Saturday, November 3, 2012

I wanted to like BSD: But it didn't let me

This is not a review or a howto, so it does not go along with the theme of this blog persay. I would just like to illustrate my recent experiences with BSD in a journal-like format, and present my ideas on why it will never work for a desktop system in the state it is in now.

Scowering through the internet last night, I was reading up on FreeBSD, a system I have had an interest in for years. Jails were my primary interest, since I am an avid distrohopper and security enthusiast and Jails offer to make both of those tasks easier. Last night, I worked up the nerve to download a few distros (PC-BSD, FreeBSD, and GhostBSD) to try out the next day. I was so excited that I had a long drawn-out dream about BSD where familiar things had small differences to them, which is how I feel about BSD. Linux with positive differences. If only I knew what a shark attack this would turn out to be, I would have just stuck with Gentoo Linux.

Oddly enough, the comic about BSD installation turned out to be true for BSD installation and it highlights perfectly what happened when I tried to install PC-BSD. If you read "My Thoughts on BSD" above you will see that "...the first kernel panic I ever experienced was in BSD". Five versions and a release candidate later, this holds true for its second time. There was an error with ACPI that disabled booting.

Googling time. "BSD panic ACPI" revealed a kernel option called "debug.acpi.disabled" and its value "ec" to fix the problem. When I rebooted, it was to no avail. A page fault occurred, and the forums and #freebsd on didn't know how to fix the problem.

The same thing happened on vanilla freeBSD. 

Later, on GhostBSD, a major logging error, a filesystem reading error, and eventually a kernel panic brought the system down (I will admit, I dd'd onto a FAT filesystem which may be my fault, but it is normally the standard).

This run-around was a day long process of Googling and unproductive computing, that eventually led to the death of my hope of installing it at all.

What is wrong with BSD 

Nothing and everything. That statement holds true for what is wrong with BSD. BSD has so much right, it is just everything else in the world of computing holding it back. If BSD had proper hardware and third-party support it would blow Linux out of the water in terms of its features. Jails, a sane networking stack, and the beautiful kernel are what make me jealous of those that have hardware that agree with FreeBSD.

After 40 years of providing an ecosystem on which to compute, BSD developers should consider the fact that many of the end-users goals have changed. Not everybody is a kernel developer that can make proper use of vague pointer output and undocumented debugging flags. Likewise, some people just can't afford buying a CD or downloading and trying to install an operating system that may not even install, and if it does have to worry about the nearly nonexistant third-party support.

PC-BSD has got it the rightest out of any of the BSDs, but even that doesn't nail it. If I, a technical user, cannot install the system after a day of trying, it needs work. And hardware support is an IMPORTANT aspect of an operating system. If I had the money to throw at a third party that would do the same thing with BSD that Canonical did with Linux (let's face it, the Linux ecosystem would be FAR behind where it has gotten itself recently without Canonical) I would dump my funds into their wallets ASAP, but PC-BSD isn't quite there and it just seems to be a stagnant markup.

This will be my final rant about BSD until I can install it and give it a proper review. I really wanted to enjoy BSD, enjoy ZFS, Jails, ports, ksh, all of that great Unix stuff, but BSD simply would not let me.


  1. Replies
    1. The FreeBSD handbook is a great resource. Even better than Gentoo's, perhaps. But still, the underlying problems were with the hardware and I pretty much hit a dead-end with botting the system. There are just some problems that even the FM can't fix.

  2. You said it yourself. The underlying problem is the hardware. BSD doesn't have broad-spectrum support for every device under the sun.

    That being said, if you have the desire and need to move to BSD it isn't hard to spec out a cheap system, and that's what it will take. BSD is a workhorse. I had no trouble moving over from *nix but I did have to purchase a RAID card that was listed in the compatibility section on the FreeBSD website. Those lists are there for a reason.

    I think that it's unfair to criticize an OS that you haven't been able to properly install. Even with all of the advances around the Linux desktop there are still users who try it out, find out their sound isn't working, and give up. That doesn't mean that Linux 'doesn't work.'

    BSD is reliable as hell, but you have to use compatible hardware. Anything from some kind of processor scaling to energy-efficient hard disks could cause systematic problems for a more esoteric OS.