We Are Developers 2018 – Day 3

Finally, day 3 of the Congress. My morning preparations were the same as on the previous day – water, food and loads of coffee to get my gears running. I was locked & loaded for 8 whopping talks. Since it would take me hours to write about all of them, I will only briefly summarize each.

First off was Philipp Krenn from Elastic, talking about the ELK stack (ElasticSearch + Logstash + Kibana). Apparently, the stack has a new member called Beats. It helps with creating handlers for specific types of data streams (file-based, metrics, network packets, etc.). I feel like that feature was missing in the current composition of the stack, though it only makes the stack bigger and more complex. I was actually investigating the use of Logstash + ElasticSearch + Grafana for sorting, filtering and cherry-picking log messages, but the maintenance overhead was a bit too much. I settled with Telegraf + InfluxDB (time-series SQL-like storage back-end) + Grafana. Telegraf’s logparser plugin simulates Logstash and InfluxDB proved to be an extremely robust storage solution. In addition, Grafana’s ability to handle ElasticSearch records was too rigid (pun intended) for our use case. So in general, it’s a “no”, but I’ll keep my log files open for new options in case/when our framework grows.

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Catalina Butnaru (right) show-casing various AI assessment frameworks

Second up, Catalina Butnaru on AI, however from an ethics perspective. Frankly, I am allergic to ethics and including it in discussions about AI, because ethics often derails or postpones progress. However, Catalina nailed it. Her talk was extremely appealing and real. I learned that ethical considerations should not go into the “wontfix” bucket and genuinely affect all of us. Well done!

Next, Joe Sepi from IBM talked about getting involved in open-source communities and helping build better software together. His recollection was quite personal, because he had to suffer from the same prejudices all of us fear when delving into an alien new project, framework or programming language. The take-home message? Never give up! Fork, commit, send PRs, make software better. Together.

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I skipped Martin Wezowski‘s talk to save my (metaphorically) dying stomach, but made it to the presentation from Angie Jones (Twitter). She’s an incredibly engaging speaker and the points she raised really resonated with me. All of us write (or should write!) unit and function tests. However, how do you test a machine learning algorithm or neural network? How do you simulate a client of a shop app or a human target of an image recognition module? It turns out that when dealing with people, machine learning can prove finicky and extremely error-prone. Actually, to the point when it’s funny. Until we begin discussing morbid matters like How many kids need to jump in front of an autonomous car for it to slide off a cliff and kill its passengers? 2? 5? 6? or Why does an image recognition application recognize people of darker skin tone as gorillas? Was there a race prejudice when selecting test image sets? 10 points to Angie Jones for the important lesson!

The next talk was given by Diana Vysoka, a young developer advocate, working for the We Are Developer World Congress organization. On one hand, I feel quite old seeing teenagers get into programming. On the other hand, that’s encouraging in terms of our civilization’s future. Listening to people like her makes me still want to live on this planet.

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Eric Steinberger (right) making convolutional neural networks plain and simple!

If Diana is a rising star, Eric Steinberger is already one for some time. A math and IT prodigy who can explain extremely complex concepts in such simple words that even a fart like me can comprehend them. He believes that AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) is possible and I believe him. After all, how do we define the requirements for AGI, compared to a standard neural network, which can already be purposed for almost any task? Obviously, we should aim higher than simple bio-mimicry. As humans we’re flawed and our potential is limited. Let’s not unnecessarily handicap the development of AI!

Finally, the last talk. Enter Joel Spolsky, the creator of StackOverflow! I attended his talk last year and was ready for more awesomeness. Joel delivered. Continuously. His anecdotes and stories gave a perfect closure to the Congress. It’s great to be a software developer and meet so many amazing people in one place. See you there next year!

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We Are Developers 2018 – Day 2

Day 2 of the We Are Developers World Congress is up (at least for me, since I don’t have enough stamina for both the after-party and another full day of talks). Compared to day 1, I made some progress on the food and water front. The local grocery store, Hofer proved extremely useful. Armed with bacon buns and non-sparkling water I was ready for more developer-flavored bliss!

