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On the desktop: FreeBSD vs PC-BSD vs Debian

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Patrick Bär

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#1
Good day everyone,
My name is Patrick and I would like to ask the question, what your opinions are about this topic.

I started to use BSD about 15 years ago, used FreeBSD and OpenBSD for servers in business. For some years I have stopped using it as I was not into system administration any more.

The last years I treated Unix/Linux like wine. Every couple of months I told myself "Patrick, a decent man has to use it". Then I tried, realised it sucks and went back to what I had before. I am now in need to use another laptop and suddenly realised that the last Linux I successfully ran for years was PC-BSD :)

Long story short, I need an OS for my new (Dell) laptop. I have read through the web about current version and differences between FreeBSD and PC-BSD, yet did not find the answer I was looking for.

I understand this:

FreeBSD - Basic system, nothing new

PC-BSD - Has a bit of an overhead like KDE and such (I prefer slim managers like XFCE) bit basically stays a FreeBSD when it comes to everything apart from packet-manager and initial configuration

Debian - Is my favorite Linux. With any other distribution I had ridiculous problems like programs freezing the system, crashing Xorg and other funny things. Ubuntu is plain rubbish, even worse than Suse and it's YAST manager. Fedora is like a giant beta-version of everything.

So my problem question is, what do I gain by using Debian rather than PC-BSD? And what do I gain by using PC-BSD over FreeBSD? And vice versa of course :)

This is NOT an invitation for another nice OS war. I know about the usual things that OS 1 can and OS 2 and the other whole enchilada. My intention is purely the desktop point of view. For example, Skype is a terror for FreeBSD, how's PC-BSD doing at the moment? Linux handles it pretty well at the moment. Are there any differences besides the package stuff and configuration between FreeBSD and PC-BSD? And so on.

Looking forward to your opinions!
 

abishai

Aspiring Daemon

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#2
Using PC-BSD is practically means you use Ubuntu. I tried it when I started to learn FreeBSD to learn how to setup one thing or another - don't make my mistake, especially of you are familiar with unix. The only gain you'll receive is the answer - 'yes, it can run on my box', after that, I suggest to discard it and setup FreeBSD.
PS. Skype works on 11-CURRENT.
 

Oko

Daemon

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#3
You can use the Skype from your smart phone. Microsoft will kill Linux version soon as well. FreeBSD runs Skype via Linux emulation. That is a game of cat and mouse. I think FreeBSD will benefit from removing stupid emulation. Going back to original question.

PCBSD if you need quick kitchen sink installation and your hardware can handle ZFS. Vanilla FreeBSD for light instalation and tinkering with OS. Debian if you need Linux and don't care for ZFS.
 

Patrick Bär

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#4
Well, thank you for your replies and your opinion.

Both of you basically tell me to use FreeBSD and not PC-BSD, but for what reason? What's the disadvantage of PC-BSD?
 

Beastie7

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#5
The PC-BSD project insists on putting existing FreeBSD features inside pointless wrappers, causing things to break all the time. Just look at the forums - complaints everywhere. The AppCafe itself has a bajillion different dependencies, peoples stuff breaks after updates, buggy utilities, apps not working, etc. It's pointless, and it's all C++ (ugh).

I would just install Vanilla FreeBSD with a fresh install of GNOME or Lumina when it's done. I wish they would just merge the pc-bsd-utils into Lumina and just ship Lumina as a layer on-top of FreeBSD, call it the Lumina Project (or whatever) and be done with it.
 

juiced

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#6
PC-BSD comes loaded with applications and several FreeBSD features enabled.
If you require those features and apps its not a bad thing. But if not you'll spend a lot of time disabling and uninstalling.

Personally I only install/enable what I need. Thus bare bones installs of either FreeBSD or OpenBSD are ideal.
If I need linux Debian Jessie has fairly recent drivers, lots of apps, runs well without systemd and can use XFS.

You mentioned "New Dell Laptop"
FreeBSD is lacking Intel Haswell based integrated graphics drivers.
Driver availability might make the decision for you.
https://wiki.freebsd.org/Graphics

Both Debian Jessie and OpenBSD have these drivers.
 

protocelt

Daemon

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#7
I think the better question here is "Which of the mentioned operating systems best support my hardware and have the features and applications I need to use?" Just asking which operating system is better for me without any context is too subjective and can have very differing opinions based on the person replying. FreeBSD isn't the right operating system for everyone nor is any other operating system in existence. A few questions for the OP:
  1. Do you need your hardware to be fully supported including suspend/resume features?
  2. Do you require file system compatibility across different operating system platforms?
  3. Which desktop features and applications do you need/require?
  4. Would you enjoy digging in and learning to use a new operating system or do you just want it "to work"?
I think answering some or all of these questions may get you more focused/objective replies.
 

