Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows that when it comes to computers I’ve been an Linux fan boy. I’ve used it for everyday computing on multiple devices over the years, from desktop PC’s to laptops and even my net book. I’ve told them how easy it is to use, boasted about it’s stability and security, and even wow’d them with some of the cool looking desktops I’ve had over the years. That’s all about to change I think.
I’m making a switch. While not as drastic as it may sound, or perhaps more so I don’t know. I’m going to throw some dedication to the Unix community now. I’ve decided that while I love Linux and how it’s grown that it may be time to further my tech horizons and actually learn how to use real Unix. To that end I’m currently installing netBSD on my net book and creating a virtual machine of FreeBSD on my desktop. Why a VM you might ask? Especially considering that I’m supposed to be dedicating my computing power to learning and using Unix instead of Linux. Well the answer to that is simple. I unfortunately still need windows around on my primary desktop, for both gaming and work. While I would love to abandon my current position working for corporate America in favor of full time computer consulting I can’t yet. In time that will change and so will my computing environment accordingly.
In the mean time I can fulfill my daily computing tasks, such as blogging, website design, tweeting, email, general web browsing and other fun tasks through a virtual machine running on top of my windows desktop. This makes it easy to dedicate far more resources of my desktop to my “virtual environment” than may otherwise be practical while still leaving me the flexability to set it aside to play a game or do the daily work grind. Lets take a look at what I’ve done so far.
On my net book I’ve created my bootable usb image for installing netBSD. On a side note I also modified my router to provide a second “virtual” wireless network with no security. I then setup mac address filtering to allow only my net book to connect to it. This was because in my past experiences with various OS’s both Linux and Unix varieties that I’ve found during install stages they don’t support normal passkey wireless connectivity very well. It was just the simple and easy solution to not have another ethernet cable tethering me during the install. Booting the install media was very straight forward and after taking a moment with the installer to instruct it to connect wirelessly (literally all I did) I was able to proceed through the installer and have it download all the needed and most current files online. This saves much time later from having to update a system right after the fresh install. I was very surprised how easy the netBSD installer has become since my last experience with it was far less intuitive and much more technical. Total install time on the net book was about 23 minutes and I was booted into the bare system with my wireless networking still configured and functioning.
On the desktop I decided to go with FreeBSD instead of netBSD. Created the VM as I normally would and just booted the downloaded ISO file directly. Install was also easier and more intuitive than my last visit to this OS, taking about 3 or 4 minutes longer than the netBSD installation. I don’t think that either OS is faster than the other at this stage and it’s most likely related to my being distracted on the desktop and working on about 15 other things at once.
The next hurdle to overcome on both machines is making the desktop useful. While a base Linux or Unix system is infinitely more useful for performing tasks out of the box than windows it is anything but pretty. So I delved into the handbooks and faqs for both OS’s at the same time and decided to use the “BSD” way of installing the pretty factors, which is to download and compile software from source. Now in the interest of purity I’m not using anything outside of the official package management of each OS. They are very similar to one another but still different. I am not allowing any Linux emulation or packages to be installed on either system. They will only be running software that doesn’t require these work arounds. It really shouldn’t be a huge deal since most of the software that I’ve used with Linux is also natively supported on both of these systems. On the net book I dove straight into the gnome desktop compile hoping that it would also see fit to setup the X window system for me (really hoping in fact). For the desktop with FreeBSD I’m playing a little more careful and installing Xorg by itself. I’ll decide on a desktop or window manager later with it. Biggest reason for this is that on the desktop I also want to make sure that I can get the virtualbox guest additions to function before I proceed into a long compile of any particular desktop environment.
At this point in time they are both working on the compile and install of these setups. I could have gone a different route with pre-compiled binary packages. While this has it’s merits and benefits, speed of install being the biggest of them it is simply not the route I wanted to take. It will be interesting to see how gnome desktop runs on my net book for sure. I’ve never been a big fan of the desktop environments in Linux. Both Gnome and KDE seem overly bloated, LXDE and XFCE never looked or felt right to me. I recommend a desktop environment to anyone who doesn’t want to really learn about the OS itself and just straight use it for daily activities. After all even if I’m your consultant and there is a problem with your Linux or Unix based computer I’ll still have the tools available to me that it wouldn’t matter what you use and a desktop environment really is what most people want.
As expected the desktop is compiling much faster than the net book and looks to be almost done. I’m going to end this blog for now and will get back later to reviewing each OS more in-depth. Have fun and happy computing!