Alas, the first presentation was slightly disappointing. Instead of a talk about accelerated learning, I got a lecture on how learning works, from which I learned nothing. Thankfully, the second talk fully compensated for the shortcomings of the first one. Enter Brenda Romero – one of the legends of game development (think Wizardry 1-8). This talk was doubly important for me, because I would really love to join the game development “circus”, but I’m not yet sure whether I have the guts (or a “more-than-mellow” liver). I’m still not sure, but the take-home message was crystal clear – just do it! Brenda had a lot of important things to say regarding not giving up and not taking comments from others too personally. The audience can be brutal and vicious, and the gaming industry itself is tough. At least I know what I’m up against!

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Brenda Romero (centre) talking about her childhood toy assembling endeavors

Numero tertio was a continuation of game development goodness. I originally intended to attend the AI talk by Lassi Kurkijarvi, but John Romero. I don’t think I need to say more to anyone who at least heard of Quake or Doom. It was not a replay of last year’s talk, mind you! Rather, we got a full story of Doom’s development, which to me was both interesting and inspiring. John Romero is an amazing game developer and the pace at which he, John Carmack and other programmers at idSoftware produced Doom was simply dazzling. While modern games are of course a lot more complex, developers from the early 1990s didn’t have the tools, such as SDKs or version control we now possess.

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John Romero (centre) on developing and shipping Doom

 

Later on, it just spiraled! I lost track of the talks a bit, since there was some major reshuffling in the schedule. The presentation from Tessa Mero on ChatOps at Cisco was quite interesting. I do use Slack and various IRC clients, but a greater need for ChatOps and its integration with the software development cycle is definitely there. I wasn’t fully aware of that, to be completely honest. Next, Tereza Iofciu from mytaxi gave us a tour of machine learning and showed us the importance of computer algorithms in predictive cab distribution planning. It wasn’t about self-driving cars or reducing manpower, but rather about reducing the load on drivers and improving clientele’s satisfaction. Computer-accelerated supply-demand, so to speak.

In the afternoon I took an accidental detour to a book-signing event hosted by John and Brenda Romero. Not only did I get a chance to talk to them personally (*heavy breathing!*), but also got a copy of Masters of Doom signed (*more heavy breathing!*). John said that if I read it, I’ll definitely get into game development professionally. I’m completely embracing the idea as I type this. One of the last talks I attended was given by Yan Cui on how he used the Akka actor model implementation (together with Netty) to solve latency issues in a mobile multiplayer game (MMO specifically). Obviously, it was a success and his convincing speech makes me want to try it out. It’s about concurrency, but without the overhead of traditional multiprocessing and/or multithreading. Although I don’t code in C# just yet, there is a Python implementation of Akka, which was recently recommended to me.

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Yan Cui (centre) explaining message relays in the actor model of concurrent programming

In summary, it was great to meet like-minded folks and actually talk to fellow game developers, who like challenges and don’t shy away from trying out new approaches to software design. Perhaps that’s what I’m looking for – challenges? Stay tuned for more exciting impressions from day 3 of the Congress!

 

We Are Developers 2018 – Day 1

To begin with, I attended the We Are Developers World Congress last year (2017) and I was quite amazed by it. I got to see John Romero, the legend of game development and author of titles such as Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake I. Actually, the congress inspired me so much that I decided to finally part with my scientific career and pursue a life as a software developer and/or system administrator (a bit of both in reality). To the point, though. The We Are Developers World Congress is a fairly novel venture and even the Internet knows very little about it outside of  the main website and single blog posts. It hasn’t become a tradition just yet, thereby media coverage is patchy at best. Considering that it grows exponentially in its grandeur (2000 attendees last year, 8000 registered attendees this year!), I decided to cover it myself.

