PC-BSD v1.4 Beta Review

About me:

I am TerryP, I have been using PC-BSD since the days of the 1.0 Release Candidate #1. I’ve also dealt with FreeBSD 6.x, NetBSD 3.x, OpenBSD 4.x, Debian 3.x, Slackware 10.x/11.x, Ubuntu 6.x, MS-DOS 2.x, and Windows 9x/NT systems over the years. But my main computer usage is centred around PC-BSD and OpenBSD systems. The Windows machine for gaming aside 8=)

I’m an avid computer learner and have been around the PC-BSD Support forums often. Up until recent months I was perhaps the most active member of the forum. Both offering what help and advice I could and putting in my two-cents in the language and feature requests when ever possible. I have contributed a handful of PBI to www.pbidir.com, most of which I no longer maintain due to ‘personal’ issues related to PC-BSD and PBI development. And occasionally I submit new ones when I see a request (such as the Marvel-Yukon driver) and try to get them perfected as my free time allows.

Computer Science / Programming and related issues are among my most common avenues of study. I receive no credit (piss on high school !!) but get to learn much when I’m off work. Thus poking around UNIX systems is a lot of fun for me, both at the perspective of Joe User, having to Admin the bastard, and trying to understand the code involved. I’ve been using computers since the early 1990’s in one form or another and discovered BSD in late 2005 / early 2006. Since then its been a wonderful time learning every thing I can get my head around.

The Review: PC-BSD version 1.4 Beta

I Downloaded both CD’s with wxDownloadFast using the Metalink feature… bloody fast compared to the usual FTP methods.

Booted Disk 1 without a problem. Instead of being prompted with the old ncurses dialog script, it went straight for the installer. The old script is in /root/ as PCBSDUtil.sh if I recall the filename correctly. Could come in handy but one can do it any way without the script if you know to use a shell.

The installer asked me for a System Language, Keyboard Layout, Timezone plus checkboxes for syncing with NTP (Time) servers and submitting data to bsdstats. No reason not to, all BSD Stats does is tell them non traceable information, like OpenBSD Machine w/ CPU ?, RAM ?, e.t.c. located in ‘country’ that kinda stuff.

Default settings was for US English language & Keyboard, a safe default in computing since you don’t need a mouse to change the keyboard layout. Assuming your rat works ^_^
Time zone was set for California, LA which is oddly appropriate considering this is an Operating System based on the Berkley Software Distribution originally developed at UCB (University of California, Berkeley). Still no apparent way to set the bloody TZ to Zulu time (Universal Time Coordinated), to do that I usually set it in my shells RC files. I opted to go with a New York time zone since its the same as mine as well as bsdstats and ntpd.

I had to accept three End User License Agreements with one ‘I agree’ button. The BSD style License used by PC-BSD plus the licenses imposed by the Intel Firmware and nVidia drivers included with the Beta. I expect in future versions of PC-BSD some day we will see Adobe Flashplayer make a pop in here, should the bloody thing ever become stable. Maybe even a Realplayer one should it ever be fully ported to FreeBSD (rather then using the Linux ABI).

I was then prompted to set up the user accounts for the system, providing an administrator (root) password and adding at least one user. Since my standard root password at the moment is pretty strong, it contains more then A-Za-Z0-9 it warned me that it ‘normally’ can only contain regular alpha-numeric charactors. Then I added my normal user, tested my old password which was week. But required non AN char’s, it wouldn’t let me use it so I used another. Unchecked the box to ‘autologin’ the first/top user account added. However I could not continue without setting a weeker root password because of the limitations on allowed charactors. So I set it to ‘root’, ha! I know why this is done but I still think it should be allowed once you know the language and keyboard layout used. It saves on having to run passwd or the GUI tools later.. Oh well most people would probably pick a password that would pass through it on the first try 8=)

Next phase was setting up the disk, I only have one disk (/dev/ad0) and a PC-BSD v1.3 Beta or RC in the third slice, so I installed into /dev/ad0s3 with the following setup:

