Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A FreeBSD experiment

About a year back, there have been some activity around a post by one of the FreeBSD developers  regarding FreeBSD being ready to compete with Linux (and I suppose by proxy with Windows) as a desktop system. Back then I wanted to play around with FreeBSD once again (my friendship with UNIX started with installing FreeBSD 2.2.4 on my home computer), but found some features lacking for a proper support of my favorite UNIX desktop (that would be GNOME). A few days ago I figured it was a good time to take a look at what the BSD people came up with in the desktop department. I have done some probe installs in VMware, so now I am ready to try it on my home computer. So far (after those test installs) I figured out two main things about FreeBSD.
  • A lot of things are very different from Linux.

  • Well, this would be natural and expected, since FreeBSD is not Linux. But it has been a long time since a new system confused me and now I am refreshingly confused. The aspect I found especially confusing is disk allocation. I still hope to find a reasonable documentation on what the relation is between partitions, slices and labels is and how the information about the layout is stored etc. Since all of base system in FreeBSD is developed as part of the FreeBSD project, a lot of basic commands work in unexpected ways. This is not a problem though, I was ready for it and now I seem to cope well with the differences.
  • The community is extremely rude to new users.

  • This, unfortunately, is a problem I didn't expect. For years of working with Linux, I have gotten used to people being willing to help and if not at least not being outright evil. Not so in FreeBSD world. On one of the test installs, I messed up my disks by trying to switch to a different boot manager. I couldn't boot my system and I didn't want to reinstall, since I have configured and installed and compiled a lot of stuff on it. So, being a newbie I went to #freebsd channel and asked for help. To my surprise, I was immediately told that the only way for me was to reinstall entire system. I have expressed some doubts about this, since I was pretty sure that my data was still intact on the system, but was told again, that the only way was to reinstall and restore from backup if I had one. At this point I figured that this was a big usability hole for a modern operating system, but I figured that I will get a second opinion before I destroy my data. Some 10-15 minutes later, some other channel member took pity on me and told me that the reinstall was only suggested because I was on a wrong channel. I was supposed to ask for help on #freebsdhelp. I went to that channel and while my question was ignored for a while, I kept digging through man pages and mailing lists and other documentation and found my answer. By that time, someone on #freebsdhelp told me to shut up because I didn't use proper terms for disk allocation units. If I wasn't stubborn and didn't have enough prior computer knowledge, at this point I would be reinstalling my system from scratch. Why? Because I asked a question on a wrong channel. Mind you that the "right" channel jst plain ignored my question, which, while being better than the previous experience, also didn't help much. I am still going to try FreeBSD. Albeit I doubt I will ever ask for help from anybody in FreeBSD community.

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