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The logo from the 2017 edition (above) and the logo from the 2018 edition (below)

The Congress started with a treat already – a fireside chat between Monty Munford and Stephen Gary Wozniak (Steve Wozniak, The Great Woz). It was intended as a casual interview, but The Woz proved to be exactly the person as depicted in the 2013 movie with Ashton Kutcher entitled Jobs. Steve Wozniak is extremely chatty and simply adores talking about himself, therefore it was only natural for him to dominate the discussion. Slightly to the detriment of the “chat” aspect of the event. I enjoyed it nevertheless. Many important points were raised – the economy of social media (Should we not get a fair share of the profit made by Facebook and Google off our personal data?), the “I” in “Artificial Intelligence” (It’s not really “intelligence” if it’s programmed!), Elon Musk (Tesla fails to deliver, year after year…), etc. It was somewhat surprising to witness that Steve Wozniak hasn’t really changed since the crazy ventures of his teen years with Steven Paul Jobs. Quite the amazing spirit!

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Monty Munford (left) having a fireside chat with the Great Woz (right)

The fireside chat was followed by an interesting talk from Joseph Sirosh from Microsoft. He talked about the various machine learning tools offered as part of Microsoft’s Azure hosting platform. To be honest, I am extremely skeptical regarding Microsoft’s ideas, especially when it concerns open-source software, supposedly open to the public. Microsoft has a disappointing track record of using the embrace, extend, extinguish tactic against promising software projects and a sinusoidal quality trend of its flagship product – Windows. Accordingly, I took the with a bucket of salt approach. The mood among other attendees was similarly negative. Unnecessarily, though! Azure’s machine learning tools seemed very promising in the end. I do consider using them for some of my projects.

After the lunch break I joined the Headless CMS track, and after the initial slightly disappointing talk, I was enthusiastic about Jeremiah Lee and his JSON API idea. REST APIs are a big part of the Web nowadays, ever increasingly so. We do need a slightly more elaborate and efficient data format standard built on-top of the venerable JSON. At that point I realized that unlike the Web development track last year, this time programming language animosities were absent. The implementation is irrelevant to  the standard if we all agree on its importance!  The last talk in the Headless CMS track I attended was given by Kaz Sato from Google. The topic being machine learning again, but this time leveraging Google’s AutoML platform and TensorFlow. Machine learning is actually one of the main themes of this year’s edition of the We Are Developers World Congress. It’s very clear that we need it!

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Joseph Sirosh (centre), showcasing MS Azure AI services and APIs

To sum up, based on the various talks I attended, I begin to form a vision regarding the future of computers. We started with humongous, clunky mainframes and progressed into the personal computer era with the contributions from Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs and many others. However, the dichotomy returns. Computers turn into mobile “enabling” devices, which aid us in our daily tasks and ease our interaction with the world (and each other). Heaps of data at our fingertips! However, we need a back-end, an infrastructure of powerful serves to store data and organize it in an accessible way. In-between is of course a robust network interface which carries the data from the back-end to us, the clients/users.

 

FreeBSD 11.1 on ASUS VivoBook S301LA

I decided it is time to write a piece on FreeBSD, since I now officially use it as my main operating system both at home (alongside OpenBSD) and at work. My mobile battle gear of choice is the ASUS VivoBook S301LA. It’s a 4th generation Intel-based ultrabook-class laptop, one of the many released by ASUS every year. It has strong points, though also quite some disadvantages. I would like to discuss it from the perspective of a FreeBSD enthusiast.

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Photo courtesy of notebookcheck.com and the Interwebs

Hardware specifications:

  • Processor: Intel Haswell core i3-4010U @ 1.70 GHz
  • Graphics: Intel HD 4400 integrated GPU with up to 768 MB shared RAM
  • Memory: 4 GB DDRL 1600 MHz (soldered) + empty slot for another 4 GB
  • Hard drive: Western Digital Blue 500 GB 5400 rpm (replaceable)
  • Ethernet: Realtek 8169 Express Gigabit
  • Wireless: Mediatek MT7630e with Bluetooth built in (half-sized, replaceable)
  • Sound: Intel HD Audio (SonicMaster)
  • Webcam: Azurewave USB 2.0 UVC HD Webcam
  • Touchscreen: USB SiS Touch Controller
  • Battery: 4 hours
  • Microphone: yes, next to the Webcam
  • Keyboard: Generic AT keyboard
  • Touchpad: Generic touchpad with integrated click-fields
  • Additional ports:
    – left side: Ethernet, HDMI, USB 3.0, microphone/headphone jack
    – right side: Kensington lock, 2x USB 2.0, SD card slot

