Why FreeBSD is (and isn’t) My Favorite Operating System

Over at Webmasters by Design there was a very interesting article by Scott Spear about Why FreeBSD is My Favorite *nix OS. Like him, I find FreeBSD to be wonderful and like it a lot. However, I find that I don’t want to use it for everything.

Why I Like BSD: Small Footprint

FreeBSD works in many, many, many more places than Linux – and even more places than Solaris. There just isn’t a lot of overloaded kernel involved. As kernels grow faster and faster, it is refreshing to be able to use something not so bloated.

Why I Like BSD: History

Unlike Linux, BSD goes back a very long ways (longer than Solaris even) and is UNIX. It is possible that with the exception of Unixware and NetBSD, no other UNIX system has as much of a history. Some of the original developers are still involved in FreeBSD (Marshall McKusick comes to mind).

Why I Like BSD: Cohesiveness

No matter how hard they try, a Linux distribution can’t match the overall cohesiveness of one of the BSD systems (such as FreeBSD). Some Linux distributions are very well done, but they still have “missing parts” – usually documentation.

Why I Like BSD: Documentation

There is nothing that matches FreeBSD documentation in the Linux world. Once, I ran a test: I wrote a script to test for the existance of man pages for every binary in the usual locations on the system (/bin /sbin /usr/bin /usr/sbin). Red Hat Linux come up with a number of programs that were undocumented; FreeBSD did not have a single missing man page.

All of the kernel tunables can also be found in man pages, and more.

The FreeBSD Handbook is phenomenal, and a valuable resource. Linux environments don’t have anything like it.

Why I Don’t Like BSD: Linux (In)Compatibility

Linux compatibility fails as often as it succeeds, and it is more of a simulated environment than it is just a compatibility layer. It doesn’t work, it’s bloated and it’s wrong to rely on it in any case.

Why I Don’t Like BSD: Flash et al

Getting to use Flash in FreeBSD is a nightmare. Even following the directions is no guarantee that it will work. Distributions such as OpenSUSE and Ubuntu come ready to plug in Flash support, and Adobe has specified that they will support Linux. That leaves out FreeBSD.

This may be better in PCBSD; I aim to try it soon.

Why I Don’t Like BSD: Installation

Sysinstall is not the easy install process that installation of distributions like Ubuntu and OpenSUSE is. There are way too many technical details to comprehend.

This probably has improved with FreeBSD 7; I’ve not yet tried FreeBSD 7.

9 thoughts on “Why FreeBSD is (and isn’t) My Favorite Operating System”

  1. Just a note or three. I don’t think FreeBSD project aims at the same user-base as Ubuntu. If you want FreeBSD with Ubuntu like installer, go for PC-BSD. Sysinstall is probably equally “hard” to use as Debian’s installer. Personally, I prefer such installers. I don’t want to wait for a graphical environment to boot just to install an OS, so when I have to install Ubuntu I use the alternate CDs.

    The Flash issue is Adobe’s fault, not FreeBSD’s. I don’t think it’s the reason to dislike BSDs just because a company do not release it’s software for this platform.

    As for the Linux compatibility, would you rely on Windows apps being executed with Wine on Linux?

  2. On the documentation, I’d add that the FreeBSD man pages are also more complete and more accurate. (I’ve seen some pretty awful man pages in linux. :/ )

    Of your “dings”, flash is still really the big one. PC-BSD does well with flash, but mostly by using wine (and flash 9 for windows). I consider that more of a work-around than a solution.

  3. Flash works wonderfully as of PCBSD 7.0.1!!
    And install is a breeze, just stick to UFS+Softupdates, gjournal might give weird errors and ZFS is still experimental and requires a good machine to run comfortably.

    The only caveat for PCBSD is -for now- KDE4. I personally run Xmonad on top of XFCE as a wm, pure speed!

  4. There aren’t any serious improvements in the way sysinstall works on FreeBSD 7 it is till the same. I am really looking forward for finstall. But, looks like it has a long way to go before it is commited.


  5. I love FreeBSD, but I find your pros and cons illogical. I use FreeBSD exclusively on servers so your point about Flash is not relevant to me. Why would you want to run a GUI on it when there are so many better options available? I maintain Macs at work for my designers, test websites on Windows because that’s what the world uses, backup and serve with FreeBSD, run network and communication with Fedora and use Ubuntu at home. Its about using the right tool for the job, not trying to fix everything with a coat hangar and a hammer.

    1. The user interface is not about what’s under the hood; Linux, FreeBSD, or Darwin all have the ability to be a fantastic graphical workstation; it’s just that FreeBSD is still not beaten on by developers as much as the others.

      If FreeBSD is to work on desktops, Flash must work. Ubuntu is a good example of how things should work – as is OpenSUSE. Fedora is not.

  6. Flash is an option not a requirement. The web works just fine without Flash. As it does without DNS. And without GUI’s. These are “luxuries” or “panaceas” that have been marketed so successfully that many users do not understand the infrastructures that lie beneath them and without which they cannot work. They blindly and fervently defend them when anyone questions their purpose. What’s ironic is that these “panaceas” have created new sets of problems and new “headaches”, if one stops to think about.

    Anyway, I empathise with your Flash BSD woes. Have you looked at nspluginwrapper and nspluginplayer?

    I have tried nearly everything, from Linux emulation approaches to swf decompilation approaches, and, while not perfect, these are the best Flash solutions I have found for BSD.

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