Originally Published: Wednesday, 26 January 2000 Author: Matt Michie
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Buddying up to BSD: Part Four - FreeBSD

After a brief break from BSD, I had to return for more. This week I will be continuing the series with FreeBSD. FreeBSD is certainly one of the more popular BSDs. Many testimonials talk of extremely fast networking, combined with super uptimes. Internet power-houses such as Yahoo, Walnut Creek CDROM and even Microsoft's Hotmail swear by FreeBSD. Recently, FreeBSD running on ftp.cdrom.com sent more than a terabyte worth of files in one day. Other accomplishments include being used to render some of the special effects in The Matrix. Clearly this is an Operating System to be reckoned with....

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After a brief break from BSD, I had to return for more. This week I will be continuing the series with FreeBSD. FreeBSD is certainly one of the more popular BSDs. Many testimonials talk of extremely fast networking, combined with super uptimes. Internet power-houses such as Yahoo, Walnut Creek CDROM and even Microsoft's Hotmail swear by FreeBSD. Recently, FreeBSD running on ftp.cdrom.com sent more than a terabyte worth of files in one day. Other accomplishments include being used to render some of the special effects in The Matrix. Clearly this is an Operating System to be reckoned with.

I wanted to experiment a little bit and try my hand at triple-booting between FreeBSD, Linux and Windows. I dreaded the thought of attempting an FTP install over my 56K modem, so I scoured the 'net for a CD-R ISO image. Within moments, I found that the FreeBSD team had created official images and they were readily available on most of the mirror sites. Karma++ to the FreeBSD folks!

Unfortunately when I returned home, a little acronym known by engineers as MTBF or Mean Time Between Failures decided to lash out at my hard drive. There I sat, stunned. I looked down forlornly at the FreeBSD CD-ROM and realized I could cannibalize the hard drive from my step-child system. Still wanting to test FreeBSD's multi-boot capabilities, I attempted to install Windows 95. Of course, the idiots who put together my Windows 95 disc decided not to bother making it bootable. Instead of wasting my time, I threw in the FreeBSD CD-R and rebooted. Of course, this image was bootable and within seconds the kernel had loaded and started me along into the installation.

After a bit, a nice menu with the option for a Novice, Custom, or Express install appeared. Since I was obviously a novice, I selected this option. The interface was very similar to early Slackware and Red Hat install front-ends. When I proceeded to the partitioning phase, I was in for a pleasant surprise. Instead of the crude tool I had puzzled over from OpenBSD, I was presented with a well thought out program. I opted to dedicate the entire drive to FreeBSD, at which point the partition tool setup default partition sizes with the press of a key. I thought this was pretty slick, and definitely an option more Linux installs should consider.

When it was time to select which packages I wanted installed on the system, I was presented with another nicely formatted menu where I selected the developer option. The system started stacking my hard drive full of source code! This is another great idea that I've yet to see on Linux installs. Of course, source code to all Linux programs is available, but usually it is difficult to track down or to figure out which package they belong to. FreeBSD didn't discriminate and installed the source to everything. I'd heard about FreeBSD folks typing make world and rebuilding every program on their boxes. This made me a true believer.

Another nice touch was the PPP configuration. Having written CHAT scripts from my Slackware days, I can appreciate the value of easy PPP setup. While FreeBSD is not as straightforward as Red Hat, within a minute or so I was connected to the Internet, and I was still in the setup phase!

Afterwards, I installed and configured X. FreeBSD really didn't differ much from Linux installs here. If you can get X running on your Linux box, you shouldn't have trouble setting it up on FreeBSD either. YAPS (Yet Another Pleasant Surprise) awaited me when a menu prompted me for my choice desktop. Since I'd heard about problems getting KDE and GNOME running on the BSDs, I installed KDE.

With everything ready to go I created a root and user account and rebooted into FreeBSD. I started up X and I was grinning as a pleasant desktop environment filled the screen. Not bad. There were some problems with a couple of the KDE programs which still had some Linuxisms, but all in all everything fit together well. I immediately dropped into an Xterm to explore deeper.

Looking around the system my first impression was one of quality. I began rooting through the extensive ports collection installing some of the GNU tools I am used to. I didn't stop playing with my new box for several hours.

Next week, the descent into FreeBSD continues. How does FreeBSD stack up as a desktop? How well does the Linux binary emulation work? How does FreeBSD's networking and firewall tools differ from Linux?

Matt Michie is a student of Computer Science in New Mexico, USA. He maintains a small web-site at http://web.nmsu.edu/~mmichie.





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