 

The good:

  • Extremely lightweight
  • Never overheats
  • Moderately fast after upgrades

The bad:

  • Paper-thin keyboard
  • Slippery touchpad
  • Highly reflective, mirror-like screen
  • Cheap, lower-end wireless card

Overall, this device is a fairly standard consumer-grade ultrabook. The crappy keyboard is something one can get used to rather quickly. I’m not a fan of touchpads, therefore I rely on PC mice for clicking and scrolling unless I’m on a plane or train. Nowadays, reflective screens are no longer an issue thanks to anti-glare screen protection sleeves. The obvious downside is that anti-glare screens lack sharpness typical of reflective screens. In general, the drawbacks can be easily mitigated with upgrades, which however turn the laptop into a moderate investment. The choice is down to the prospective user.  Furthermore, the manufacturer (ASUS) made some choices, which I am not entirely convinced by. Firstly, touchscreens are more useful on hybrid flip-laptops like the Lenovo Yoga. In this model the touchscreen is more of a nuisance when cleaning the plastic cover on the display and draws power needed elsewhere. Secondly, the wireless adapter is perhaps the worst of its generation with a nominal bandwidth of 150 bpms. Still, it’s more of a travesty to see it in high-end ROG gaming models (yes, it’s true…).

 

The FreeBSD perspective:

This might be somewhat disappointing. Depending on what one expects from a mobile device, the S301LA is either average or just plain broken. Not to sound rude, but I’m sure a Thinkpad or an Ideapad would be a far superior choice. Haswell HD 4400 graphics chips have proper (aka working) FreeBSD support since just release 11 and most other components are barely supported. The Azurewave USB webcam actually works (webcamd needs to be attached to USB device ugen0.2 by root, a superuser or a member of the webcamd group), but no VoIP software is available on FreeBSD out-of-the-box. I guess one could get Windows Skype to run via WINE or force the alpha-quality Linux client into submission, but that’s a lesson in futility, I think. Personally, I wouldn’t be using this ultrabook at all if not for the fact I finally managed to replace the trash wireless adapter with something half-decent (albeit from 10 years back) from Intel, namely the WiFi Link 5100. After adding another 4 GB RAM and a Western Digital SSD, I would consider this ultrabook worth the money and time. However, as I mentioned earlier, there are far better choices on the market.

On Using Computers

I’ve been planning to write this piece for a while now, though due to work related stuff I was somewhat hampered in my efforts. It’s a bit harsh at times, but I feel it should become a must read for beginner Linux users nevertheless.

I am a part of the open-source community and as a member I try to contribute to projects
with code, documentation and advice. I fully understand that for the open-source way of
producing content (not merely software!) to succeed, everyone has to give something. However, in the recent months I noticed a sharp influx of new users (newbies), who want to be part of the community, but are extremely confused as to its principles. Incidentally, these newbies “contaminate” the open-source community with former habits and expectations, and make it harder for both existing members and themselves to cope with this temporary shift in the user expertise equilibrium. I blame two main phenomena for the confusion of new users:

1. The open-source way is advertised as inherently “better”, which is misleading.

2. The open-source way requires members to think about what they do and possibly to contribute however they can.

Since the imbalance has reached a peak of being unbearable for me and other existing members of the open-source community, I decided to write this introductory article so that newbies quickly adjust and the equilibrium is restored.