Patrick Bär

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#8
juiced: No Haswell, so the decision is still open!

protocelt: These are exactly NOT the questions I cannot answer by myself ;)

Beastie7 has brought up some good points with packet management. That's indeed a reason why I thought about PC-BSD. FreeBSD disappointed me a bit when I tried to install a couple of linux applications and went from "You need linux_base-f10, deinstall linux_base-c6 and all depending applications" to vice versa. Thunderbird did not install properly. What about flash? Oh well, I will need to dig deeper.
 

protocelt

Daemon

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#9
My apologies if my post came across as abrasive. No disrespect intended :)

PCBSD isn't any better at package management than FreeBSD. They both use the same package management system; pkg(8), the difference being, PCBSD developed a pretty front-end GUI utility to make it easier for the average user to use and understand and FreeBSD offers the ports tree to compile your own software the way you see fit. The packages between the two are exactly the same including how well they work except PCBSD's package repository is compiled with workstation/desktop users in mind. If you prefer the command line FreeBSD might be a better choice, otherwise PCBSD works just as well. FreeBSD offers the tools to build your own system exactly the way you want it while PCBSD offers you a ready made desktop and for the most part assumes your going to be using their tools to manage your system. I guess it's somewhat similar though not exactly the same to the differences between Linux distros such as Gentoo and Ubuntu. They're really just two separate roads to the same destination IMHO.

One more thing to note: PCBSD uses Grub with ZFS integration so what's nice is you can have ZFS on root and boot from UEFI. FreeBSD's gptzfsboot(8) doesn't yet support booting with UEFI.
 

Oko

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#10
Well, thank you for your replies and your opinion.

Both of you basically tell me to use FreeBSD and not PC-BSD, but for what reason? What's the disadvantage of PC-BSD?
I didn't tell you not to use PC-BSD. Quite on the contrary. I personally use TrueOS on my servers instead of vanilla FreeBSD. Having
nice installer due to the following

1. Installer (ZFS on the root)
2. boot environments/snapshots (beadm)
3. update manager
4. Life Preserver (management tool for ZFS snapshots and replication)
5. the Warden (Jail management)

Now Warden will be replaced soon with iocage. FreeBSD installer now supports ZFS on the root and have decent update manager. Life Preserver has some annoying bugs and beadm is available in ports. Still having smartmontools, syslog-ng and bunch of other stuff useful to admins installed and pre-configured is really nice.

Once you start using desktop having 5 desktop environments installed just to override them with my beloved cwm is not really something that I want to do. On another hand having CUPS preconfigured and bunch of similar desktop stuff is not the worse thing on the world.
 

Oko

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#11
PC-BSD comes loaded with applications and several FreeBSD features enabled.
If you require those features and apps its not a bad thing. But if not you'll spend a lot of time disabling and uninstalling.

Personally I only install/enable what I need. Thus bare bones installs of either FreeBSD or OpenBSD are ideal.
If I need linux Debian Jessie has fairly recent drivers, lots of apps, runs well without systemd and can use XFS.

You mentioned "New Dell Laptop"
FreeBSD is lacking Intel Haswell based integrated graphics drivers.
Driver availability might make the decision for you.
https://wiki.freebsd.org/Graphics

Both Debian Jessie and OpenBSD have these drivers.
What file system does Jessie use for root partition? If it is Ext2 or even 4 it would be no go in my book. DragonFly BSD has excellent support for Haswell which could be ported to FreeBSD.

The biggest problem I personally see is the lack of developers who are actually using FreeBSD on their own desktops. That is why use see the project like DragonFly BSD which has two dozen developers having much more usable desktop than FreeBSD which has couple hundreds of developers.
 

Oko

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#12
Beastie7 has brought up some good points with packet management. That's indeed a reason why I thought about PC-BSD. FreeBSD disappointed me a bit when I tried to install a couple of linux applications and went from "You need linux_base-f10, deinstall linux_base-c6 and all depending applications" to vice versa. Thunderbird did not install properly. What about flash? Oh well, I will need to dig deeper.
Flash is dead on the Linux as well. Really if you need Linux specific stuff you would save lots of time using Linux instead of getting frustrated with FreeBSD emulation layer.
 

hashime

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#13
So my problem question is, what do I gain by using Debian rather than PC-BSD? And what do I gain by using PC-BSD over FreeBSD? And vice versa of course
With Debian you would get:
Depending on your hardware you may get better driver support.
You get working fn keys, adjustable brightness, multifinger touchgestures on your touchpad (if that's important to you), less headache with wifi, better battery life, haswell support, suspend/hibernate, skype, a working update/upgrade utility(compared to PC-BSD), a better cli package manager(very subjective of course), http://packages.debian.org, about a twice as big software repository, chrome with its updated flashversion (does chromium have that too?), http://wiki.debian.org, way faster install (not really important), way faster boot time (not really important either), a bigger community (just speaking quantity), more HowTos/guides on the web, kvm.

