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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.

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