June 28, 2005

FreeSBIE: A FreeBSD live CD

Author: Mikael Vingaard

Have you ever wanted to take a look at FreeBSD without having to actually install anything on your hard disk? FreeSBIE, developed by Gruppo Utentia FreeBSD Italia, is a live CD based on the FreeBSD operating system, similar to the Knoppix and Mandriva Move Linux live CDs.

The current version 1.1 is based on FreeBSD version 5.3. It works directly from the CD without altering any data on your hard disk, but version 1.1 also offers the option of a hard disk installation using a feature borrowed with permission from the BSDinstaller team. FreeSBIE support several types of desktop environments. You can use it as a shell only, or as a full desktop with all the applications you expect in a desktop system.

You can download the 610MB FreeSBIE-1.1.iso file from an FTP mirror or via BitTorrent. Currently two platforms are supported: AMD64 and i386 (the normal generic PC). I installed FreeSBIE on a normal 2.6GHz PC with the i386 version of FreeSBIE.

After downloading the FreeSBIE-1.1-i386.iso file, burn it to a bootable CD-ROM. Remember to use the image option; just copying the file will not produce a bootable image.

Using FreeSBIE as a live CD

Set your BIOS to boot from the CD drive and start it up, and if everything is working you will see a screen with seven different boot options, including default boot, single user boot, and boot with verbose output. Press Enter or just wait 10 seconds. The two next menus ask for the keyboard layout you wish to use, and following them, the next menu asks for your preferred environment. You can choose from among:

Console The console environment is just a shell prompt
Fluxbox A light environment suitable for older hardware.
Xfce The 4.2 RC1 Xfce environment is a complete desktop environment with many useful applications, including Firefox, GAIM, and OpenOffice.org.
HD installer The installer will install FreeSBIE on a hard disk, deleting any existing data on the drive.

I chose the Xfce environment, which can run on any machine with a Pentium II or newer CPU and at least 64MB of RAM. The Xfce logo appeared, and then I was ready to use FreeSBIE. Remember that you can play around without any fear of ruining the OS. If any problems arise, just reboot and go through the menu selections again.

Hard disk installation

If you like the FreeSBIE OS, you might want to install it permanently on your hard disk. The installer is easy to use. It suggests a partition scheme based on the size of your hard disk. Unless you have a special requirement, accept the suggested scheme.

There is however a minor bug in the BSDInstaller. After the initial installation you will be offered the choice to start additional configuration. Do not choose this, as it will generate an error. Instead, choose reboot and remove the CD. FreeSBIE will boot from the hard disk and you will be presented for the FreeSBIE splash screen. You will have the opportunity to select a desktop and finalize the installation.

Depending of a computer's specifications, the whole installation takes only around 10 minutes (including the additional reboot due to the installer bug).

Advantages and disadvantages

FreeSBIE is easy to install and use for people who have Linux experience but little or no BSD experience. However, it also has a few disadvantages. For instance, the default installation uses DHCP to assign an IP address. If you want to use a static IP address or don't have a DHCP server on your network, you must edit the files/etc/resolve and/etc/rc.conf.

If you encounter any problems with FreeSBIE, you can find help from several online sources of information. The FreeSBIE Web site, the Manual, and the FreeBSD handbook together provide you with a good starting point.


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