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In Favor of FreeBSD On the Desktop 487

Posted by timothy
from the tricky-little-devil dept.
snydeq writes "Deep End's Paul Venezia wonders why more folks aren't using FreeBSD on the desktop. 'There used to be a saying — at least I've said it many times — that my workstations run Linux, my servers run FreeBSD. Sure, it's quicker to build a Linux box, do a "yum install x y z" and toss it out into the wild as a fully functional server, but the extra time required to really get a FreeBSD box tuned will come back in spades through performance and stability metrics. You'll get more out of the hardware, be that virtual or physical, than you will on a generic Linux binary installation.'"
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In Favor of FreeBSD On the Desktop

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  • by gentryx (759438) * on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @10:30AM (#37984612) Homepage Journal
    At least it's that way for us in HPC. Sure, FreeBSD is rock stable and all, but if you run stable, you'll be trailing behind and won't get to use the latest packages. This may be fine for ordinary HTTP server, but when you need an updated NUMA aware scheduler for your 48 core/4 socket machine or the latest drivers for your InfiniBand hardware, then you'll happily give up some alleged increase in stability in favor of real performance. Same is true for Debian stable.
    • And, those are the real situations where you need the performance you allegedly get by using BSD. Honestly, for most day to day purposes eeking a few extra performance percentages out of a box is not all that big of a deal. Most computers are more than powerful enough to do most of what we want them too most of the time. This is true even in server class installs except at the most cutting edge.

      When I really need the most performance out of a box (HPC, high end servers, etc) I'm going to spend the money

    • by hedwards (940851)

      If you're concerned with being up to date, you use ports which are rarely much out of date. Except maybe for some of the less popular ones.

      And really, you should be rolling your own as you can optimize them for use with more modern processors.

  • by kriston (7886) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @10:33AM (#37984640) Homepage Journal

    Are you really suggesting that the time I spend will "come back in spades?"

    Sorry, but as a longtime FreeBSD user and having wasted days of my life getting the graphics card to work and then tuning every last parameter, I'll take Ubuntu or Fedora on my desktop, thanks.

    Sorry, but it's not worth the time and whatever "spades" you're getting paid pack in are 99% emotional, not physical.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Oblig xkcd [xkcd.com].
      • by Entrope (68843)

        It is one thing to look at somebody else's work product and be impressed. It's an entirely different thing to look at your own and decide that, yea verily, that was a nearly optimal way to spend your time. (The major difference is that you usually have a much better idea of how much time and frustration you spent than what someone else spent.) Unless your objective is making computers run fast or maintaining the OS, time spent tweaking things at a low level -- which FreeBSD requires -- is probably not wo

      • by Joce640k (829181)

        I was expecting this one: https://www.xkcd.com/963/ [xkcd.com]

    • by hedwards (940851)

      You must not have been very good if you had that much trouble. I started using FreeBSD over a decade ago and I never had that much trouble getting my graphics cards to work. Some of them weren't supported at all, so I just used the VESA, but once I started buying with FreeBSD in mind I never had that kind of trouble either.

      If you're taking that much time and effort to tune a video card you're never going to get the time back, and it doesn't matter what OS you use, in my experience FreeBSD doesn't take any m

    • by IICV (652597)

      Sorry, but it's not worth the time and whatever "spades" you're getting paid pack in are 99% emotional, not physical.

      Yeah, that's exactly what I was wondering. I actually RTFA'd to see if the author had any sort of real statistics, but he really doesn't; the one thing that's presented as any sort of evidence is Netcraft's list [netcraft.com] of most reliable hosting companies for February, which is pretty meaningless. Sure, the top three are running FreeBSD, but every other company on the list is running Linux (besides nu

      • And finally, the server admins who choose FreeBSD are pretty self-selecting. Someone who really knows how to tune and administer Linux is probably going to have just as stable a system as someone who really knows FreeBSD.