I. User-friendliness is a lie
Following up on the thoughts laid out at over-yonder.org, I want to make this statement extra clear. There is no such thing as user-friendliness. It.does.not.exist. The Internet is crawling with click-bait articles entitled “The best user-friendly Linux distribution!” or “The most user-friendly desktop environment!”. These articles were crafted in order to increase the view count of the host website, not to provide useful information on the topic. Alternatively, they were written by people who are as confused as newbies. “User friendly” just like “intuitive” is a catchphrase – an advertising gimmick used to get you to buy/get a product. There is no extra depth to it. What people wrongly label as “user-friendly” is in fact “hand-holding” – the software/hardware is expected to do something for the user. Not enable the user to perform an action, but actually do the action for him/her. A stewardess on a cruiser or an aircraft is helpful, because she answers passengers’ questions, however she does not hold anyone’s hand, as that would mean leading every single passenger to their seat. If anyone ever tells you that something is user-friendly, ignore them and move on. You know better :).

II. Qualities, quantity and gradation
Generalized comparative statements are being thrown about virtually everywhere. This annoys me and should also annoy you after reading this paragraph. The truth is that most of those statements are fundamentally wrong, because they assume objects of different qualities can be compared using abstract terms. They CANNOT. A useful reference point is comparing apples to oranges. Can it be said that oranges are better than apples? No. What about apples being better than oranges? Neither! “Better” is an abstract term, which by itself means nothing. Therefore, saying “OpenSUSE is better than Ubuntu” means absolutely nothing, also! However, what can be done is comparing specific features of A and B. You cannot say “Apples are better than oranges”, but you can claim that an average apple is heavier than an average orange with specific examples of both. Color-wise, you can say that apples tend to be green-red, while oranges yellow-orange-reddish. You cannot directly compare colors, mind you, unless you express the color of A and B in a uniform color scale, like “the amount of red”. No fallacy has been committed that way. Therefore, neither software, nor hardware can be directly compared, though you can say, for instance that “openSUSE has a number of tools like YaST, which make it potentially more convenient for system administrators than Ubuntu”. Remember that!

III. The “use case” concept
Knowing that user-friendliness does not exist and that many things cannot be directly compared, the next step is understanding the “How” inherent to all problems. You have an issue or an inquiry. What is that you want to achieve? What are the exact requirements to reach your goal? What is the situation in which you experienced your problem? Being specific and being able to disassemble large problems into smaller tasks is paramount to understanding the problem and finding the possible solutions to it. This is true not only for computers, but for everything in life alike. Once you know your “use case”, you will know which hardware and software (including the operating system) to choose. Different operating systems cover various use cases or use scenarios, thereby understanding  your use case well will allow you to find the perfect operating system or any other piece of software quicker.

IV. Options, decisions and the “good enough”
All of the above being said, humans have this need to always aim for optimal solutions. Subconsciously,  they want only the “best” for them. What if it’s impossible to identify the best option? What if all of them satisfy our requirements equally well? Thus, the concept of “good enough” comes into play. Sometimes, the “best” solution is the first solution we decide upon and stick with it. No second thoughts allowed! Until we identify a legitimate reason why solution #1 no longer satisfies our needs for a prolonged period of time. Wondering which operating system to choose? Linux Mint? Ubuntu? Debian? Fedora? Perhaps not a Linux based OS, but a pure UNIX-like BSD? There are so many! If you’re a beginner, it doesn’t matter which you choose. Pick one, stick with it and change only if experimenting or your first choice was completely wrong.

V. Thinking and the individual responsibility
This will be a harsh one. Proprietary operating systems create this illusion of user friendliness (it’s a lie, we know it now!) and that the user is not required to take responsibility for his/her actions done on his/her software/hardware. This is one of the major fallacies in the computer world. The moment you buy a computer, you are completely responsible for it. Consider it your “child”. You need to make sure it’s always clean, powered up etc. No one will ever do it for you. Others can recommend solutions, give advice, provide support even, but the final decision is on you and you alone. Whatever you do with your computer, it is your success or failure. The primary reason why malware spreads like wildfire is that people are convinced that they don’t need to actively care for the safety of their computers. Dead. wrong.

The open-source way is not better than the proprietary/closed-source way. It’s different, nothing else. I chose it, because it aligns with my personal preferences well and I believe that it will prevail. It is for you to decide whether you can accept that. If the answer is “Yes”, I congratulate you. Go forth, learn and become a full-fledged member of the open-source community :).