Mount          Size (MB)          Type
/ 17137 UFS
Swap 4096 SWAP
/home 20480 UFS
/var 256 UFS
/usr 40960 UFS

It prompted me that /home was a symlink to /usr/home and the link would be adjusted correctly… Which I am happy for !!! In older versions of KDE having /home on a different slice was a problem, I’ve no time to test this at the moment but will in the future. Its never had a problem with it being its own (bsd) partition through. I opted for encrypted swap space but did not set a /tmp yet. Because I didn’t know if PC-BSD had kept the annoying tmpmfs. Looking in /etc/rc.conf I see it is still insufficient, tmpfs is set with a size of 800m. This should be set during installation based on the amount of installed memory. In the past (e.g. <= PC-BSDv1.3) there has been problems. That if you require placing 'huge' files in /tmp, as is the case when using ark to unpack, say huge backup files onto a mounted disk. It goes tits up and runs out of /tmp space. It is *supposed* to be backed up by the hard disk but never seems to work that way. So much for telling people and hearing that it needs to be corrected. Then shouting loudly at them for not doing, since its still ignored. Given the option to install stuff from Disk Two, I selected the KDE SDK and KOffice packages, plus the FreeBSD Source Code. KDevelop gives them a very featureful IDE ready to go for C++ work, looks like it might even have integration with the valgrind profiler. I'm sure theres plug ins for other languages but they seem to be missing as far as starting new projects from the GUI are concerned. If I had to go with a traditional IDE, it would be Visual Studio but I hate Microsoft's compiler (I'm more into C then C++). I thunk I selected to install the FreeBSD source code I see /usr/src is empty but forgot to. Popping in CD2 after the first boot, I got the old automount prompt which is nice, thank you HAL. I also see on the disk that theres a ports tree on it too. I can install them later or download more recent ones.

The usual software is installed and a full list can be found here. Its still a pretty standard KDE system but its a little lighter then PC-BSDs older releases. Yet you can still install the stuff thats missing and more from CD2.

Support for Linux Binaries is on by default, as is cups (printing), samba (SMB file/print shares), powerd (for laptop power management), hal/polkit (HAL daemons to appease KDE), NTP & BSDStats since I opted into it during install, PF the OpenBSD Packet Filter / Firewall. Also the SSH server Daemon (a secure remote login), USB Daemon (you really want this), The Device State Change Daemon / Devfs, and a Console driver for the mouse… So you can use the mouse on a Virtual Console.

After logging in with my user account I was told to set up my graphics card. The default was suitable, 1024×768@60hz. It also went up all the way to 7680×4800@95hz. I had to chose ‘intelligent’ answers my self. I also picked the latest nVidia drivers. System works but the max refresh rates the LOWest supported for my resolution as far as Windows XP SP2 is concerned with much older nVidia drivers. Needless to say, my eyes are uncomfortable. when using my preferred resolution on this monitor (1600×1200).

The users home directories still have Document, Image, Music, and Video folders but no sample content. This has always been lacking since these were added. Not essential but always a ‘nice touch’. With most PC’s setup with Windows XP, you usually find a handful of sample pictures and a sample track or two for Windows Media Player.

Less needed stuff like Games and Toys have been moved to Disk 2, so the clutter after boot is a lot less. Yet you can install stuff you may want from disk 2. Like other languages (many choices), KDE based Office, Development, Educational, Games&Toy based packages. Also PBI’s for Firefox, K3B 1.0, OpenOffice 2.1, and Opera 9.2 are on the disk.

dmesg shows both my Audigy 4 (detected as an Audigy 2) and on board AC97 (disabled in BIOS) based sound cards. But reading /dev/sndstat only shows an Audigy 2 installed. I have no sound but the PC’s system bell thingy. This is normal with the emu10k1 driver the system has loaded. I’d need to install the emu10kx driver to get audio with my system.

