October 13, 2006

Why iXsystems bought PC-BSD

Author: Mayank Sharma

PC-BSD is a desktop-oriented distribution that masks the stability of the FreeBSD kernel behind an easy-to-use package. Its graphical system installer and point-and-click PBI package management system have been drawing in users who've never tried a BSD-based operating system before. This week the project was acquired by iXsystems, a high-end enterprise hardware solution provider. While the community is expressing skepticism of the move, the developers of PC-BSD and iXsystems both say that this partnership can only take the distribution forward.

Kris Moore, founder and lead developer of PC-BSD, has been working on the project in his free time since early 2005. Thanks to the help of several volunteer developers and enthusiasts, including language coordinator Charles-Andre Landemaine, PC-BSD has an active forum board and can be installed in more than 50 languages.

Moore says that things will only get better. "I will now be able to work full-time on the project. This will help us out greatly, since the project is growing and needs more attention than it did in the early days." Talking about the PC-BSD roadmap, Moore says, "The roadmap still stands, however with me working full-time, things should get done quicker, and I may be able to start development on some of the more ambitious portions of PC-BSD."

He also suggests that now PC-BSD will be able to help support its other developers as well. But Landemaine, who also hosts and owns the PBIDir, an online repository of PC-BSD applications, is happy to continue on his own steam. "I help in the project as a hobby. If there is a monetary transfer, it will be more from my part to the project as a donation, but I have no plan to ask anything."

Discussing the news on the PC-BSD forum, several users wondered if PC-BSD would now be split into two branches -- a community-supported and a company-supported distribution. "There are no plans on making a 'commercial' version of PC-BSD, or getting rid of the normal Free version. The project is still open source, BSD licensed, and the acquisition shouldn't affect it in any way," Moore says. He points out that the project Web site will stay online along with the forums and free PBIs.

In fact, Moore has plans to further widen the user base by offering fee-based support to users that might need it. "We hope this will help PC-BSD grow, especially in the commercial sectors."

Moore isn't the only one feeling enthusiastic about the deal. Matt Olander, CTO of iXsystems, is equally upbeat. "Increasing the adoption rate of FreeBSD and PC-BSD will only benefit our business and the BSD communities in the long run," Olander says.

Where will PC-BSD fit into iXsystems' high performance computing clusters, blade servers, rackmount servers, and storage solutions? Olander points out that the company also sells higher-end workstations to many customers. "While it's not our primary business focus, I could certainly see PC-BSD becoming a viable alternative for company desktop deployments."

Olander is sure that the more users that are familiar with and using BSD, the more likely that we'll see vendors supporting BSD with drivers and documentation. "Focusing on the desktop-friendly PC-BSD introduces new users to the fact that FreeBSD is a robust, stable, and mature operating system. If it works great on your desktop, it works even better on your servers."

Denise Ebery, marketing director at iXsystems, confirms that while the company is looking at a server and laptop version of PC-BSD, driving desktop adoption of BSD appears to be beneficial in the long run. "If you use PC-BSD on your desktop and become familiar and satisfied with it, what will you recommend for use in your company's datacenter?"

Currently Moore, who's in charge of the new PC-BSD software division at iXsystems, is busy preparing the 1.3 beta version of PC-BSD. "We hope to draw on the resources of iXsystems in the development and production of PC-BSD. With their vast FreeBSD experience, we plan to take PC-BSD to new heights," Moore says.

"iXsystems has given me much freedom with regard to the project, and I will still be performing my usual activities, such as development, and releasing PC-BSD," he says. In full support of Moore, Olander adds, "His plans are our plans."


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