Whether that's important for you is up to you. It really depends what you wanna do with the Laptop. If you want to play video games, none of the mentioned Operatingsystems is a good choice. If you just want to surf the web it really does not matter much.
 

Oko

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#14
With Debian you would get:a working update/upgrade utility(compared to PC-BSD), a better cli package manager(very subjective of course), http://packages.debian.org, about a twice as big software repository, chrome with its updated flashversion (does chromium have that too?), http://wiki.debian.org, way faster install (not really important), way faster boot time (not really important either), a bigger community (just speaking quantity), more HowTos/guides on the web, kvm.
I don't know about PC-BSD but pc-updatemanager works as expected on TrueOS (server version). I will concur that it might not work well with GUI. beadm(1), ability to roll to previous ZFS snapshot of your entire OS is a gem stolen from Solaris which has no equal in the Linux world.

With Debian you will also get nasty scripts which will try to configure any package you just installed and start the daemon whether you will need it or not. apt-get is a nasty can of worms and I prefer Yum on Linux. There is nothing wrong with pkg install on FreeBSD or PC-BSD. I don't use appcafe. Debian does have more packages but I will contest that it has significantly more packages. Debian people are often shocked when I show them that a single RHEL RPM contains hundreds of Debian packages. FreeBSD ports are also coarser than Debian

FreeBSD has no KVM but it has Jails and please no PR lines about Dockers. That thing is a crap unless you have not seen Solaris Zones and FreeBSD containers. Bhyve might be contender to KVM soon. I actually prefer Xen Dom0 and Debian is the native platform. That is a big plus but that is not your typical desktop stuff.

Now Debian has MATLAB and bunch of other scientific computing software which FreeBSD doesn't have. Quality of Debian documentation is questionable.
Suspend/resume and all other stuff is no question big plus for Debian.
 
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juiced

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#15
What file system Jessie uses for root partition? If it is Ext2 or even 4 it would be no go in my book. DragonFly BSD has excellent support for Haswell which could be ported for FreeBSD.

The biggest problem I personally see is the lack of developers who are actually using FreeBSD on their own desktops. That is why use see the project like DragonFly BSD which has two dozen developers having much more usable desktop than FreeBSD which has couple hundreds of developers.
My Debian Jessie rig has XFS on everything. /boot /root /home /var. ;)
 

Beastie7

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#16
The biggest problem I personally see is the lack of developers who are actually using FreeBSD on their own desktops. That is why use see the project like DragonFly BSD which has two dozen developers having much more usable desktop than FreeBSD which has couple hundreds of developers.
That's because they're using Macs. ;) It kind of nullifies the reason for FreeBSD on the desktop. It already exists. Hence the lack of caring.
 

Beastie7

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#18

abishai

Aspiring Daemon

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#19
That is why use see the project like DragonFly BSD which has two dozen developers having much more usable desktop than FreeBSD which has couple hundreds of developers.
I thought about DragonFlyBSD for my desktop, but it lacks some features, like software RAID support :( Maybe due to extremely small community. The problem of FreeBSD is outdated graphics stack, mainly because of Nvidia blob. On other BSDs it's unavailable and developers have to port AMD/Intel drivers with much more priority.
 

Patrick Bär

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#20
My apologies if my post came across as abrasive. No disrespect intended
I never understood it disrespective ;)

I should add, that I haven't got too much experience with Debian yet, but from what I know, it is far more mature than e.g. Fedora, but still not FreeBSD when it comes to being stable and reliable.

Easy installers don't make me jump on my bed and shout the OS' name for half an hour. No problem to spend an hour or two installing an application, as long as it stays that way! So "almost every update breaks your configuration" definitely outweighs "It has a neat installer" for me.

Flash is dead on the Linux as well. Really if you need Linux specific stuff you would save lots of time using Linux instead of getting frustrated with FreeBSD emulation layer.
Flash is dead on Linux? Hm, that's like saying "Petrol is dead on Mercedes as well" to a BMW-buyer :) As long as Flash is used so widely, there will always be some client, don't you agree?

