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Using DesktopBSD

by Dru Lavigne

My previous article walked you through the features provided by a PC-BSD system. Today's article explores DesktopBSD, an easy-to-install and easy-to-use variant of FreeBSD 5.5.

Like PC-BSD, DesktopBSD provides many features that will allow a complete Unix novice to start using the operating system immediately. Those already familiar with FreeBSD and the KDE desktop will recognize the tools underlying the GUI conveniences.


DesktopBSD 1.0 is available for download as either a CD or DVD ISO. The DesktopBSD Release Notes describe the extras that are available in the DVD version. If you're downloading the ISO, take a look at the DesktopBSD screenshots while you are waiting. They will give you a good idea of what to expect during the installation.

I find the installation routine to be very self-explanatory, even for beginners. For example, the DesktopBSD Bootloader screen explains when it is appropriate to pick each option.

If you only want to have DesktopBSD on your disk, choose "Use entire disk" in the Disk partitioning screen. If you wish to run multiple operating systems, you need to have some empty disk space available. Assuming this is the case, click the "New Partition" button to specify how much of the empty space to use. Once you have selected either the entire disk or created a new partition, highlight it with your mouse and click the "Install into selected partition" button. Once you confirm your choice, the installer will start copying files to the hard disk.

When finished, the installer will ask you to reboot and will then enter the Initial Configuration Wizard. You will receive the option to insert the Language Packages CD for additional language support; the default is to support only the language you chose at the very beginning of the install.

The Users dialog won't let you continue until you add at least one user and set the system password. You can then select your language so you can read the Getting Started tutorial in one of 10 languages. Although you can instead click on the Finish button, I highly recommend you go through the tutorial during your first install as it will explain how to mount file systems using the GUI Mounter, how to view and configure your network settings, how to use the KDE Control center, and how to access the system Documentations.

Click the Finish button, then log in as the user you created. The very first time you log in, the KPersonalizer will run so you can customize your KDE desktop.

Desktop Icons

A newly installed DesktopBSD system provides several desktop icons to get you started. If you are attached to a network of Windows systems, clicking on the Browse the Network icon should allow you to browse network shares, much like the behavior of My Network Places in Windows.

Many new users to FreeBSD don't realize that the operating system and its applications include a lot of documentation. The Documentation icon provides an easy shortcut to /usr/local/share/doc which contains the documentation installed with applications. Similarly, the Documentation (X11) icon points to /usr/X11R6/share/doc, the location of documentation installed with X11 applications.

Note: As you learn more about the operating system, take a look at the contents of /usr/share/examples.

The Getting Started icon opens up Konqueror, giving quick access to your Home Folder, Network Folders, Applications, Storage Media, Trash, and Settings, as well as a link to Next: An Introduction to Konqueror. That last link provides some handy tips and tricks.

The desktop also contains a Home icon so you can quickly access the files in your home directory. A Trash icon provides features similar to the Windows Recycle Bin, allowing you to restore deleted files or to delete them permanently.

The two remaining desktop icons, Software and System, deserve more attention.

Dealing with Software

DesktopBSD's Software icon allows you to easily install and uninstall applications, as well as view known security vulnerabilities and upgrade to newer software versions. You should be attached to the internet if you want to install or upgrade any software.

When you click on the Software icon, you must enter the root password; if you check the Keep password box, you will not receive a prompt the next time you click this icon.

The very first time you click the Software icon, you'll see a message:

In DesktopBSD, software is bundled in so-called packages. These packages can be applications or components shared between different applications. Most applications reuse features of other software to avoid duplications, so they depend on other packages. The package list contains available packages. You should update it regularly to know about security upgrades and new program versions. You can open this introduction from the "Help" menu later.

Depending on how old the operating system is, you may also receive a message similar to:

CRITICAL WARNING: Security information is 72 days old! Please update it and check for new security issues in installed software.


DesktopBSD maintains a package list that contains available packages, their versions, and dependencies between them. An up-to-date list is necessary to be able to install and upgrade software on this computer. This list doesn't exist on your system, so it has to be downloaded from the internet first. Please ensure you are connected to the internet and click "Proceed" to download the package list. If you don't want to do this now, click 'Quit' to exit the package manager.

