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FreeBSD Flavors. Do We Need Them? Today…GhostBSD by George Bungarzescu

Source of the image: discoverbsd.com

A (not too deep) journey to GhostBSD – desktop and enterprise options – compared to pure FreeBSD.

Years ago, I used Microsoft products, from operating systems to servers at my job. I always felt that, even if they have good products, the strategy to be closed source, even succesful from one point of view, can not cover the entire requirements of information world. Becoming a more skilled user, I have opened the doors to the wonderful world of Linux, BSD and other open source operating systems and products.

Right now, I use at home for everyday tasks a Linux distro. I feel comfortable but I feel that somehow, in order to have a more user friendly environment, there is a continuous need for improvement. I will not go into why using Microsoft products can be the wrong strategy, but I will state that it is required to have alternatives, and, diversity is a good thing for everyone (just remember how some virus, ransomware and other malware have affected business these days).

But wait, we are talking about Linux not FreeBSD, right? No. Actually, as you already know, the line between Linux and BSD is gray as they share a common history and open source ecosystem software.

So let`s talk a little bit about the history of Unix, BSD and Linux (the advanced users can skip the next part).

Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) is a generic name for operating systems that are close to the original UNIX design. Having in mind “a robust, general purpose, time-sharing computing plat- form which would not become obsolete every time the hardware change” in 1977 – many years before Linux was born, a team created the first version of a BSD-like system.

According to Wikipedia “FreeBSD’s roots go back to the University of California, Berkeley. The university acquired a UNIX source license from AT&T. Students of the university started to modify and improve the AT&T Unix and called this modified version Berkeley Unix or BSD, implementing features such asTCP/IP, virtual memory and the Unix File System.

The BSD project was founded in 1976 by Bill Joy. But since BSD contained code from AT&T Unix, all recipients had to get a license from AT&T first in order to use BSD.

In June 1989, “Networking Release 1” or simply Net-1 – the first public version of BSD – was re- leased. After releasing Net-1, Keith Bostic, a developer of BSD, suggested replacing all AT&T code with freely-redistributable code under the original BSD license. Work on replacing AT&T code began and, after 18 months, much of the AT&T code was replaced. However, six files con- taining AT&T code remained in the kernel. The BSD developers decided to release the “Network- ing Release 2″ without those six files. Net-2 was released in 1991”.

To be more accurate, the FreeBSD Project itself had its genesis in the early part of 1993, partially as an outgrowth of the Unofficial 386BSDPatchkit (source – FreeBSD manual). The first distribution, FreeBSD 1.0 was released in December of 1993. There are many flavors derived from this old software, but four are most popular, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD and Dragon Fly BSD, and they are used to build many of what we know as BSD distros. Some people argue that even Darwin (open source version of Mac OS X) shares a large portion of code with FreeBSD. Also, Microsoft Windows was inspired from and used for production purposes BSD operating systems (hosting for example earlier version of Hotmail and Microsoft website, the sockets design, tools, etc.).

The point is that, before having the internet, DOS, CP/M, Microsoft Windows, Linux and graphical interfaces, we had a good, solid, and ahead-of-its-time operating system that had roots in the Unix software, and provided us with a base to build on. For example, “all modern operating sys- tems implement a version of the Berkeley or POSIX socket interface. It became the standard in- terface for connecting to the Internet. Even the Winsock implementation for MS Windows, developed by unaffiliated developers, closely follows the standard”(Wikipedia). In fact, many other tech- nologies we have today, would never have been created without the existence of BSD-like operat- ing systems and distros.

Having this understanding of BSD in generic terms, anyone can ask – what is the role of FreeBSD in the modern world and of the flavors we have?

From this perspective, we must understand that most of BSD “distro” are server oriented. Even unknown to the public there are many servers, most of them used for hosting environments that are running on FreeBSD, NetBSD or OpenBSD.