        Unless the Linux admin needs PPS or ZFS. Speaking as someone who had to implement PPS in Linux, there have been many times where I wished I could just use FreeBSD. I couldn't because there were board support packages for Linux that weren't close to being available for any of the BSDs.

    • Benchmarks (Score:4, Informative)

      by Chemisor (97276) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @11:20AM (#37985294)

      Sorry, but it's not worth the time and whatever "spades" you're getting paid pack in are 99% emotional, not physical.

      These benchmarks [phoronix.com] say that Linux is usually faster than any BSD flavor.

      As for stability, I can't find any definite stats on this. Personally, haven't seen a Linux crash since 1997, and that's a pretty damn long time.

    • by justin12345 (846440) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @11:24AM (#37985368)
      Paul's question, "why more folks aren't using FreeBSD on the desktop?" can be answered in two words: hardware support. My business partner is a huge proponent of BSD, and so am I... but the only on the servers.

      One time we installed NetBSD on an old laptop. It ran ok so long as you kept the power supply in the office freezer. Otherwise it would start to smoke. No graphics card or wifi, but that's to be expected. And USB devices were pretty hit and miss.

      I'm sure BSD (in general) has probably come a long way since then, but I really don't care to find out. Installing a strange new OS doesn't give me satisfaction anymore. I haven't even booted into Linux for a couple years. And I've gotten too lazy to bother with Windows and their crazy DRM schemes. At the risk of sounding like an fanboy, Apple really did something right when they bought NeXTStep. OS X is perfectly positioned at the intersection of power vs convenience. It would be very hard to give up. I'm not exactly thrilled with iOS creeping in, but I suppose if they screw OS X up I can always just install an old version.
  • by water-and-sewer (612923) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @10:37AM (#37984694) Homepage

    I dual boot my Linux desktop, and spend a lot of time in FreeBSD (I used PC-BSD, which installs pretty easily). These days, one of its advantages is that you can still have a KDE3 or Gnome2 desktop - worth it indeed!

    • by couchslug (175151)

      "These days, one of its advantages is that you can still have a KDE3 or Gnome2 desktop - worth it indeed!"

      There are plenty of other desktop options which are lighter and faster than either of those. Not worth it to me.

  • m-( (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lazy Jones (8403) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @10:38AM (#37984720) Homepage Journal
    tl;dr - guy uses 10 years old hardware and wonders why an OS that works fine for him doesn't appeal to everyone else...

    We switched our last servers from FreeBSD to Linux about 10 years ago because FreeBSD had crappy SMP support. Seriously, why does something like this get posted to /.?
    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by Entrope (68843)

      These stories get posted so that people have threads where they can say "Netcraft confirms: FreeBSD is dead" ... and have it be remotely on topic.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      I'd mark you troll if I hadn't already posted in this particular thread. It's been 10 years, there has been substantial work on SMP in the interim. I did take a quick look to see if there were any comparisons of the two and couldn't find any that were even remotely recent. The most recent being FreeBSD 5 and 6 against a Linux kernel 2.6+, which is hardly recent enough to consider current.

      • There are some benchmarks of FreeBSD 7 against Linux of the same era [freebsd.org] (that graph includes the version of Linux that was specifically released after the previous set of benchmarks showed FreeBSD beating Linux by even more). Both Linux and FreeBSD have improved in SMP support since then, so I don't know how they compare anymore. I suspect that both are in the state where the kernel is not likely to be the cause of any scalability issues that you encounter.
    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Not to be mean but I do have wonder about this statement. "Sure, it's quicker to build a Linux box, do a "yum install x y z" and toss it out into the wild as a fully functional server, but the extra time required to really get a FreeBSD box tuned will come back in spades through performance and stability metrics."

