Is FreeBSD a better choice for the desktop? (or dispelling myths)
30 August 2008 29 Comments
It’s strange I should come across this article in one of my favorite blogs just after I switched from my FreeBSD desktop to Kubuntu. I’m also surprised at the lack of knowledge and the propagation of some long-standing myths about Linux and FreeBSD for that matter.
There are some ways that FreeBSD (or better put, BSD) is better than Linux – but the comparisons must be valid and appropriate without myths and falsehoods.
Perhaps the primary myth is that FreeBSD is a complete operating system and Linux is a boat-load of different distributions in all different flavors with different setups and so on. However, FreeBSD also has a large number of alternatives, including OpenBSD, NetBSD, PCBSD, DesktopBSD, PicoBSD, and Dragonfly BSD to name just a few.
Another comparison is that FreeBSD is put together by the FreeBSD Core team and that this is better than Linux (which has a “benevolent dictator” model). There’s no discussion of OpenBSD, for instance, which also follows this “benevolent dictator” model. There’s also no comparison to Red Hat Enterprise Linux, for example, which has a large number of people working towards putting together a complete distribution, not just the kernel.
The documentation is definitely an argument in favor of BSD – virtually everything that is in the system anywhere is documented in the online documentation, and the FreeBSD Handbook is without equal. It can be proven programmatically that there are commands in Red Hat (or other distributions) that are not documented. I daresay that the FreeBSD documentation beats other BSD variants as well.
Another benefit of FreeBSD specifically is the vast number of ports available. There are more ports for FreeBSD than any other system but Debian GNU/Linux. The sheer amount of packages available in both environments has made them appealing to me – and perhaps to others. Where else are you going to get Steel Bank Common Lisp for example? Both Debian and FreeBSD have it.
The article specifically asked about FreeBSD for the desktop: FreeBSD is definitely not ready for the desktop at all. When I installed it for my desktop (twice now), the basics are there certainly – but there were numerous problems that I had to overcome. Among them, I had to set up my own system bootsplash, and had to configure and set up my own login screen (kdm). USB devices plugged in weren’t properly recognized. Hibernation and sleep didn’t work. Flash doesn’t work. Unlike what has been said before, the drivers are much less available than they are for Linux: hardware manufacturers don’t see a need to support BSD, and many new UNIX users (and developers) don’t see a need to use anything but Linux. Wireless support is perhaps an exception, but that development is centered in OpenBSD, not FreeBSD.
There is also, in my mind, a benefit to BSD that goes often unmentioned: it has the smallest kernel of the open source UNIX and Linux kernels out there today. FreeBSD and OpenBSD will run in smaller environments that Linux won’t: on my 512M laptop, a Compaq Armada E500, Fedora 5 would crash during the install (not enough memory) – whereas the much more current FreeBSD 6.2 installed just fine.
Now, when I installed Kubuntu onto a Compaq nc4010 with 1G of memory, it went will – and it recognized everything – wireless, hibernate, bluetooth, USB devices, PCMCIA, video display, power capabilities, etc. – all without special configuration. (I might note that, here too, on this machine Fedora crashed – this time the Live USB Fedora 9 crashed during exit – sigh…) Preconfigured and tested support for Flash, Java, and MP3s was a click away.
When it comes to the desktop, FreeBSD has a long way to go (perhaps PCBSD is a lot better?). However, on the server end, I would propose that FreeBSD is a better way to go than Linux in many cases (except for OpenBSD might, in my opinion, be even better). It is unfortunate that none of the BSD variants are often considered for enterprise server use – especially considering FreeBSD is commonly found in NetCraft‘s list of top uptime.