FreeBSD: Some thoughts

Why do anyone use a specific OS, really?

I use FreeBSD for servers, because I like the robustness and stability (both software stability, and development/API stability). FreeBSD is a “full package”; It’s a kernel, and userland, which go hand in hand. By default, no services are running. (some exceptions, such as cron)
The ports collection is a massive repository of software which can be compiled to run on *your* installation. You can run applications compiled for FreeBSD 5,6,7&8 by default, and Linux applications with some easy modifications. Only major problem seems to be applications which rely on specific Linux drivers.

When I setup a FreeBSD system, I use sysinstall to do the base installation + extraction of sources, nothing more. I then run freebsd-update fetch install, follow the on-screen instructions (if any) to update to the latest version. I then run portsnap fetch extract to get the portstree, before installing portmaster to manage ports easier. I then remove any unnecessary drivers & features from the kernel & recompile/install that and reboot to start using it. Once that’s done, I do some tuning of the system based on what hardware & what expectations I have. Then I install security-auditing software, tweak some security settings & enable the SSH server for remote logins. I then install the applications/services I need on that system.

If I was to tell a first-time user how to learn FreeBSD, I would show them the Handbook, where to look at manual pages online, tell them to experiment a bit and ask me if they need help. After a couple of days of active experimenting (or weeks of idle experimenting), I would ask them to not ask me questions if they hadn’t tried to find an answer other places for at least 10 minutes. This should gradually teach them to find information on their own, which will be necessary if they are to be successful with FreeBSD; Or anything else for that matter.

But back to the question. Why would you use a specific OS?
There are many reasons. Some of them are:

  • You want a homogeneous server farm to reduce complexity
  • You like this operating system for personal reasons
  • The applications you need/want to run need this OS
  • Someone else made the decision for you
  • Your job requires you to have a certain OS available to offer better customer service

It’s always fun to watch fanboys (and fangirls) argue about why their favorite OS is the best. You can constructively argue that a specific part of an OS is better at performing a certain task than the equelant part of another OS, but you cannot reliably argue that one OS is better than the other OS. Anybody who stops typing to think for a minute will probably realize this. Now if everyone would realize this, maybe the net wouldn’t be soaked in useless drama such as the OS wars which are going on at the moment.

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