If you click the Proceed button (or Update List if you didn't receive that message), the system will ask you to "Please specify an update server." Click on OK to see Figure 1. Click on Find fastest server which will automatically fill in the server URLs for you. Clicking on OK opens a terminal that shows cvsup running and downloading ports-all. This initial download is quite large, so wait the half hour or so (depending on the speed of your internet connection) for it to finish. Subsequent downloads will be very quick, as they need only download the ports which have changed since your most recent update.

choosing an update server
Figure 1. Choosing an update server.

When this finishes, you will see something like Figure 2. If you click on the Installed Packages screen then click the Upgrade all outdated packages button, the names of those outdated packages will be added to the Pending Operations window.

upgrading packages
Figure 2. Upgrading packages.

If there is a package you don't want to upgrade, highlight it and click the Remove Operation button. Otherwise, click Start which will bring up another menu:

You selected packages to upgrade. Do you want to read the update notes first?

Complete novices may wish to say No and proceed. Otherwise, it is a good idea to say Yes and skim through this file as it will tell you if there are any gotchas when upgrading your software. At the end of the process, it will ask you:

Now that you've read the update notes, do you want to continue installing and upgrading packages?

If you chose Yes, a terminal will open so you can watch the upgrade process.

It's useful to know what happens behind the scenes so you can understand the results of your upgrade. FreeBSD provides two methods for installing software. The first is the packages system, where a package is similar to a Windows installer program: it downloads the executable, documentation, and everything the program needs to run. Packages are really quick to install, but aren't always available for the latest version of software as someone has to create the package. The second method is the ports system; a port is the instructions needed to build a program. Ports tend to be available before packages but it can take a long time for a port to build the application. A long time can be anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours (and sometimes a few days) depending upon the size of the application and the speed of your CPU. For example, KDE and OpenOffice are very large applications and can take a very long time to build.

The default upgrade method for DesktopBSD's Package Manager is to upgrade packages. This means your upgrades will be very quick, but you will most likely receive some errors as not every application will have a new package available. If you receive an error, you have two choices. You can either try again in a week or so to see if there is a new package, or you can try to build the port.

If you decide to try building the port, go into the Packages menu->Settings->Binaries and Source. Change "Binary packages only" to "Binary packages whenever possible." Then, in Advanced, check (at least) two options:

[x]Always upgrade the packages required by the specified packages as well.
[x]Always upgrade the packages depending on the specified packages as well.

Repeat your upgrade, which will take a while. You should check on it every now and then as sometimes it will pause and wait for you to select from a menu of options. Also be aware that sometimes a port will fail to build. The reason for the failure often pertains to something you should have read in the file which appeared before starting the upgrade.

Note: if you're curious, the name of that file is /usr/ports/UPDATING.

You can do much more than upgrade your software using this utility. To see what software is installed, select the Group by...None button under Installed Packages. To install software, click on the Available Packages tab. Here you will find a search utility where you can search by package name or by description. Alternately, click on the x to clear the search and bring up the categories to browse manually. If you select an application, it will give a short description and the latest version. Other buttons allow you to see the long description, view the website for the application, and install the application. When you click install, the application will be added to the Pending Operations pane. This allows you to select multiple applications; the installations will occur when you click the Start button.

After the install, you will have the opportunity to add menu entries for the new applications. If you say Yes, click the Scan button when Kappfinder opens. I've found Kappfinder to be a bit flaky, so it may or may not find the application you just installed. I prefer to click on K menu (the red DesktopBSD icon in the far left of the taskbar), then Settings->Menu Editor to review and modify the K menu.

Should you wish to uninstall an application, the safest way is to click the Deinstall button. You will see the message:

Welcome to the deinstallation wizard! Most packages need other software to work properly. When you deinstall such packages, previously required software may remain on the system and consume disk space unnecessarily. This wizard guides you through the deinstallation of packages and no longer required software.

