FreeBSD vs the GNU/Linux Desktop Conundrum

Like many people before me I moved to FreeBSD for good. I managed to get it working on several desktops and 2 completely different laptops. Although it was tricky at times, the majestic Handbook and forums helped me plenty. In addition, I quickly learned a lot more about electronics and hardware-software cross-talk than I would ever have on GNU/Linux. I greatly appreciate the work done by FreeBSD developers and users, and look with certain reservation at what is happening on the GNU/Linux side of FOSS.

For some years now GNU/Linux seems to be suffering from an identity crisis. It’s commonly used as a workstation operating system, especially in various fields of scientific research. In addition, it powers all of world’s supercomputers and the majority of servers. However, in recent times much of the Internet noise on GNU/Linux revolves around making it so user-friendly that even a chimp with NASA training would be able to use it. If numbers serve me right, desktop and user-friendliness are the domains of Mac OS X and Windows. Unless hell freezes over and both Apple AND Microsoft magically disappear, the status quo will not budge a millimeter. Why then the push for absolute dumbing down of GNU/Linux?

Making GNU/Linux user-friendly reduces the necessary computer skill entry threshold. This means that my granddad (if he lived) would still be able to use his half-defunct x86 desktop PC. That’s actually fantastic and I’m all up for that. However, what is happening is a major reshaping of the whole GNU/Linux ecosystem. Pulse Audio was designed (with some good will?) to combat the supposed fragmentation of ALSA. You want your distribution to run Pulse Audio by default – no problem. Don’t, however, spoon-feed it to the whole community, darn it! We’re not ducks!

In addition, GNU/Linux is being advertised in a misleading way, which entices former Windows/Mac OS X users and developers. ‘GNU/Linux is resistant/immune to viruses, malware, hacks, etc.’ Alas, this is a complete load of brahmin droppings. Not only that, it encourages laziness and leads to major security holes like the one Linux Mint suffered from recently. The mentioned users come with Windows/Mac OS X standards and further mold the GNU/Linux ecosystem. They want to make GNU/Linux a better Windows. How can GNU/Linux be Windows and yet be better? This assumption is logically flawed. Then, we have the most popular GNU/Linux distribution, Ubuntu. It has monopolized the GNU/Linux ecosystem to such an extreme that most of the other distributions don’t matter outside of open-source communities. 99% of people I know think that ‘GNU/Linux’ == ‘Ubuntu’, should they know the term Linux at all.

I recall when I started my GNU/Linux journey. It used to be more Unix-like, just as my father remembered. Simple terminal commands, global configuration files called something.conf in reasonable places, etc. This is the Unix definition of easy. It requires some learning, though learning is good, because it helps us humans evolve. For those who cannot learn, approachable products based on Unix should be produced. This makes sense to me. However, infesting the whole ecosystem with big, obstructive tools to fix small problems is a major no no in my book. Developing new and improving old technologies to serve the world is good. Encouraging people to be lazy and pleasure-driven is absolutely not.

Those are sort of the reasons why I switched to FreeBSD. It’s simple in the Unix sense. Once the user understands the underlying paradigms, everything becomes crystal clear. Also, the Handbook – with it googling for problems is not much of a necessity anymore. Not to mention that FreeBSD allows building user-friendly operating systems, without the need to break FreeBSD itself. I don’t hate on GNU/Linux for what it is and what it was. I resent what it’s trying to become for all the wrong reasons. It will never work, don’t go that way…

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6 thoughts on “FreeBSD vs the GNU/Linux Desktop Conundrum

  1. “I resent what it’s trying to become for all the wrong reasons. It will never work, don’t go that way…”

    youre not alone in this. apart from me, other people that share some of your sentiments here are:

    linas vepstas: http://linas.org/?utm_content=buffer5190b

    steve litt: http://troubleshooters.com/linux/avoid_complexity.htm

    personally, while i agree that the cli is useful and even beneficial to get comfortable with, i dont even think of this is a cli vs gui thing. i think of it as an abstraction vs obstruction thing. the newer abstractions obstruct, and if steve makes any sense with his theory, its by design.

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  2. This post perfectly reflects my feelings regarding Linux. I got into Linux because I wanted control over what is and is not on my computer. All the abstraction and layers seems to be making it more and more difficult to stick a new part in or remove something I feel I don’t need. Have the popular distros forgotten the Unix maxim of “Do one thing and do it well” or the software principle of “Keep it Simple Stupid”? I’m planning on changing over to a Free BSD system soon. Any Advice?

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    • The base install is very minimal, though by all means functional. Before committing, I would check whether your WiFi adapter (if you have such) has drivers for FreeBSD (for 10.3-RELEASE: https://www.freebsd.org/releases/10.3R/hardware.html). I don’t use ZFS, since I only have a single SATA hard drive. For ZFS support and setup refer to the Handbook (https://www.freebsd.org/doc/en_US.ISO8859-1/books/handbook/zfs.html). Post-install I would set up a firewall as soon as possible. Packet Filter (PF) is quite simple and has great documentation (https://www.freebsd.org/doc/handbook/firewalls-pf.html, http://www.openbsd.org/faq/pf/). Sound device configuration is among the most tricky as usually it doesn’t work out-of-the-box. Refer to https://www.freebsd.org/doc/handbook/sound-setup.html, the manpages for hda_snd and device.hints. Getting the sound to work is just a matter of directing the input and output correctly :). Other than that pkg for binary port management and freebsd-update for kernel patches if you’re running -RELEASE.

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      • Hi Andy. What do you recommend is a good place for someone that is on the low-end of the spectrum as an intermediately skilled Linux user (like me) to read up on the differences between FreeBSD and OpenBSD? Or, perhaps I can get lucky enough that you would put forward an explanation yourself, if and when you can manage it.

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      • I think most ‘FreeBSD vs OpenBSD’ finds through DuckDuckGo, Google, etc. will give you a good initial impression. In general OpenBSD is more focused on security, software stability and general programming sanity. FreeBSD is geared towards servers with strong emphasis on service management and virtualization. I feel FreeBSD is a tad easier to handle, though it is important for you to define the ‘sufficient’. What functionalities you find mandatory for comfort, etc.

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