Mission: Saving Linux?

Recently, I was really into the BSDs and fiddled around with OpenBSD on some of my PCs. I still keep it on one laptop and FreeBSD on my main workstation. The point being that the BSDs are a lot more consistent, reliable and if something works out-of-the-box, it will most likely stay that way for a long while. Changes are incremental and major frameworks are not being reworked for semi-valid reasons, like oh, this looks old. Also, the very clearly superior BSD documentation – cannot go wrong with that!

Nowadays, Linux seems to be riddled with Windows-like problems. There is a surprisingly strong emphasis on easy-to-use GUI tools and hype for certain technologies (*cough* *cough* Docker) that are far from production-ready. The main rationale seems to be make it easy to set up. Everywhere I look there is loads of fluff. As Matthew Fuller put it in his discourse at over-yonder.net, we should be improving the back-end and extending it into usable front-ends, not the other way round. I agree, it’s important to enable people to do great things with technology, but if the how is there yet the why is missing, we’re not getting far. In addition, there is a lot of wheel re-inventing going on. People forget (or simply don’t know) that many of the great frameworks and tools were implemented already and can still be used effectively. Then, there is systemd (a case study on bad software engineering) and making Linux things so Linux-centric that portability suffers greatly (see: Docker being in fact Linux + Docker on non-Linux platforms). So there, we need a hero. Otherwise, we’re doomed to drown in self-indulgence.

A rather interesting idea would be to take the Linux kernel (for hardware compatibility reasons) and build a BSD-like operating system on top of it. Forget systemd, NetworkManager and other tools that try hard to do something that has already been done successfully. Leave the kernel + GNU coreutils in a steadily improving base and separate third-party software into package repositories. Also, one needs to start fresh – a clean slate to avoid the pitfalls of existing Linux distributions. In fact, there is already a project that tries to implement some of the BSD concepts in Linux and per my very preliminary impressions looks quite successful. Enter Void Linux!

Void seems to fill the gap (pun intended) between the Linux and BSD worlds aptly. There is a simple (limited?) init implementation called runit that takes care of starting the system as our favorite PID1, and launching service daemons to get a certain degree of persistence. It’s a typical Unix-like piece of software – does its job and swiftly moves aside to let us do ours. Then, there is the XBPS package manager and ports builder all-in-one framework. Think Arch’s ABS on steroids. Instead of OpenSSL we get OpenBSD’s LibreSSL (huge plus in my book!) and the musl C library alongside (but not on one installation, mind you) the traditional glibc. Speaking of C, all of these tools seem to be quite robust and xbps is perhaps the snappiest package manager I have seen in a while. Although the developer team is small, it’s doing a decent job at maintaining Void Linux. It’s a clear sign that it’s possible to run Linux without unnecessary bells and whistles, yet with all of the standard desktop features one might expect. My generic ASUS S301LA ultrabook handled Void Linux very well and all of its hardware was both supported and configured correctly (Intel WiFi Link 5100, SiS touchpad, AzureWave webcam, Intel HD 4400 graphics, WD-Green SSD, UEFI). Below a screenfetch rundown of the setup:

void_screencap

Now, it is true that finding a solution to 14 problems generates a 15th problem. There are certain aspects of Linux system design that I don’t completely agree with and adding orderly features on top of a Linux distribution mess doesn’t make the final product more organized. However, it’s a very successful step towards restoring some sanity to Linux Land that we lack so much nowadays.