Don't need too much Linux-stuff (I guess), but Windows-stuff will be a question. Company uses Macs and PCs, so I think chances are not bad, they will not use some exotic software.
 

protocelt

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#21
https://developer.apple.com/library.../apple_ref/doc/uid/TP30000905-CH214-TPXREF101


No matter how you slice it, Mac OS X is pure and certified BSD UNIX. Darwin (its' base system) is an implementation of BSD UNIX. Apple just decided to leverage FreeBSD. That so called "myth" is an ignorant oversimplification.

Apple adding a proprietary API on-top of it (Cocoa) doesn't make any less BSD UNIX. So it does exist.
I wouldn't debate OS X is not part of the BSD family of operating systems. It's a fine operating system though it's not for me as it's too locked down and the connected hardware, while certainly nice, is too expensive IMO. I would debate however that even though some code is shared, OS X is not FreeBSD and the fact that it's successful doesn't in any way negate the usefulness of FreeBSD or any BSD for that matter to improve on the desktop. Besides that dog-fooding your own platform, while not always feasible, will many times make for a better outcome.
 

hashime

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#22
but still not FreeBSD when it comes to being stable and reliable.
Really not true. Both are reliable and stable. Nowadays that's mostly a myth. I see Windows 2000 servers still being used, very reliable and very stable. Would not use it myself, but hard to argue against reliable and stable here.

In addition Debian releases are supported longer, more than twice as long.
 

Patrick Bär

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#23
Disagree. Linux is definitely not as stable as FreeBSD. I think, but am not too much into details, that Xorg is the weak spot. Applications run in a window manager can and do easily freeze or crash a linux system. This might depend on the application, of course. Fedora's beta stuff is more likely to behave like this than a stable Debian/Red Hat/SLES release. Still, the fact that it CAN crash/freeze the system is definitely a biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig problem.

Agree on the other stuff though, I have used Windows servers/desktops/notebooks over years without a single crash. No idea what does Linux-fanboys did to their machines that crashed them every five minutes :)
 

NewGuy

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#24
In the original post the Patrick mentioned differences between PC-BSD and FreeBSD and mentioned PC-BSD shipping with KDE. I'd like to point out that when you install PC-BSD you can seelct which (if any) desktop environment to use. It could be KDE, but you could just as easily select no desktop or Xfce or Lumina or any of the other supported desktop environments and window managers.

As for the differences, PC-BSD is basically FreeBSD with a graphical installer and nice GUI tools installed by default. It also ships with ZFS as the main file system and convenience tools to better use ZFS. For example, PC-BSD ships with beadm, a way to easily create file system snapshots so you can rescue your OS if an update or configuration change borks the system.

Otherwise PC-BSD and FreeBSD are the same system, one just has a layer of convenience (some might say bloat) on top of the FreeBSD base.

As for Debian vs FreeBSD... I find hardware support (especially for laptops) a lot better on Debian. I think FreeBSD is slightly lighter on resources. Both have similar support cycles, similar software in the package repositories. Debian is a little more mainstream and gets better support from upstream developers. I think how FreeBSD more clearly separates base OS from third-party software.

In the end, I recommend trying out each one in a virtual machine and seeing what suits you best. Personally, I like running Debian on my laptop and PC-BSD's server edition on my servers.
 

Beastie7

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#25
I wouldn't debate OS X is not part of the BSD family of operating systems. It's a fine operating system though it's not for me as it's too locked down and the connected hardware, while certainly nice, is too expensive IMO. I would debate however that even though some code is shared, OS X is not FreeBSD and the fact that it's successful doesn't in any way negate the usefulness of FreeBSD or any BSD for that matter to improve on the desktop. Besides that dog-fooding your own platform, while not always feasible, will many times make for a better outcome.
All I'm saying is that a solution to the problem (FreeBSD on the desktop) already exists, a good one at that. Its' more of a child of FreeBSD than it being FreeBSD. Why re-create it? Biases aside, it just isn't practical to do it. The primary focus was always servers - as it should be.

FreeBSD certainly could have potential on the desktop, but if the developers really cared about the desktop, we'd see way more attention towards desktop related stuff to support. Think about it, its' been 9 years since the PC-BSD project started, and its' no-where near a polished open source desktop like (dare, I say it..) Ubuntu. Having our own DE would've been realized a long time ago. Hell, we don't even have haswell support, and broadwell just came out. There's simply no incentive for the devs. The Desktop is an ugly/complicated place to work on also.

As for the value. Meh, I guess I'm old school. I prefer vertically integrated products and am fond of the value of them.
 
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