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Linux vs. BSD, What's the Difference?

by Dru Lavigne
08/23/2007

PC-BSD for Ubuntu Users

Ubuntu is known as Linux for Human Beings, because it's driven by the philosophy that "software should be available free of charge, software tools should be usable by people in their local language and despite any disabilities, and people should have the freedom to customize and alter their software in whatever way they see fit" (Ubuntu Documentation).

PC-BSD, on the other hand, "has been designed with the casual computer user in mind. Installing the system is simply a matter of a few clicks and a few minutes for the installation process to finish. Hardware such as video, sound, network, and other devices will be auto-detected and available at the first system startup. Home users will immediately feel comfortable with PC-BSD's desktop interface, with KDE 3.5 running under the hood. Software installation has also been designed to be as painless as possible, simply double-click and software will be installed" (pcbsd.org).

Having used both operating systems extensively, PC-BSD is the one I recommend and the one I install in desktop environments. If you've used Ubuntu before, but haven't tried PC-BSD, give it a try. The increase in responsiveness (i.e., everything seems to just run faster) and ease-of-use will surprise you.

In this article, I'll compare Ubuntu 7.04 (Fiesty Fawn) with the (as of this writing) upcoming release of PC-BSD 1.4.

Installation

CD and VmWare images are available from the download page of the PC-BSD web site. As of this writing, the PC-BSD liveCD has not yet been released; it may be available for download by the time you read this article.

To install PC-BSD onto your hard drive, you'll need CD number one. If you wish to install additional software when you install the operating system or need support for one of the 50 native languages, you'll also need CD number two. A list of the supported languages can be found on the PC-BSD Pootle site.

Users who have installed Ubuntu will find that the PC-BSD installer asks similar questions prior to installation. You'll be prompted to select a language, a time zone, a keyboard layout, the hard drive on which to install, and to create a username and password.

You will find some differences. Ubuntu uses sudo to control administrative access, meaning you always use the password associated with your own username, whereas PC-BSD requires you to create a separate password for administrative access. The PC-BSD installer allows you to choose which system components to install; these include KDE components such as games, a software development kit and toys, the FreeBSD ports collection or src, and common applications such as OpenOffice, Firefox, Opera, and k3b (see Figure 1). You'll also be asked to accept a license agreement; while PC-BSD is available under a permissive BSD license, the Intel firmware and Nvidia driver require notification of their licensing terms.

Install System Components Figure
Figure 1: Install system components

After the install, you'll have the opportunity to change and test your display settings, including the selection of 3D capability if your video card supports it.

I've found that PC-BSD installs much quicker than Ubuntu on the same computer. A clean installation of Ubuntu can take 45 minutes, while a clean installation of PC-BSD can install in 15 minutes.

You can preview the entire installation process along with screenshots and detailed explanations for each step in Chapter 2 of the PC-BSD Quick Guide. Chapter 2 also provides the hardware requirements.

Window Manager

The biggest difference most Ubuntu users will notice is that KDE is used instead of Gnome for the default window manager. The Gnome window manager places its menus in the title bar at the top of your screen whereas the KDE window manager provides a Windows Start Menu-style menu in the lower left corner of the screen as well as a bottom task bar.

At first glance, Kubuntu (the KDE version of Ubuntu) users will notice very little difference in the desktop, other than the PC-BSD splash screen and the four desktop icons. The icons are for Trash (similar to Windows Recycle Bin), a link to the locally installed Quick Guide (highly recommended reading), a link to the PC-BSD web site, and a link to Get Software.

Installing Software

There are three software installation methods available to PC-BSD users, all of which are described in Chapter 4.1 of the Quick Guide.

PBIs (Push Button Installers) are by far the easiest. To install a PBI, click on the Get Software desktop icon while connected to the Internet, then the PBI Directory hyperlink. You can then browse software categorized by Chat, Development, Drivers, Email, Emulators, FTP, Games, Graphics, Look & Feel, Multimedia, Network, Office, Servers, Shells, Themes, Utilities, and Web. You'll also find top 10 lists for the latest software and the most downloaded software, as well as a search utility.

Once you've located an application you wish to install, select a mirror to begin the download of the installation program. When the download is finished, you'll be prompted to enter the administrative password to start the installer. The installer will ask you if you'd like a desktop icon or an entry in the menu and will inform you when the installation is complete. All in all, this method is very quick and painless. This method is also safe because you don't have to worry about dependency issues--PBIs are entirely self-contained programs that do not affect the installation of the operating system or any other application.

