Beyond Linux – FreeBSD Part 2

The penguin front is growing strong, gaining popularity with each and every day. The very same can be said about the ancestral Unices, the BSDs. Things are changing rapidly and BSDs have improved greatly over the years. Thereby, a lot of former claims drifting across the Internet are no longer valid. More so, they often deter potential users from even trying modern Unices. I decided to do the BSDs, and more specifically FreeBSD, some justice in that regard.

To begin with, the legendary ZFS file system is as strong as ever, with new features and fixes being introduced along the way. Frankly, in terms of safe (and redundant) storage of data, it is still unparalleled. I believe ZFS alone is a strong argument for using FreeBSD to run enterprise servers. DTrace, a tool for system performance auditing, is extensively used by companies as well.

A new feature largely expanded in FreeBSD 10 is bhyve. For many years it was painfully obvious that FreeBSD lacks fully native virtualization technologies. The legendary jails were of course in common use, but provided only system-level virtualization. Currently, bhyve supports BSD, Linux and even Windows 10 guest sessions!

In terms of common software, FreeBSD ports offer over 24,000 packages. Honestly though, only approximately 10% is in everyday use. Hence, below a breakdown of popular OS functionalities that are covered by ported software:

  • Internet browsing – Firefox, Chromium (crashes often, but works)
  • Music and video – mplayer, VLC, Xine, etc. (many more)
  • Image processing – GImageView, Feh, GIMP, etc. (many more)
  • Productivity/Office software – LibreOffice, OpenOffice, AbiWord
  • 3D rendering/animation – Blender, CAD suites and libraries, K-3D (libre 3D modeling)
  • Programming – Geany, Eclipse, etc. (many more + almost all programming languages covered)
  • Gaming – many native games and Linux ports

Unfortunately, there are some areas in which FreeBSD falls short for now:

  • Non-native file system support – full NTFS (Windows) support, but lacking support for Linux file systems (only ext2 and ext3 are supported in the kernel)
  • Graphics support – ATI/AMD cards only via the open-source radeon driver (no Catalyst)
  • Wifi support – only selected wireless chips have kernel-level support, hence mobile hardware has to be chosen carefully (Intel for all is a safe bet)
  • Software – some programs are not available in the repositories or are distributed by upstream projects in binary form; the Linux compatibility layer may help, but is not a fail-safe solution
  • Linux compatibility layer – many Linux binaries can be executed, but the code base is rather old

Despite the many cons, I would still strongly recommend FreeBSD as a Linux or Windows alternative. It is a rock-solid OS with logical and sane system management utilities. Frankly, one can actually get bored with how well it works!

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