      What if you spend that extra time to also tune the Linux box. I am not a BSD hater but last time I checked Linux had better support for SMP and in my experience it has been very stable and performs

  • by bengoerz (581218) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @10:40AM (#37984746)
    The author himself gives the reason: "Right up until last week, this FreeBSD box had an uptime of 1,057 days, or nearly three years. This streak was broken only due to a UPS failure during a brief power outage... And this box has been rock-solid stable the entire 10 years, with only a disk failure or two in the middle." Considering hardware failure will eventually bring down the machine anyway, there's little to no difference in uptime between a "rock solid" BSD install versus a "also-solid" Linux install.
    • by dreemernj (859414)
      And individual stories like his three year uptime server are worthless. I have a server in a closet running Windows 2000 Server. It is in constant use by hundreds of employees and its uptime is over a thousand days right now. It too has only really had issues with a UPS failure at a bad time. And it hasn't had any drives die since it was installed in 2001.

      Does that mean Windows 2000 Server is better than Linux or FreeBSD? No! It means that anecdotes like these aren't helpful at all.
    • by Archangel Michael (180766) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @11:50AM (#37985734) Journal

      1) Three Year Old Server, is time to retire the hardware, and replace it with new equipment.

      2) Same box for 10 years, sounds like disaster waiting to happen (Hardware wise), and I surely wouldn't want anything mission critical on it.

      3) Ten year old box is a PIV era machine, with perhaps 3.6 GB ram, my current laptop has more power and ram and could run that machine in the background in a VM.

      4) A single UPS failure shouldn't break mission critical server, as they would have dual power supplies and run on independent Power circuits, with generator backup.

      However after reading #1 and #2 you realize that this is a theme that is building. THAT is why people don't believe these types of trolls.

  • FreeBSD ports just aren't as comprehensive as Debian's repository.

  • Hostile community (Score:2, Interesting)

    by hessian (467078)

    The FreeBSD community takes a "blame the user" stance that is going to alienate most desktop users, who want to use the machine to get something done and don't want to be held up by snafus that may take days to fix.

    Much of BSD's documentation is wrong or vague, many things are still broken within the OS and especially in the parts a desktop user would use, and when there is a problem, there's nowhere to go for a clear, quick solution.

    A friend of mine installed FreeBSD on some older hardware and couldn't get

    • by Danzigism (881294)
      after using FreeBSD for over 10 years, I've never once seen "FreeBSD code" cause problems with a mouse not working.
  • When I have a list of 200+ servers and VMs that I'm responsible for, as well as the applications that run on them, who has time to tune each server? While a nice idea, it's simply not practical at the scale most large businesses run at.

    We used to use FreeBSD on some servers, but they all quickly became dead ends, as OS patches and upgrades were painful and time consuming. Now we're a SLES house.

  • Use Gentoo (Score:5, Informative)

    by doconnor (134648) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @10:44AM (#37984810) Homepage

    If you want your Operating System tuned and customized to your hardware can't you just use Gentoo Linux? Then you won't lose the benefits of the better support that Linux has.

  • more stability? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by james_van (2241758) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @10:45AM (#37984814)
    all the linux fanbois i know are always raving about "OMGZ teh linux is uber stable, i only have to reboot every 6.1 years!" and looking down their noses at me as a poor, foolish windows user. youre saying theres something even more stable? those guys must be insufferable
    • by daid303 (843777)

      Every OS is as stable as the user.

      Also, if you apply updates you need to restart those services. If X.org gets updated then you might as well restart you computer. (FYI: X.org runs below all the GUI stuff). I think Windows and Linux are about as stable as an OS. I run windows at home, Linux at work. So I do experience both. All crashes and reboots I had so far I could relate to: "updates on critical parts" or "hardware problems".

      I do have to say that hardware problems are usually easier to diagnose in Linux

  • 2012: The year of the FreeBSD desktop? Hurry while we still have time before the Mayan calender and the asteroids and Nibiru hit!

  • Frankly, I've tried using FreeBSD three times in my life and gave up each time. It's just too bleeding involved to get it up and running to your expectations especially when there's a Debian installation that I can have up and running to perfection in about an hour.

