I wish I could remember all the details – I neglected to post when everything was still fresh in my mind – but for various reasons I’m frustrated by, and for now giving up on, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and DragonFlyBSD. (BTW: I’m writing those “funny” so they make wiki page links.)

Here are my reasons.

FreeBSD

I ran FreeBSD for seven years, on lots of machines. I loved it – mostly. For servers it was bomb-proof and ran without a hitch – except when I tried to use Vinum for RAID, which was a complete mistake (and almost ate all of our data).

I rebuilt world (FreeBSD-speak for building the kernel and userland together) dozens of times without any trouble, but the last time I did it it hung up in the middle of doing an installworld (this was on my laptop) and I had to do a binary re-install of the system to recover the use of my machine. This was unacceptable.

I also found it wearing that it was so hard to keep the third-party software up to date. The ports tree is a great idea, with some flaws in its execution. The biggest beef I have is that it’s quite easy to install a binary package that replaces a key library with a newer version, causing a lot of installed software to stop working. At that point you’re faced with re-installing lots of packages. This just seems silly.

I was also frustrated that I couldn’t see Flash animations in Firefox, since my Firefox was a native FreeBSD build, and the (binary-only!) Flash plugin is for Linux only. (I’ve since discovered an open-source Flash rendering plugin.)

So I started looking to replace FreeBSD. I’m running DragonflyBSD on my web server, and I’ve enjoyed running NetBSD in the past, so those were the two compelling alternatives.

DragonFlyBSD

This is a fork of FreeBSD-4, with an emphasis on clustering. Like any BSD it can be run as a desktop or server OS. I’m running it pretty happily on a server; when I discovered that I could get up-to-date pkgsrc packages at theshell.com, I was excited to try it as a desktop.

I ran into a list of glitches as long as my arm during the installation. I was able to work around them – and was interested in doing so because I wanted to explore the system – but it was frustrating. Then I discovered that installing binary pkgsrc packages (from theshell.com) was somehow broken, and instead of getting the latest version, I was getting the oldest one.

Since I’m looking for something seamless, at this point I had to give up. I’ve been fighting these fights with FreeBSD for years, and wanted to try something new.

NetBSD seemed like the only other option. I have my reasons for not wanting to run OpenBSD.

NetBSD

I have another machine I’m experimenting with, so I installed NetBSD on it. With one minor complaint – that if you want partitions with “mibibyte” or “gibibyte” (2^20 or 2^30) sizes, rather than megabyte (10^6) or gigabyte (10^9) – or, worse, “cylinder-aligned” partitions (a meaningless proposition on modern disk drives, which has variable geometry) – you have to specify partition sizes in sectors. This is a minor hassle, but gives you freedom and power.

Other than that, the NetBSD installer rocks big-time. It’s simple, fast, and streamlined.

I didn’t run into any trouble with NetBSD, other than frustration that the bundled X server is very old (and it’s not clear to me how to use the one in pkgsrc instead), and that the binary packages seem to be hosted only on the main FTP site – ftp.netbsd.org – which can be flaky (I think it is simply overloaded). Not having access to binary packages, and not having a super-fast machine to build my own from pkgsrc, just seemed untenable. I had run out of options – though in every respect NetBSD impresses me, and I’m sure I’ll be running it in the future, perhaps as a server OS.

Having given up on the BSDs that I was willing to try (still refusing to look at OpenBSD), I went in search of a decent Linux, and after trying – and failing!! – to install Ubuntu and OpenSUSE – both of which have ridiculously slow, bloated, and useless installers – I found Arch Linux. I had been thinking, “why doesn’t someone just use a shell script as an installer?” and that’s exactly what Arch does. I’m pretty happy with it.


In summary

FreeBSD bugs:

Other installations of FreeBSD have been able to see the USB hard drive and CD-RW, so blaming these failures on FreeBSD is possibly unfair.

DragonFlyBSD bugs:

NetBSD bugs:


2013 January 23 22:52

Postscript: I bought an iMac, so now I run FreeBSD again – sort of. And I have to admit, I miss using BSD systems. I’ve been running Arch Linux for a while, and loved it at first. That feeling is gone. Arch’s “rolling release” system – which periodically causes updates to wedge the system requires interventional surgery – and the replacement of their simple shell-script installer (one of the reasons I was excited about Arch in the first place) with a framework – have frustrated and infuriated me. I’m ready for something new. Maybe another (overpriced) Mac? ;-)