July 3, 2006

PC-BSD works for community center

Author: Henry Gillow-Wiles

As the IT director for a non-profit community center, I face several challenges, the most pressing being the lack of money. This means our lab is filled with donated older equipment with limited capabilities. Given this state of affairs, I am always on the lookout for free, easy-to-use open source software. I chose PC-BSD as our standard operating system because of its exemplary performance on older equipment.

When considering an operating system for our hardware, I have a couple of requirements. First comes performance. The operating system needs to be usable on Pentium III equipment. If end users have to wait for applications, they get frustrated and start clicking on stuff. I then get to clear print queues with 40 copies of the same print job. The second requirement is ease of use. Our users for the most part are not very computer-literate and come from a Windows environment, so consistency in desktop look and feel helps them transition to an open source operating system, and helps me not to have to answer too many questions involving differences in doing common tasks.

After looking at several Linux distributions and finding them lacking in either speed, ease of use, or ease of management, I tried PC-BSD. This OS installed quickly and ran well on all but the most limited Pentium I equipment. With a default installation, PC-BSD feels snappier than the Windows 98SE that usually shows up on the donated equipment. I has also been stable, with few unexpected system freezes or crashes.

Because we use a wide variety of equipment, compatibility is always an issue. I have had no difficulty with printer, scanner, or other peripheral installation. PC-BSD has detected and supplied drivers for almost everything we have.

Applications for open source operating systems used to be both limited in scope and hard to install. PC-BSD has addressed these problems by bundling commonly used applications with the initial installation and presenting an installation process that mimics the Windows install routine.

Users in our lab do the same things average computer users do in their homes. PC-BSD lets them play DVDs and MP3s and view pictures. Most of our computers see primary use for email, Web surfing, and documentation creation. The Mozilla Web browser and Thunderbird email client are easy to use and resistant to the dangers of uninformed surfing, which reduces my maintenance workload. Office suite OpenOffice.org's offers good compatibility with Microsoft Office, so whatever documents users bring from outside to edit and print can be imported and easily dealt with.

Adding or removing applications with PC-BSD is easier than with some other major open source operating systems. Instead of having to worry about dependencies or installation locations, PC-BSD has developed the PBI installation format. Packages are downloaded as self-installing, complete applications with a graphical installation interface. This format helps me keep the computers useful to the community by having new programs for them to use.

Here at the center we host classes on different aspects of computer use. Sometimes users bring their own equipment to class. PC-BSD is good at detecting and integrating Windows equipment into our network and sharing resources such as printers with the new equipment. Sometimes students use our desktop PCs. Because it is easy to use, the KDE window manager allows students apply their new skills to their Windows computers at home with minimal difficulty.

If you have an older computer and want to move from Windows to a more useful, stable, secure operating system that will have good performance and lots of available software, PC-BSD is well worth your time. If you have current equipment and just don't want to deal with the constant security patching cycle, PC-BSD is a good choice as well.

Category:

  • BSD
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