Besides the lack of marketing, there are interests in the open source world to keep alive BSD like systems and this interest came from, as a proof of the quality of code, a working group of a well known distribution, Debian. https://www.debian.org/ports/kFreeBSD-gnu/

If on the server side things are clear, I personally found it a little bit hard to configure the graphical interface. But here comes the help of desktop oriented distributions, such as GhostBSD.

Here are some thoughts from Eric Turgeon, Developement Leader at GhostBSD:

[GB]: What was your reason to start GhostBSD project?

[ET]: Before I started using FreeBSD, I was an Ubuntu user curious about real Unix and hacking software. I found Eric S Raymond’s paper on How to be a hacker (http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/hacker-howto.html). In that paper, he mentioned BSD Unix and I was curious about BSD. I did some research and installed FreeBSD and found that it’s not really user friendly. I did some more research and I tried out PCBSD. I was a Gnome user and I did like what PCBSD was trying to achieve, but KDE was not my DE. From there, I wanted to start my own FreeBSD Distribution. This is when I started GhostBSD as a Gnome Alternative to PCBSD, which was KDE only at that time.

[GB]: How closely related is GhostBSD to the BSD family of operating systems?

[ET]: GhostBSD is basically FreeBSD with GTK DE (Desktop Environment), like MATE, XFCE, Cinnamon, and Gnome, all pre-configured and ready to use. Also, we are developing a GUI (Graphical User Interface) tool, like Networkmgr, Update Station, Software Station, GBI (Graphi- cal BSD Installer) and many more tools that are not found on FreeBSD. GhostBSD is using FreeBSD ports tree and pkg repository, there is no change to the default kernel.

[GB]: What are, from your – main developer – point of view, the strengths of GhostBSD compared to FreeBSD? How about the enterprise class of products based on GhostBSD – virtualisation, clustering, etc.?

[ET]: FreeBSD focuses more on a server OS and GhostBSD’s focus is Desktop, but since GhostBSD’s base system is FreeBSD, GhostBSD is capable to be used on a server. GhostBSD is clearly aimed at the home and office environment. GhostBSD is capable of doing day to day tasks, even gaming.

[BG]: Funding such a project is hard. What part of GhostBSD attracts more funding? How about coding volunteers?

[ET]: Yea, funding a project like GhostBSD is not easy task, GhostBSD is strictly funded by dona- tions, Adsense, by some partnerships and sponsors. Sponsors are basically helping us get more donations because we display a banner or logo linked to our sponsor’s website that give them cheap advertising. Recently, we started a Patreon campaign, but so far it has not interested any- one. GhostBSD doesn’t generate enough money to finance full time development, so GhostBSD development is only in our spare time. Sometimes, some people contribute to documentation.

[BG]: Are there other proposed changes that will be specific to GhostBSD that will contribute to future adoption? What are your future plans with GhostBSD?

[ET]: There are a lot of features that we would like to see in GhostBSD, like integration of Tor by default ready to use, a tool to enable sshd and other things that are not setup by default. Also, I would like to start a GTK DE build for GhostBSD/FreeBSD.

As a conclusion, BSD like systems are proved to be fast, stable, server and desktop ready.
 The only weakness we see is a not the lack of information or functionality but exactly having enough BSD flavors to help a user fit exactly their needs. Having more help from volunteers and a modern way of funding such project can also accelerate the development of specific functionali- ties and growth of BSD like systems adoption as day to day systems.
 GhostBSD especially offers an easy solution for desktop oriented users by providing a nice and easy to use installer and a familiar Gnome environment.

FreeBSD clones? They are fast, stable and ready for any challenge, so please, use them! And spread the word.

P.S. Eric can be reached using ericturgeon @ ghostBSD.org or directly to ghostBSD.org

About the Author:
I am George, an open source enthusiast working as Senior IT Specialist. I have more than 12 years experience using different operating systems and more than 10 years in software development. I am happy to help, in any way, the open source community and to promote open source based solutions.
You can reach me at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

Source of the article: BSD Mag Vol. 10 No. 04

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