Friday, November 28, 2014

FreeBSD in the desktop, my personal experience

It has been a few months since I started (again) to run FreeBSD in the desktop, this time at work. I guess, it is being time to explain how it feels.

First of all, it wasn't the first time I have used FreeBSD at all. It used to be my desktop back in the university times and I have been running it in servers for quite a while. Therefore, I didn't have to start from scratch and figure out how things work.

It is subjective, but I remember I didn't need lots of time to adapt to the new environment when I first used it. I ran Debian in the old days, when you needed a bit of knowledge to get things running, that helped a lot to understand the inner workings of any "Unix like" operative system. Basically, I only had to learn how the start-up system worked and what the port tree was. The rest was pretty much the same and the documentation in the BSD projects is awesome!

At work, I was running xubuntu because Xfce has always been my desktop environment of choice and Ubuntu was easy and quick to install (lazy admin is lazy). My priority was to get things done at work and I only wanted a desktop that just works. Since then, it has always been a love-hate relationship.

I am the kind of person that wants to control and understand what is running in his box. This mindset is what made the sysadmin that I am today and pisses me off when I feel I am running a black box. This is what caused me installing Linux in a Macbook after a few weeks and later deciding not buying another anymore. Also, this was one of the main points to move back to FreeBSD this year.

I remember the times I could count with one hand the processes running in a Linux box. Ten years later we have things like systemd, polkit, freedesktop, dbus, pulsaudio, etc.. and Linux is slowly becoming something similar to the Windows I ran away from (I know I am starting a flame war). In many cases, the best way to get an account fixed is wiping the account and starting clean.

With FreeBSD I feel again at home. I installed Xfce on top of a minimal installation plus a couple of other packages, I can control what is running and the documentation is excellent, in case I have to troubleshoot a problem.

I had two disks mirrored win ZFS, but now I use only a single SSD disk also with ZFS. The performance is great and I didn't need to completely reinstall after the disk replacement because I sent all the existing ZFS volumes over the network to the new box. Hopefully, btrfs will offer similar functionalities in the future.

The only downside I have found so far is the flash support, that needs to run with Linux emulation via nspluginwrapper, but the widespread use of HTM5 will fix this later. I also have found some NFS performance problems against a NetApp filer and I had to use oldnfs instead but I need to investigate more.

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