April 25, 2006

My desktop OS: FreeBSD 6.0-STABLE

Author: Vaida Bogdan

I've been using FreeBSD since I dumped Linux six years ago at a friend's suggestion. I quickly learned to appreciate its intelligent design: a bare /etc where you can find only necessary system files, good use of /usr/local (most Linux distributions leave this empty and concentrate on filling /etc and /usr/*bin instead), an application system called Ports, which contains a set of scripts that download, install, and patch any program found in the /usr/ports directory, and a very good handbook.

I recently installed FreeBSD 6 on a new notebook computer. The installation went quickly; I got a terminal screen in less than 40 minutes. The only packages I wanted from the installation disk were Lynx, a Web browser, and cvsup-without-gui, a tool with which you can upgrade your sources from a FreeBSD mirror. With only the base system at its disposal, FreeBSD can give you a hands-on experience from hour zero: it has a compiler (gcc), a download utility (fetch), an editor (vi), and a bunch of other tools (OpenSSH, SendMail, Revision Control System) that can help or entertain you during the rest of the installation.

I went on with downloading the latest system sources and ports via CVSup, a process in which only the modified files are downloaded (thus saving bandwidth). In order to do this, I had to insert two lines of text in two cvsup config files: one line was a mirror server near my location and the second was the name of the FreeBSD version I needed the packages for. While rebuilding the system -- a process called "buildworld" that brings all your system files up-to-date from the previously cvs-updated source tree -- I started installing my packages.

In order to install the X Window System you only have to run the commands cd /usr/ports/x11/xorg && make install clean. I use WindowMaker as my desktop environment, mainly because it is lightweight, and over the years I have customized it to fit my needs. For instance, I set it up so that I have no need for a mouse. With WindowMaker I usually create one window for Web browsing, two or three for programming, and another one for multimedia.

I use Opera as my Web browser mainly for its stability and performance; on my system Firefox increases system load and sometimes crashes. I listen to music with XMMS, with its xmms-crossfade and xmms-alarm plugins, all installed from ports, and I watch movies with MPlayer, with which I have never had any codec problems.

I use the gPhoto/GQview/WebMagick/GIMP combo to extract, view, manage, and modify pictures I take with my digital camera.

For desktop productivity I use the AbiWord word processor, Gnumeric spreadsheet, and Xpdf viewer. I installed the GnuCash finance manager to keep track of income and expenses. Birthday helps me remember important dates, and wmweather shows me the weather from the local airport.

I use duplicity to remotely backup my home directory, and I encrypt my hard disk with GBDE. In order to maintain system stability I use pkg_cutleaves, a Perl script found in ports which can remove any package not listed as a dependency for any other package (thus keeping the system safe from unneeded packages).

Since I found FreeBSD, I haven't wanted to leave it. I use it for desktop productivity, finance, programming, and multimedia, and it excels in all of them. I've tried several Linux distributions and I still have a collection of pretty much any downloadable free operating system around, but FreeBSD works better for me.

What desktop OS do you use every day? Write an article of less than 1,000 words telling us what you use and why. If we publish it, we'll pay you $100. (Send us a query first to be sure we haven't already published a story on your favorite OS or have one in hand.) In recent weeks, we've covered SimplyMEPIS, Xandros, Mac OS X, Fedora Core 3, Ubuntu, White Box Enterprise Linux, Mandriva PowerPack 2006, Slackware, SUSE, GRML, Kanotix, Gentoo, VectorLinux, CentOS, Damn Small Linux, and Frugalware.


  • BSD
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