FreeBSD 7.0

I saw the announcement for FreeBSD 7.0 on Slashdot this morning and, since my boss had just purchased Absolute FreeBSD 2nd Edition for me, I thought I’d download, burn, and install it. I only had a couple of hours with the OS today, and it’ll be a while before I can really post my full impressions, but here’s what I have so far.

  1. My keyboard and mouse didn’t work at first, and so I couldn’t even begin the install process. Apparently, BSD developers hate USB and therefore don’t go out of their way to support it. If it works, fantastic, but you shouldn’t use it. If it doesn’t work, you should have been using PS/2, clearly. Some BIOS have a way to emulate PS/2 so USB look like older technology, but mine does not. Strangely enough, a work-around was to simply move my keyboard and mouse to some different USB ports. Specifically, to ones not on the same line as the Ethernet port. Other options included getting a USB hub or simply ditching FreeBSD. Creating my own version of FreeBSD with better USB support would probably also be encouraged, but perhaps take too much time.
  2. As most people (and this book) observe with BSD, the install sucks. There’s no GUI, the menus are not intuitive, and the way it installs software is asinine. You tell it everything you want, and rather than organizing that and going sequentially through the discs (insert disc 1, install everything from that CD, insert disc 2, install everything from that CD, etc.), it goes by package, so you have to swap back and forth between discs a few score times during the installation.
  3. There’s no GUI preconfigured in FreeBSD, despite installing one. That’s fine, really; if I wanted a GUI, I’d use PC-BSD instead. Since I wanted 7.0, I went with FreeBSD, and there’s no GUI. However, when I got KDE working, my mouse didn’t work, and that was a bit of a surprise. It’s not that fancy of a mouse (Logitech Marble Mouse USB, and works on everything else after one fashion or another, but I get nothing on FreeBSD. Therefore…
  4. I have resigned myself to using only the shell, no GUI. To be honest, though, I kind of prefer this. I can sit across my office (which is, admittedly, not all that large), kicked back in my chair and still see the friendly, white text on the black screen. Also, the book I have doesn’t talk about a GUI at all, so it’ll still be easy to follow. The downside is that I like to have a web browser up to reference and research, and Pidgin to keep in contact with colleagues, but I can’t do either. I might have to relocate my tablet to this desk so I can have it next to my keyboard.

I was able to repartition my hard drive and shrink my EXT3 partition (which has openSUSE 10.3 on it) so I could install FreeBSD without losing anything. This is good because I’m clearly not going to be able to do most of my work on FreeBSD. It is not a desktop operating system. Even PC-BSD may not be able to do what I need (like remote in from the Help Desk when I have to cover the phones and run my Windows virtual machine so I can use HEAT, our ticket tracking software). But that’s OK, I can take a few hours here and there to switch over and slowly work my way through this book.

So far, Absolute FreeBSD seems very well written and has been enjoyable to read. I look forward to delving into it further in the coming months. It’s clearly not much of a reference manual, though, so I’m just going to have to read it straight through and glean what I can from this mystical OS based on Unix.

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