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Using PC-BSD

by Dru Lavigne
05/11/2006

My next two articles will demonstrate the features of two desktop operating systems that are based on FreeBSD. Both PC-BSD and DestopBSD provide an easy to install and easy to use desktop environment suited for the corporate desktop user as well as the home user with no previous Unix experience. Today I'll concentrate on PC-BSD. My next article will focus on DesktopBSD.

While much of today's article will provide an introduction to what a novice BSD user can expect if they install PC-BSD, users already familiar with FreeBSD and the KDE desktop will still find some interesting features for dealing with ports, cvsup, and updates.

Getting and Installing PC-BSD

PC-BSD is available from the PC-BSD download page, from where you can download and then burn the ISO. Alternately, if you don't have access to a burner or wish to support the project, you can purchase a three-CD set for $35.

Hint: power users may enjoy downloading and trying the new PC-BSD vmware image, which is also available from the download site.

Once you have the CD, insert it into the CD drive as you start your computer. Most systems should already be configured to boot from CD, meaning the install program will automatically begin. The PC-BSD website has screenshots of everything you'll see during the install. (I've linked to them where appropriate.)

Some text messages will go by and then you'll see the PC-BSD splash screen with its bright yellow flowers. When you see the Installation menu, press enter to start the graphical install.

You'll have the option to choose your language and keyboard layout. Click the Start Installation button to proceed. You'll then see a welcome message. Press Next to continue.

The installer will then show you your hard drive(s) and ask you to select where to install PC-BSD. If you only have one hard drive and only want PC-BSD on your computer, click on the box that says "Use entire disk for UNIX" and then Next to continue. You'll receive a warning that all data currently on the disk will be lost. If you're OK with that, press OK.

The next screen will ask if you need a boot loader. If PC-BSD will be the only operating system on your computer, click the "No boot-loader" button, and then Next to continue. You can now watch as PC-BSD installs on your computer.

When it finishes, the installer will ask you to set the root (administrative) password and make a login account. Be careful when you pick your username, as it is case-sensitive. You may want to keep your username lowercase, and spell your full name correctly under Real Name, which is just a description. If you leave the "Auto-login User" box selected, the system will bring you right into the desktop without asking you to log in, which is convenient if you are the only user of a home system. If you share your computer with other users, deselect this box.

When you click Next, the system will set up your account, and then you'll receive a message indicating that the install is complete. Click Finish to reboot into the new system and don't forget to remove the CD once the reboot starts.

Becoming Familiar with the Desktop

The first time you reboot into PC-BSD, you should hear the KDE theme, if you have a working soundcard. Then you'll go through prompts to customize KDE. You'll also receive a KTip that gives tips on using KDE; if you prefer not to see these whenever you start your system, uncheck the "Show tips on startup" box.

Click on the FreeBSD logo (the red icon on the far left of the task bar) to access the KDE menu, which is somewhat like the Windows Start menu. Here you can Log Out, which allows you to End Current Session (log off), Turn Off Computer, Restart Computer, or Cancel if you've changed your mind. If you have a fairly recent computer, the Turn Off Computer option should do just that without you having to push the power button yourself.

The Lock Session button will save what you are doing and go into a locked screensaver. If you click your mouse button, you will see a password prompt to unlock the screensaver. This is a good option if you want to leave your computer and don't want anyone else using it or seeing what you were doing.

Run Command is similar to the Windows run command. If you already know the name of the command, you can type it in. If you click the Options button, you can also check the box for "Run as a different user," which is similar to the Windows runas command.

Accessing Media and Sharing Files

Next in the KDE menu system is the System menu, which provides a quick way to access your Home Folder, Storage Media, Remote Places (similar to My Network Places on Windows), Trash, and Users Folders.

Start with Storage Media. This will open up the Konqueror browser in a view that shows your CD-ROM, floppy, and hard disk. It will also show supported removable media such as USB thumb drives. By default, CDs should auto-mount when you insert them, meaning you can just double-click the CD-ROM icon to see its contents. When you finish, right-click the icon to Eject the CD. If you right-click the floppy icon, you'll see options to Format or Mount the floppy. The format utility can do a quick or full DOS format that Windows systems will understand. You can also choose to format with UFS, which only Unix systems will understand. If you do mount a floppy to view its contents, don't forget to right-click and Unmount it when you finish but before you physically eject the floppy. This lets the operating system know that you have finished using the floppy.

PC-BSD comes with a SMB client, which makes it easy to access shared folders on Windows systems, other PC-BSD systems, and any other Unix-like system that provides a SMB client. If you go into Remote Places and double-click Samba Shares, you should be able to see all of the aforementioned systems on your network. If you double-click a system, you should be able to access its shares. Note: XP systems running SP2 have a firewall automatically enabled, so you may have to (carefully) configure an XP system's firewall before you can access its shares inside your own network.

Here is an easy method to configure your own shares: from Remote Places, right-click the word Desktop that appears in the left-hand pane and select Create Folder. Select your new folder, and then right-click in the right pane and Create New -> Text File. Double-click the file to edit it and then save your changes. Now, right-click your folder and choose Properties -> Share and click the Configure File Sharing button. You must then type in the root password. (Note: whenever you're prompted for the root password, if you select the box "Keep password," you won't be prompted again the next time you run that specific utility.) If you keep the default of "Simple sharing," users can share any of their own files without knowing the root password.

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