The Open in BSD

I wrote about OpenBSD a bit in the past. Since then I’ve been distro-hopping plenty like a nervous flea that I am. Eventually, I put Debian 9.1 Stable on some of my machines and that’s what I run at work out of convenience and in case someone needs Linux-related help. I cannot say I don’t like it. To me Debian feels like the FreeBSD of the GNU/Linux side of FOSS. It’s sensible. It’s stable. However, I quickly tire of the systemd hiccups, focus on flashy graphical frameworks and other annoyances. Then, I turn to the BSD world with FreeBSD on my home workstation and OpenBSD on this here VAIO laptop. Admittedly, I was somewhat curious about hardware compatibility in release 6.1. This laptop is more powerful than the Intel M based Dell Latitude E5500 I used for testing OpenBSD previously. Also, the VAIO ran Debian 9.1 well enough that I could do actual work without waiting long minutes for a JavaScript-infested Web page to load. How would it cope with OpenBSD however?

Installing OpenBSD is fairly straightforward and if someone has ever installed Gentoo or Arch Linux….well, OpenBSD is easier! Out-of-the-box we even get an X11 server called Xenocara together with the xenodm display/login manager (not mandatory). Somewhat unfortunately, the default window manager CWM looks extremely dated and the black-white-grey dotted background would hurt my eyes. Not to worry, though. Openbox was just a pkg_add away. In fact, most of the tools I use every day were also, hence I didn’t really miss anything. It’s FOSS and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I can reproduce a fairly standard setup on another OS. The critical point for me was whether I could install all of the Python machine learning modules I use for writing regression tests. pandas, matplotlib and numpy are usually available from software repositories. Granted, not on every single open-source operating system. Luckily, the Python package installer PIP provides fantastic means of interoperability, which I encourage everyone to use. Even with Windows *cough* *cough*. Soon after PIP completed its work  I was set up and good to go!

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My desktop look – courtesy of myself (and the wallpaper’s author)

Then there is the usual How to make my system more polished? I got myself a nice OpenBSD wallpaper from the Interwebs (see: image above) and proceeded to reading the official documentation to understand the system better. The login environment is handled by the Korn Shell (the extra crispy OpenBSD variant of the Korn Shell, mind you), From there we add packages with pkg_add and modify them with a slew of other pkg_* tools. If anyone is familiar with former releases of FreeBSD, he or she will know the pkg_* commands. The system (kernel + core utilities) and the Ports Collection source code trees are tracked via AnonCVS, a largely improved CVS fork. It’s quite noticeable that the OpenBSD project strives to tweak and improve existing tools in order to make them more secure. I still need to figure out how to adjust the sound volume efficiently via mixerctl. Perhaps I’ll write a thin GUI client in Java or Python (or port my favourite volumeicon) in case none are available. Or just map a set of keyboard keys to mixerctl calls.

When comparing open-source operating systems, especially BSDs vs GNU/Linux distributions, people often consider things like system performance, resource usage, software availability, etc.

  1. Is OpenBSD faster than Debian? Not really. However, on modern PCs any open-source operating system is faster than Windows or MacOS X. This should come as no surprise.
  2. Does it use less system resources? Perhaps a tiny bit, though many open-source programs are portable and any optimizations are rather accidental. To give you an idea Openbox + WordPress opened in Firefox + mpv playing a jazzy tune amount to ~700 MB RAM in total. Not too shabby, right?
  3. Are programs X, Y and Z available? This largely depends on what tools one requires for work. The typical assortment (LibreOffice, GIMP, Inkscape, etc.) is there for the taking. Also, GUI tools can be replaced with CLI tools with minimal effort (for instance, Irssi/WeeChat instead of HexChat). The only real limitation I noticed so far is programs that are only accessible in binary form or certain device drivers with binary-only blobs (see: nVidia). OpenBSD has a strong policy against closed-source software and unless the company in question has a good reputation of providing quality software consistently, I think full source code disclosure is the right way to go.
  4. Is my hardware well supported? For device drivers see above. Other than that most (if not all) Intel-based hardware works as well as on GNU/Linux distributions. For improved 3D performance AMD is a fine choice, too. Perhaps webcam support is a bit lacking, but many models like the MacBook iSight even are supported.

The bottom line is this – OpenBSD is a great Unix-like operating system. It’s super secure and has one of the best documentations out there. If that’s your cup of tea, join the crew. If not, at least give it a try. I can assure you it’s worth it. Finally, a screenfetch for the geeks among us:

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