    From memory, the stumbling block was inevitably drivers, and often when you couldn't get your NIC working, it decidedly becomes a chore. I refuse to even try to recollect the veritable nightmares that I experienced trying to get my graphics card

  • Not once did I read any phrase relating to *BSD on the desktop. He specifically says "Linux on the desktop, BSD on the server".

    Very well done, editors.
    • Yeah. His conclusion at the end of the article is specifically about servers:

      Once you've ridden the learning curve and spent some time actually getting to know the innards, you may decide you'd be better off running FreeBSD on the next set of Web servers, SMTP relays, or application servers you build.

      I guess even the submitters don't RTFA.

    • You would have found it if you read the title: "In Favor of FreeBSD On the Desktop" :-D
      • You would have found it if you read the title: "In Favor of FreeBSD On the Desktop" :-D

        You mean the title of the stub? That's not the title of TFA:

        "Why aren't you using FreeBSD?
        FreeBSD is a free, fast, stable, feature-rich operating system. If you've never looked into it before, you should."

        Granted you have to read the first paragraph to see that he's writing about servers, but surely that's not too much to ask for a story submission. At no point through the entire article does the author mention BSD on a desktop computer. Only servers.

    • by pz (113803)

      In fact, at the end of the article, in the concluding paragraph, the last line of serious content is:

      Once you've ridden the learning curve and spent some time actually getting to know the innards, you may decide you'd be better off running FreeBSD on the next set of Web servers, SMTP relays, or application servers you build

      Not in a single place does the article advocate that any variant of BSD is appropriate for the desktop, save Apple's.

      • Not in a single place does the article advocate that any variant of BSD is appropriate for the desktop, even Apple's.

        FTFY. The article does not comment on desktop OS's at all, save that the author uses Linux on the desktop.

        I'm going to be generous and assume that this was a genuine mistake.

  • I thought it was pretty easy to install both server and desktop. http://noone.org/talks/kfreebsd/kfreebsd-fosdem.html [noone.org]

  • "Here I sit, watching a freshly installed FreeBSD box run through cvsup on all ports, to be closely followed by a new kernel compilation. As the output flies by in the xterm, I find myself wondering why I don't run into more FreeBSD in the world."

    There's your answer right there. Perhaps people want more from their OS than to sit watching a kernel compilation."

    • Pretty much. I used to love FreeBSD. I really did. I built a server into an old Dell full-tower back before the turn of the century and ran a (admittedly useless) server off of my mindspring dial-up to learn it.

      Now, though, I work for a small company wearing way too many hats, including being responsible for maintaining (but not purchasing) a few dozen rag-tag machines running the gamut of age and architecture. 'make buildworld' et al are just too damned involved and time-consuming nowadays.

      I hate ubuntu wi

    • by joib (70841)
      Haven't you understood; Watching gcc output scroll by for hours on end will make you l33t! That's why Gentoo and FreeBSD users are so hardcore.
  • I remember the first time I looked into FreeBSD. It was back in 1994 and I needed to run some Unix variant on my 386 and it came down to FreeBSD or Linux. At the time, FreeBSD seemed to be significantly farther along than Linux... but in a completely unusable way, to me. I was a rank newbie to Unix that had just learned how to exit 'vi' without powering down the computer. FreeBSD had almost no documentation and certainly none for somebody like me.

    Linux, on the other hand, had the Linux Documentation Pro

  • I've installed BSD systems a number of times. They've always required more effort than a Linux box to get configured for what I want.

    Sure BSD is a cool thing. To some people MS-DOS 6.11 was a great thing, too. You'd be surprised how many systems in the world are still running MS-DOS (a lot of point of sale systems). Just because something is cool or can be made to work doesn't mean it's the best for any particular use.