When you select the application(s) you wish to deinstall, you may need to select other applications which came with that application. Clicking on the Calculate button will tell you how much disk space this operation will free and clicking Finish will perform the deinstallation(s).

Note: this utility won't let you uninstall software that other applications require. This allows novices to safely uninstall applications without messing up the system.

The Security tab will show known vulnerabilities for applications you can install using Package Manager, allowing you to decide if you wish to install or keep already installed applications with known outstanding security issues.

Finally, the Clean button will start another wizard:

Welcome to the cleaning wizard! When you install new software, installation files remain on your system. They can be useful for later reinstallations and upgrades, but in most cases they unnecessarily consume disk space. This wizard helps you to remove such files from your system.

If disk space is an issue, its not a bad idea to periodically run this wizard as it can free up some disk space.

Configuring Remote Places

The System icon provides another method for accessing your Home Folder and Trash. It also provides shortcuts to Storage Media and Users Folders. I'd like to spend some time on the Add a Network Folder wizard found within its final shortcut: Remote Places. Double-clicking that shortcut will allow you to make shortcuts to FTP, Windows network drive, and SSH connections.

For example, I configured an SSH shortcut to a SSH server running inside my network as follows:

Name: server
User: dru
Port: 22
Folder: /usr/home/dru
[x] Create an icon for this remote folder

When I pressed Save & Connect, a SSH Authorization menu prompted me for my password and gave an option to Keep password. Because I asked to save password, KWallet opened:

Welcome to KWallet, the KDE Wallet System. KWallet allows you to store your passwords and other personal information on disk in an encrypted file, preventing others from viewing the information. This wizard will tell you about KWallet and help you configure it for the first time.

I pressed Next to enter Basic setup (recommended) and received another message:

Various applications may attempt to use the KDE wallet to store passwords or other information such as web form data and cookies. If you would like these applications to use the wallet, you must enable it now and choose a password. The password you choose cannot be recovered if it is lost, and will allow anyone who knows it to obtain all the information contained in the wallet.

I checked [x] Yes, I wish to use the KDE wallet to store my personal information. and entered a password. It prompted me to enter that password to access the wallet. It then finished connecting to the SSH server and opened my home directory on that system in Konqueror.

The next time I wish to connect to server, I can simply double-click its icon in Remote Places.

Hint: If you prefer to make a desktop icon, right-click the icon in Remote Places, select to copy and right-click on the Desktop and choose Paste URL.

Once you start creating and using your connection shortcuts, your Recent Connections will show in the drop-down menu in the Network Folder Wizard.

System Tray Icons

There are several convenient icons in the right side of the system tray, next to the clock. Klipper keeps track of your copy operations, making it easy to paste text between applications. Mixer gives quick access to sound volume. Korganizer is a full-featured personal calendar--spend some time poking about its Events and Settings menus. Right-clicking the Mounted Devices icon gives quick access to CDs, DVDs, floppies, and file systems. If you right-click Network Control and select Configure, you can view the status of your NICs, customize your TCP/IP settings and scan for wireless networks.

I'll leave it to you to explore the KDE menu on your own as there is much there to see. There is one last note to mention: if you decide to Switch User and Start a New Session, find your first session at Alt-F9 and your new session at Alt-F10.


If you have been hesitant to try FreeBSD because you heard the install was difficult or were afraid you would have problems configuring the GUI or sound or networking, now is a great time to take the plunge. Both PC-BSD and DesktopBSD provide you with a fully configured, ready to use system so you can be up and running in under half an hour. Both include features to help you install software and keep up to date. I recommend you try both to see which one you prefer for yourself. Since both provide FreeBSD under the hood, all of the documentation at the FreeBSD website as well as the many tutorials and howtos on the internet will apply to your desktop operating system.

Dru Lavigne is a network and systems administrator, IT instructor, author and international speaker. She has over a decade of experience administering and teaching Netware, Microsoft, Cisco, Checkpoint, SCO, Solaris, Linux, and BSD systems. A prolific author, she pens the popular FreeBSD Basics column for O'Reilly and is author of BSD Hacks and The Best of FreeBSD Basics.

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