If you chose to install an entry in the menu, you'll find a shortcut to your application in the appropriate submenu. For example, Firefox will be placed under Internet and OpenOffice under Office. The arrow pointing to a submenu indicates that that application was installed via a PBI and did not come with the KDE window manager or the operating system. The submenu allows you to run or deinstall the program; some application submenus also provide shortcuts to documentation or extra features.

To uninstall a PBI you can either run the deinstall program from its submenu or use the Add/Remove Software menu. You'll find this menu under Settings -> Software & Updates. After typing in your admininstrative password, you'll see a listing of PBIs under the Installed PBIs tab. You can then highlight a program and click the Remove button to deinstall it. This menu also contains the System Components tab where you can install or remove the system components you saw during the installation of PC-BSD. Note that you will be prompted for CD number two to install software from this tab.

Running Windows Applications

One of the available PBIs is a two week evaluation of the commercial Win4BSD Pro program. This software allows you to run Windows from your PC-BSD desktop--meaning you don't have to give up your Windows applications, or dual-boot to access them, or worry about viruses and spyware while in Windows.

After installing the PBI, start the program from either the desktop icon or PBI Programs menu. You'll need your installation CD of either Windows 2000 or XP. The initial screen allows you to limit the amount of disk space (4 GB by default) and RAM (128 MB by default) available to Windows. When ready, insert your Windows installation CD and click the Install button to start the Windows installation program.

Once the install is complete, a new desktop icon will be created that indicates the name of the operating system--mine was called "Win4BSD Pro - winpro." Double-click that icon and that operating system will boot up in a window. Once booted, you can interact with Windows as usual: install software, run programs, access the Internet, etc. When you're finished, use the start menu to shutdown Windows--Win4BSD will automatically close the window when the shutdown is finished. If you use Windows software, you'll find this method rather addictive as you can continue to use the PC-BSD operating system simultaneously. I also find Windows is very snappy--it does not run slow, even within the default 4 GB, 128 MB of RAM environment.

If you like this program, it is available for purchase from the Win4BSD Store for $49.99.

Common Tasks

Ubuntu users will find that most of the tasks they are used to performing through a GUI configuration tool are also available on PC-BSD. Many of these tools will be found in the Settings menu that provides submenus for Appearance & Themes, Desktop, Internet & Network, KDE Components, Peripherals, Regional & Accessibility, Security & Privacy, Software & Updates, Sound & Multimedia, and System Administration.

PC-BSD offers many built-in utilities which don't come with a default install of Ubuntu. For example, the pf firewall is enabled by default and can be configured through Settings -> Internet & Network -> Firewall. This menu allows you to start, stop, or restart the firewall as well as restore the default configuration. Use the Exceptions tab to allow or block a specified protocol. Figure 2 shows an example to allow incoming traffic to an IRC server.

Adding a Firewall Rule
Figure 2: Adding a Firewall rule

Beryl is also installed by default and configuration is automatic; simply click on System -> Beryl Manager. Note that not all video cards support Beryl--check out the Beryl FAQ to see if yours is supported. While the FAQ doesn't mention NVidia cards, beryl runs fine on these cards under PC-BSD. If you're running an NVidia card, install the NVidia PBI before starting beryl.

Keeping Up-to-Date

PC-BSD provides easy-to-use tools for keeping both the operating system and installed software up-to-date.

To see if any security patches are available for the operating system, go to Settings -> Software & Updates -> Online Update Manager. Once you input the administrative password you'll see the menu shown in Figure 3.

Online Update Manager
Figure 3: Online Update Manager

Here you can schedule updates or click Check Now. You'll either receive a message that your system is up-to-date or information about what needs to be updated. If the system needs to be updated, the update wizard will guide you through the update process.

If you install software using PBIs, you can check for new versions of software from the Settings -> Software & Updates -> PBI Update Manager menu. If any software requires a new update, simply click Get Update to install the latest version of the highlighted application.

Getting Help

PC-BSD has a vibrant user community and several avenues for support. Most of what you need to get started using PC-BSD can be found in the Quick Guide and the KDE Documentation web site.

There's also the PC-BSD Knowledge Database, the FreeBSD Handbook (PC-BSD is FreeBSD under the hood, so anything written for FreeBSD also works on PC-BSD), and the PC-BSD Forums.

Commercial support is available from iXystems, with details available on pcbsd.org.

Summary

PC-BSD provides a fun, easy-to-use desktop operating system with the added benefits of stability and security. Better yet, the price tag is free! If you haven't taken PC-BSD for a test drive, what are you waiting for?

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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