Because they're such beginner friendly distros, people who have since moved onto Arch or Gentoo or whatever can sometimes leave snobby remarks for people who use them.

"Pft, yeah, I stared with Mint, but then I moved onto Arch. Catch up, n00b, you're not really using Linux yet!" - exaggerated example. >:3
Alfador
5 years, 9 months ago
Ubuntu/Mint home directory encryption not working? I'm nowhere near knowledgeable enough to help, but... I've never had a problem with it, how exactly is the failure happening? I'm curious. (Also worried: if it's something that's not readily apparent, it could be happening with my work laptop without me knowing.)
KichigaiKitsune
5 years, 9 months ago
Actually, now that I look at it, it seems to be working, mostly, just not as well as I'd like. I get an error message at the splash screen, saying the /dev/cryptfs cannot be mounted.

However, I can see the encrypted home directories when I log in as other accounts. But then I have trouble accessing/mounting encrypted home directories even as root. Very weird. I suppose, to test if it's working, attempt to access the directories using other user accounts. When you're not logged in as the person who owns the directory, the directory itself shouldn't appear - even if you're root. Instead, there should a file called ".username", which can be used by the operating system to decrypt and mount the home directory in its proper place.

... I think. I haven't looked into this for a little while, and I've started restricting myself to one account per computer. So I don't often really bother with this.

BSD typically uses GELI for its filesystem encryption, and that works very well. PC-BSD sets it all up automatically. Downside of course is that you really don't want your hard disk corrupted or anything like that...
Alfador
5 years, 9 months ago
Yah--I get that error message each time, but I don't have any user accounts other than the main one (and root of course), since I've never needed one at work (though I might make one just for testing various things, and fiddling around with how to set /etc/sudoers and the like).
KichigaiKitsune
5 years, 9 months ago
I'm very curious about that error message, because I'm not seeing it on my new laptop, or on the Ubuntu netbook anymore. Baffling, it is!

The only reason I had other accounts on my machines in the first place was to mess around with SSH, testing to see if I could hack together a versatile storage server that way. I mean, why be fancy about it? :D

The sudoers file isn't too complex, unless you're try to control things to a fine degree. Typically, a home user would just want to add a new user to the "admin" or "sudo" permissions group (but this grants a lot of power, obviously). Or add their usernames to the bottom of the sudoers files with `sudo visudo`.
When if you want to start controlling precisely what an account can do via sudo, you can actually list specific directories, binaries and commands, whether or not they need a password... iiiiit's kinda messy.  The manual page is pretty helpful though. Thankfully, I won't have to worry about it for some time! XD
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