FreeBSD: a review

31 Mar

By popular demand of one person I present to you my review of FreeBSD 7.0. I hope to be a little bit more thorough with this review than I have with past reviews.

Things to note

First there are a few things to note about FreeBSD. FreeBSD is not an anyway Gnu/Linux. If you are used to Linux you may find somethings different about FreeBSD and you may not like it because it isn’t what you are used to.

FreeBSD is more of a server or workstation OS and may not be quite what you are looking for in a home pc out of the box. The great thing about open source software is that you can make it what you want (assuming you have the knowledge to do it).

FreeBSD has a Linux binary compatibility mode but I still had problems with Linux binaries (and one python script, I only tried one though). I presume that this may be, in part, due to system calls that are not supported.


If you have ever installed FreeBSD before then you know what to expect in 7.0. The installer is text based and can be kind of annoying. I’m not a fan of this installer at all; I especially hate the partitioner. I’ve tried to find some screenshots because I don’t have the set up to get them but was unable to locate any. To bad for you. The installer isn’t really all the complicated but I would suggest looking at the handbook the first time you install. First it will ask you some questions about settings and then you will be given the opportunity to choose what to install. After this installation will begin. It wants to jump around between all three disks (you can’t get a dvd) to install different things. It seems to have a list of things to install and goes through installing each one after another until it hits one that is not on the disk that is in the drive at the time. At which point it will ask you if you would like to switch disks. I would hope that you could say no and then get that stuff later but I don’t think I have ever tested it. I always just switch.

FreeBSD is supposed to get a new graphical installer sometimes soon. The installer is called finstall and is supposed to be release sometime in the near future to be used with 7.0.

Using it

The first boot

On the first boot you are ready to go and FreeBSD is completely installed as you may expect. I don’t remember anything interesting about the first boot, but it has been a while. As far as I can remember it was just like every other time I booted.

First the bootloader askes you what you want to do then FreeBSD asks what you want to do (regular boot or safemode or whatever else) and then you then you are dumped to a standard text login. If you want a graphical login you will have to configure that yourself. I’ve done it in the past but I didn’t mess with it this time around because it was ocationally useful to go straight to the command line. In fact, you will probably need the command line to configure X to your liking and whatever else you may want to configure. Like I said in the beginning this is not an OS meant for your average Joe. It is meant for a person who has experience with unix or unix-like operating systems.


What can I say? Gnome is Gnome. If you want auto disk-mounting you will have to set it up yourself (which is not Gnome’s fault but it would be nice if you didn’t have to). Other than that the only comment I have is that screen savers didn’t work for me. They also didn’t work with Gentoo so I would assume that it is a configuration problem.

package management

I don’t know if what FreeBSD has fits my definition of true package management, but it does have packages and it is easier to install software than doing The make dance. FreeBSD uses zipped tarballs(.tbz) as packages. It essentially just has a script that does that does the make dance for you. I don’t consider it to be true package management due to the way it works not with the packages themselves. All packages are stored on the FreeBSD FTP server and one must download a package and use pkg_add to install it (or you can just use pkg_add -r to get the version in the tree for your version or maybe it is the most resent one I’m not sure.) My definition of a true package manager is program that allows you to wield complete control over the software installed on your system. This means installing, un-installing, updating, auto-update-checking, version checking, searching, and so on. pkg_add does not do many or even most of these things. I have heard of other package managers for FreeBSD but I didn’t look into any.

other stuff

Fileroler didn’t support zips out of the box; I had to install unzip. This might have had something to do with my configuration when I installed. In any case if you want to unzip things make sure you have unzip

My mouse seems to act a bit odd with FreeBSD. It is really sluggish even after I have messed with the mouse settings in Gnome and also seems to have a problem moving up and down. There are two possible answers to why this is: one is that my mouse is a piece of broken crap, while it may be a piece of crap it is not to my knowledge broken as it worked just a few hours before I installed FreeBSD; or That there is a problem in X’s mouse support (Do ps2 mice have drivers?). When i reinstall Linux I will make an edit to this post on the status of my mouse.

As I said in the opening FreeBSD is not Linux and it should not be expected to act as Linux does. FreeBSD does not use GNU’s coreutils so many common programs will behave a bit differently. This isn’t normally a problem and I can’t say that I experienced any problems while testing. I am only aware of the difference because I use a mac which also uses BSD utilities instead of GNU’s.

In Conclusion

I know that I always seem to only find problems with software that I review, but that is because the problems are what stick out to me the most. That doesn’t mean that the software is necessarily bad just that it isn’t what I want. When I try a Linux or BSD distro I go into it expecting a fully functional OS for the purposes of my daily computing needs. FreeBSD is not meant for that without some love and care that I don’t have time to put into it. Therefor I must say that FreeBSD 7.0 does not meet my approval for an everyday home PC. I would however consider it for a server. From what I have heard most of the major improvements to the kernel are in areas that only really affect servers, such as SMP. FreeBSD 7.0’s SMP support is, from what I’ve heard, much better than Linux’s and allows FreeBSD to blow Linux out of the water in speed tests.

I’ve decided to take LinuxCrayon’s advice (which he left in a comment here if anyone is interested) and will be trying slackware next. I hope it can beat fedora for my distro of choice but I wouldn’t bet on it (and to think not to long ago I was a Debian guy!). I’ve seen it around and though about trying it before but just never did it. I’m not going to promise to write a review on it (I will if it blows me away).

Well I think that about raps it up for me. There is no way I’m going to get the read and edited so you will just have to suffer my typos and what-nots. :p


Posted by on March 31, 2008 in freebsd, review


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4 responses to “FreeBSD: a review

  1. linuxcrayon

    April 3, 2008 at 10:28 am

    Hi Justin! I can’t wait to hear what you think of Slackware. I don’t think it will become your (desktop) distro of choice, but I’m still interested.

    Just remember that with great control comes no GUI. 😀

    I’ve trimmed my development laptop (a 450MHz K6-II with 64MB RAM) down to ~300MB, and I’m still trying to get it smaller. I’m sure I still have a lot of packages installed that I don’t need, however they’re marked REQUIRED, so I haven’t tried messing with them considering it is a development machine.

    Fedora was great to me. But it didn’t give me the low-level control I wanted.

    Of course as I said earlier, low-level control means no GUI.

    And if you didn’t care too much for FreeBSD, you probably won’t like Slackware. Just remember that as far as package management goes, get Slackpkg from /extra on the DVD.

    Sorry to ramble. I actually have free time between two jobs and school, and a little human interaction (sort of) is desperately needed.

  2. Justin

    April 4, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    I don’t have a problem with the command line I just would also like to have a gui that will allow me to do the day-to-day things that I need to do with minimal configuration. If I had all the free time in the world to configure stuff I would have no problem with gentoo or freebsd. Fedora is kind of lacking in the low-level control.

  3. wannabe3000

    April 16, 2008 at 8:00 am

    thanks for this review, mate! i use GNU/Debian since ever and am completely happy with it. i always thought FreeBSD is the OS of choice if i´ll ever have to change…looks like the Gentoo way of doin´ things. 🙂 i guess if people after and after start recognising the luxury of a system like apt/aptitude, Linux will take over “average joe´s” desktop anyway.


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