    You could use a Porsche 911 as a dump truck, but why? You could make a pickup truck i

  • In theory, I prefer FreeBSD. I have been running it as my primary server OS for 16 years. I have 30+ VMs running it right now. At the time they were easy to spin up an configure for my friends for whom I provide hosting.

    In reality, the nearly constant state of screwed up dependencies in the ports tree makes it pretty much impossible to keep those 30 systems up to date without serious amounts of manual prodding. Keeping PHP up to date alone has drained my will to keep running FreeBSD.

    At my job I maintain se

  • It's even easier and faster, since you can just tweak the stuff that matters. Install something sane, perhaps debian-testing, ditch the background daemons you don't need, compile your own kernel (way easier than with FreeBSD), and compile any app that you really really care about. Done, easy, and you still get fast/easy access to the gigantic Debian software collection.

  • by Danzigism (881294) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @11:14AM (#37985202)
    did Slashdot get taken over by ADD/OCD redditors? FreeBSD is not hard to install, use, and configure. It has the best documentation out of any *NIX I've seen. It can easily utilize resources, great for server daemons, clusters, DB, and can run Xorg. There's so many damn distros to choose from nowadays, people see it for 30 seconds, download a new ISO of something completely different, install it, get bored, try another, etc. Maybe if you actually put some time in to making the system just the way you want, and RTFM, then you might be happy with the results you get from FreeBSD, or any other OS for that matter. Just tired of the ADD. Pay attention!
    • by daid303 (843777)

      Maybe some people don't want to spend hours tweaking their system so it works. If I cannot install your OS, and run youtube movies out of the box, then it's no good on the desktop.

      Also, most complains above here are in the "hardware/driver support" section.

  • .... Because a rolling release, build-it-yourself based software package model is too big of a hassle (ports tree, I'm looking at you).

    I've been a FreeBSD committer for over 10 years. I ran FreeBSD on the desktop for many years, but I switched to running Ubuntu Linux 4 years ago on my desktop because "apt-get install foo" and "apt-get update" are about 10x simpler and faster than doing the same things using the FreeBSD ports tree, and I don't have time to deal with broken dependancies, unfetchable files, e

  • Let's take a look at the Top500.

    Both FreeBSD and Linux are free in all senses of the word. Licensing and costs are not barriers to using either one or swapping one for the other. One does not spend over a hundred million dollars on a system and chuck any old OS on it. One wants to squeeze the highest amount of performance (number crunching and data flinging over the interconnects) as one can. All things being equal, one selects for speed. One could argue that if Windows had an edge, it would have more

  • I've been running my home servers (web, mail, dialup, other) on Debian since before Debian got to version 1.0. I've run it on single processors and with SMP. I've run it on x86 and on Alpha.

    I've never had stability or performance problems due to the software.

    Is it possible that FreeBSD is more stable? I'll grant that it's possible, but... "the extra time required to really get a FreeBSD box tuned will come back in spades through performance and stability metrics"? Really? No, I cannot see how. I do no

  • FTFS:

    Sure, it's quicker to build a Linux box, do a "yum install x y z" and toss it out into the wild as a fully functional server, but the extra time required to really get a FreeBSD box tuned will come back in spades through performance and stability metrics.

    Big deal. Yes, your machine might run slightly faster, but the simple fact is that computers spend a lot of their time idling these days (as they should). The whole point of computers is to value people time over machine time, and that means it's probably not worth the time to really tune your OS.

    Same story on stability: For desktops, stability is nice, but you aren't generally trying for really long uptimes.

  • The article talks about servers, not desktops.

  • by musial (2448338) on Tuesday November 08, 2011 @11:54AM (#37985768)
    "Note to all: Despite what you might read on Slashdot or other aggregators, this piece is about servers, not desktop FreeBSD use. Not sure how that got misconstrued, but I'm talking exclusively about server use. I haven't run *BSD on the desktop since 1998, hence my comment about Linux on the desktop and FreeBSD on the servers. "

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