Networking is fine out of the box no need for setup. Taking a look at the control centre its nice to see that theres a Software & Updates menu where we can add/remove PBI and stuff from Disk 2. Also configure the PC-BSD Online Updater, which is turned off -> Probably because this is a Beta and it won’t have updates to download. Theres also the old never used for much PBI Updater checker/downloader. Sadly you have to login to root 3 times to view all 3 sub-modules. This sucks, imho it should remember it in a more ‘cookie’ like fashion… but that’s a KDE thing I’m sure.

There are now *TWO* service managers, the KDE one (kde components->service manager) and the PC-BSD one (system administration->services manager) these should be merged IMHO. If not literally into one screen then into a tab bar where you can select ‘KDE’ and ‘PC-BSD’ oriented stuff.

Splash screen on boot is off, probably for the beta since its more help to have the messages during testing (imho). Its nice to see that the SMP Kernel was loaded, since I have a Dual Core EM64T Processor.

linux_bas_fc-4_10 provides the Linux Application Binary Interface, Linux xorg, gtk20 runtime, and flashplugin7 packages are also installed into that. Nice to see that not only is there support for ZIP but RAR archives. This is good because you never know when you will encounter an odd .rar or .7z file, to bad theres no 7-Zip support.

The usual GTK+, QT3, and KDE libs are here, C/C++/Python centred development with Perl and Ruby on hand with less tools.

Kaffeine is still the default multimedia player but Amarok is installed (yay!), the existing AllCodecs PBI should work with both. Because Amarok is only setup for the xine engine (which kaffeine uses too).

Its very nice to see the ‘start’ text gone from the K-Menu button and that the menu is staying lean & mean. Icons are pretty basic and a good set for a desktop. Beryl is installed…. so people can have their eye candy and hopefully not shout on the forums “Why won’t feature foo work right with card bar that beryl hates on FreeBSD’ hehe. The tray icon icon is on by default and its very in depth. It looks like its some thing I would like but most of the options at first seem to deal with appearances more so then user interaction. Most stuff of major importance seems there. Maybe I’ll play with Beryl later.

All in all, PC-BSD’s v1.4 Beta looks like a very good overall improvement over the v1.3 Release. Strangely the under the hood FreeBSD system has changed from 6.1-Release to 6.2-Stable, this is the first time I’ve seen PC-BSD use a FreeBSD -Stable instead of -Release. I find it some one supprising but at this point, I would expect 6.2-Stable to provide more then enough.

Theres still room for improvement but I think in a few years they will get it just right. Ether that or it will become Microsoft-BSD (very strange expression….) and by that I mean, a Pain In The Arse to do any thing to. I think through they will make a very fine Desktop System, not very BSD inspired in the end…. but still BSD under the hood. I’m no mind reader so I’ll stop thinking about PC-BSD’s release in the year 2012 lol.

I think when the release is made. I’ll probably take a weekend, to let any major issues blow by before hand. And dump my home directory and configuration files to the winbox (big harddrive) and any thing else I might want to save, like most of the crap I’ve done in /usr/local/[dir]/*. Reformat the drive all together, its about a 60GB one. So maybe a 18GB Recovery/Storage partition plus 40GB for PC-BSD v1.4.

Do a clean install and restore my home directory some where and get things working again. To be perfectly honest, even if the ‘upgrade’ option in the installer is working, I don’t trust it to do the job *right*. And every now and then, because my laptop is a PC-BSD v1.1 install that’s been updated over the releases, I run into occasional issues that only come from updates from older versions. Not new releases. It also seems like /usr/Programs/ is officially ‘the’ place to place the PBI. Because /usr/local/MyPrograms links to it instead of /Programs now, which is still a link to /usr/Programs (which I had to create my self as a symlink to /Programs on my laptop).

I think I’ll get my laptop hooked up with PC-BSD v1.4 Release and ditch all the PBI and just live with traditional software management… less risk of FUBAR”ing my workstation. If I ever get another laptop, it would be a toss up between OpenBSD and PC-BSD for it. I’ve never tried OpenBSD under X11 and why I use PC-BSD these days is mainly because I don’t want to screw with Xorg+KDE on FreeBSD. Compling it on a Sempron 3300+ (2.0Ghz) and 512MB RAM != my idea of fun.
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