FreeBSD – There and Back Again

Beastie On the Bike – The Blog

I guess it should be no surprise that I returned to FreeBSD once more. One of the reasons I originally started learning C was to be able to help writing/fixing wireless drivers for FreeBSD. Although I haven’t reached that point of proficiency just yet, I feel FreeBSD is truly the place I belong after all. From the intrinsic order of a cathedral, through good programming practices and complete documentation to great system-level tools (jails, zfs, bhyve, etc.). Reading the most recent issue of Admin: Network & Security made it even clearer to me. GNU/Linux is growing strong in the server sector, with new GUI-driven tools and frameworks for container management. Personally, I think that’s awesome! It’s a win for the whole open-source world. However, Unix is more than just GNU/Linux – people often forget about Solaris/OpenIndiana and the various BSD-based operating systems (FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, DragonflyBSD, etc.). They too are great server platforms, one can learn a lot from. There are scenarios in which a non-Linux Unix is more suitable for the same or similar tasks.

When I get hyped about a specific GNU/Linux distribution, I often consider how many and what people use that distribution. I typically stay clear of user-friendly distros for beginners. While I used to be a beginner also, the discussions in their forums and/or IRC channels don’t get me involved. Usually, the gist is that someone didn’t manage to accomplish something, because they decided not to read the documentation or not search the Web / said forums for a solution. I understand, we are there to help after all. However, the original poster needs to put in some effort, otherwise our aid is for naught. The other sort of issues appears after major releases. Something gets broken, because it was unintentionally changed and messed up a setup of this 1 in a 100 user. I’m then as infuriated as the sufferer, because these issues should not happen in the first place. Problems and inexperience drive me away from user-friendly distributions, but then again, these distributions garner the most users. We hear about OpenSUSE, Ubuntu, etc., but not so much about Gentoo, CRUX and others. It’s a conundrum I cannot solve. I end up gritting my teeth and plunging head first into the fray. Regrets come sooner than later, though.

Then, quite obviously I turn to FreeBSD once more. It’s extremely solid and doesn’t break, even when running -STABLE. When I don’t know something, I fire up man something from the command-line or read the respective chapter in the FreeBSD Handbook. Seldom, but still, for unanswered or new problems I ask in the forums. In most cases it turns out that the answer was indeed in the Handbook, just not in the chapter I would expect it to be. Fair game. One of the major concerns is hardware support. Agreed, it’s a tad behind GNU/Linux and Windows/MacOS X. However, the hardware that works, does so without a hitch. No forgotten or flaky drivers for common devices. It’s a matter of preference, but I’d rather have a narrower selection of compatible hardware I can trust anytime, than an empty claim that it works, there is a driver for it, while in reality it doesn’t. What about the popularity I mentioned earlier? There are quite some people on the many IRC channels and companies/organizations of importance in the world proactively choose FreeBSD for their servers. Recently, NASA decided to use FreeBSD for their project. Many more success stories are out there and they’re definitely a credit to FreeBSD’s outstanding quality. However, there is very little self-promotion compared to company-sponsored GNU/Linux distributions. The quality of FreeBSD seems to stem more from the honest work of community members, than merely writing about it (which I’m committing right now…). In that respect, FreeBSD is more community-driven than any GNU/Linux distribution that makes such claims.

I might change my mind at some point, but for now I’m happy to be back to FreeBSD. It’s secure, doesn’t break, keeps my data safe and helps me get the job done fairly quickly. All things considered, I would choose it anytime as my go-to server platform. Hope more people begin thinking alike.

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5 thoughts on “FreeBSD – There and Back Again

  1. I used to find myself distro-hopping on a regular basis. My first journey into the GNU/Linux realm was with Slackware in the mid 90’s. Linux was still in its infancy, then, and at the time, there were only a handful of distros available: [Slackware, Debian, S.u.S.E. (the original spelling), and Yggdrasil (no longer available)]. During that time, I also remember seeing copies of ‘386BSD’ on store shelves (which later became ‘FreeBSD’). I’ve used numerous Linux and BSD distributions throughout the years, however, I still find myself returning to either Debian (in the GNU/Linux camp) or FreeBSD (in the BSD camp). And as it stands now, FreeBSD has become more and more, my ‘GoTo’ OS of choice. Thank you for your articles. I really do appreciate them.

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    • And I thank you for sharing your positive memories and endorsing my work. It’s very rewarding to see that people actually do read my tech articles and appreciate the insights :). I too often distro-hop as it’s a malady common to all of us open-source people :P. However, following the same trend as you! I even wrote an entry on how Debian is the GNU/Linux equivalent of FreeBSD. Alas, I always feel sad when I decide to switch to Debian from FreeBSD, because of the availability of certain tools.

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      • I couldn’t agree with you more. As far as Linux distros go, I still think Arch holds the record for the longest time spent on any of my workstations. I installed Arch on an old HP laptop, and for nearly three years, I had a ‘bleeding edge’ machine with ten year old equipment. But when it comes to work, Debian is the only GNU/Linux distro I feel most comfortable running in a production environment. I currently have a file server running Debian “Jessie” configured with ZFS. And, I’m in the early stages of replacing two of our primary servers, running Windows Server 2003, with two new machines that will be running FreeBSD/Samba.

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      • Great to hear that you’re giving FreeBSD a chance. I think it’s entirely worth it! Right now I’m going through a brief period of distro-hopping and exploring Linux-specific storage scenarios, namely OpenSUSE with btrfs. It’s far from ideal, but maybe the stability is sufficient for my setup and the integration slightly easier. Not all Linux distributions favor ZFS as being “non-GPL”. Ubuntu offers it almost out-of-the-box in its Server offering since 16.04 LTS. Debian can fairly easily support it, too. Still, FreeBSD is where it’s at :).

        One of the doubts/fears I often have is that due to the overall popularity of GNU/Linux in the server and developer communities, I’m missing on a lot of interesting new features by relying entirely on FreeBSD.

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