Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology


The world of open UNIX variants may not be as vibrant as the Linux one but UNIX predates Linux by decades so it might be put down to its much greater maturity. BSD seems to predominate here but the reason may be because of Sun keeping a tight hold of Solaris for so long. Now that Oracle has gone and been more restrictive again, it is the breakaway projects to which we have to look for OpenSolaris successors now. However, the partially free availability of Solaris 10 & 11 may draw some away from the open source community of the alternative.


In the world of BSD UNIX, it is hard to see what is different between the various projects and some are based on technical excellence using the sort of reasoning that would be inaccessible to many computer users. Though many see the operating system as being one for servers alone, there are PC-focussed versions with PC-BSD being the most notable. Those existence of those projects is in start contrast to a mantra that keeps BSD for servers and Linux for desktop systems.


This was a fork of FreeBSD and it seems to have been done for very technical reasons such as handling of cluster computing and larger disc drives. If the reasons make sense to you, then it could be an option but it doesn’t sound like one for the masses though BSD UNIX hardly is at the best of times.



When someone turns to creating a desktop variant of BSD, FreeBSD seems to be a starting point for so much of the time. Even Debian, itself the foundation of so many Linux distributions, bases its own BSD variant on FreeBSD and Gentoo apparently has been looking at doing something similar. FreeBSD does give away a bias towards servers in that the default installation does not include a desktop environment. However, if you do the work, you can get one like GNOME 2 or XFCE on there and the process does remind me of the thinking behind Arch Linux. Until recently, I had FreeBSD 10 installed in a VirtualBox virtual machine until a software update broke it and that does sit well with the BSD culture of stability. Of course, it could be another sign of a focus on server computing too. Nevertheless, it ran well until then and fared no worse than the aforementioned Arch Linux though it probably should have done better.


Network-assisted Storage (NAS) has blossomed in recent years for home users and anyone with a DIY mindset might be tempted to go and build things themselves using PC parts and it is for those that this FreeBSD-based distro would be an asset. When I went looking at the possibility, the inability to boot the installation disk that I was using put paid to the attempt. Then, I was left wondering if my use of AMD’s CPU’s was part of the problem though I since have realise that building a low power system might be a better option than reusing a full PC. There has been an incursion into the world of NAS drives in the form of a 3 GB Western Digital My Book Live so any return to DIY ways could be a better informed.


Apparently, this is FreeBSD with a choice of MATE (a fork of GNOME 2 for those not fancying the idea of using GNOME 3 and its GNOME Shell), XFCE, LXDE or OpenBox desktop environments. A recent look demonstrated that the desktop environments are turned out very nicely too. All in all, it looks an interesting counterpart to what you would find with a Linux distro.


According to the website, this is a derivative of NetBSD developed with desktop users in mind. In this case, it would appear to offer a feel that would have been more widely available with UNIX and Linux systems in the middle of the 1990’s. With all the variety when it comes to computer interfaces these days, that throwback may be no bad thing and there always are fans of minimalism.


Like FreeNAS, this another BSD for use when making an old PC into a NAS file server. In fact, NAS4Free came into being when part of the FreeNAS community took exception to the direction in which iXsystems were starting to take it after 2011. It also is based on FreeBSDĀ  and has a different web interface. That makes it an alternative if FreeNAS does not do the deed for you.


Since I last took a look, the focus of this project has become portability. What they mean by portability is have versions of NetBSD than run on all sorts of hardware and I even thought I saw a mention of Sony PlayStation (PS2) if my eyes did not deceive my and ARM-based systems appeared too, hardly a surprise with the rise of tablet computing. Other more conventional computing platforms are served too but the others make NetBSD stand out from the others more than I once thought it did.



With a strapline like “Only two remote holes in the default install, in a heck of a long time!”, you’d have to suspect that security and stability are the key attributes of this operating system. The security aspect certainly crops up a lot so I think that a spot of exploration is in order, especially when a variety of different system types (x86 and SPARC are just two of them) are supported anyway. Last years furore about intelligence service monitoring and attacks on different systems over the web do make the whole subject more relevant now than it ever was and it never was irrelevant.


One of the casualties of Oracle’s takeover of SUN Microsystems was the community-based OpenSolaris project. The more proprietary Solaris 11 Express was Oracle’s answer to the need that OpenSolaris fulfilled back then. Since, Solaris 10 & 11 becameĀ  available without charge with support contracts being the revenue earner now. Some restrictions are placed on usage such as being the basis of a software development environment.


The demise of OpenSolaris saw a major new project emerge. Its basis is Illumos, itself a fork of the now defunct OpenSolaris, and a recent look revealed that it is maturing rather nicely. GNOME 2 is the chosen desktop environment so it should not be that unfamiliar to those coming from the Linux world and the Nimbus themes look pretty too. Initially, there is not so much software installed but Firefox does get included and there is a graphical package manager so there is little point in complaining. We are not talking about the latest versions of software though since Firefox is at version 10 and OpenOffice is at 3.10. Clearly stability is a priority objective here.

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