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Inside PC-BSD 1.3
Pages: 1, 2

Dru: Kris, please describe the new HAL back-end support. What is it and why would I want to use it?

Kris: Well, the HAL support was really a last-minute addition to the default PC-BSD base. When KDE 3.5.5 was ported over to FreeBSD, it fixed the issues 3.5.4 had with printing not working, which made it essential for us to include. Along with that fix, 3.5.5 switched over to the HAL back end for mounting and device access.

Essentially, what the HAL back end does is monitor the system hardware for device notifications and then provide a framework for KDE to mount or access the device. On my various test systems here, it seems to work fine, even providing extra details about the media that I am mounting. (For example, when I insert a 1GB USB flash drive, it correctly identifies it as a 1GB drive and mounts it.) HAL support works independently from the /etc/fstab file, which can make it easier for end users who don't know how to modify the fstab file manually to add a device.

That all said, HAL support on BSD is still relatively new, and may not work properly with all hardware setups. We are hoping that these issues will be resolved quickly and will issue online updates as soon as the port gets fixed. Anticipating this, I added an option to the PC-BSD "Services" tool, which lets you disable HAL from loading at boot-up, which may help the stability of systems where HAL isn't working with the hardware yet.

Dru: The PC-BSD 1.3 installer includes a GUI front end to create PF firewall rules. Which features of PF are currently supported and what are the PF plans for future releases?

Andrei: The hardest parts in the creation of an automated PF firewall generator are compatibility with local area networks behind NAT and direct internet connections. I think the current implementation is not as good as it is supposed to be, but at least it works. This is currently a work in progress and the overall concept of firewall in PC-BSD may change, but I hope OpenBSD Packet Filter is the right tool for this work and it stays here.

Standard features like scrubbing and keeping state are implemented, and for future releases, we plan to automatically detect what kind of connection is used on computer. Then we can block SMB shares and others not suitable for wider audience ports for direct internet connection. Maybe even spamd and QoS (ALTQ) enabled in firewall; right now we have ALTQ support enabled in kernel by default in case someone needs it right now without recompiling kernel. Features are not set in stone, so everyone who have good knowledge of firewalling in FreeBSD may give us fresh ideas and we'll try to make them available to our users.

Dru: Many PC-BSD users are migrating from Windows. Is there any type of support available for new users?

Kris: On the free side, we have a very active PC-BSD community on our forums, and most questions can probably be answered by some of the knowledgeable folks on there. We also have a FAQ database and Documentation project that helps users with common problems or questions, and is designed for the user who is migrating to PC-BSD for the first time.

Andrei: I think that most loyal PC-BSD users come with a Linux background, and good documentation is expected from users migrating from both Linux and Windows. Many new users just don't know where to look for documentation. Linux users are familiar with loads of how-to pages and don't know that the FreeBSD Handbook may help them out in 90 percent of cases. This is where the PC-BSD forums and users with excellent knowledge of subject can point newbies to proper documentation and help with advice if they find something not documented yet.

Commercial support is another story: companies want some stability and expect the operating system they migrate to is not going to /dev/null in near future. Of course, Open source-based systems can't just vanish, and if they have commercial backup support, like PC-BSD from iXsystems, then I think both parties can trust each other and help create PC-BSD even better.

Charles: Yes, there's our Quick Guide. There's also our community that besides kidding around a lot in the forum lounge is very helpful and professional when it comes to assisting newcomers. We always try to have an upbeat attitude. PC-BSD is driven by the will to offer a decent system to nontechnical users. Granted, the bulk of our community is power users, but nontechnical users, representing 90 percent of computer users, remain our main target. PC-BSD is still rough around the edges, but I'm confident that by 2.0, it'll be really good to the point that people will start spreading the word. It is currently well positioned at the BSDStats website.

You shouldn't spend half an hour (or more) tailoring your system to your taste. You shouldn't have to search on forums and on your favorite search engine to use your computer. I would go even further: you shouldn't have to read any documentation to use your computer. This might sound wrong to some power users, but I think common users will not change their system if they have to read documentation. Obviously, this is a whole different story for power users who want to use a vanilla version of FreeBSD to use it as a clustered web server where you need to read documentation. But in 2007, we have plans with the PBI developers, whom I congratulate for their hard work, to create a whole set of server PBIs that will just work. You will be able to install Apache/lighttpd with PHP/mod_python/RoR and MySQL/PostgreSQL. It'll work seamlessly without having to tweak configuration files.

As an example, you can download and install lighttpd, which I ported with Gonzalo from FreeBSD to PC-BSD. During installation, it asks a few questions, such as if you want to be the only one or if you want lighttpd to be used by other users, and it also asks if you want to start the service when PC-BSD starts. The installation wizard does the hard job of generating the configuration file for you. Once lighttpd is installed, you just have to open your favorite browser and access http://localhost/. Again, such details may not seem important for you and for me, but a user that has little experience with computers will find it handy and invaluable.

Dru: It takes the efforts of many people to bring about an operating system release. Who else was involved in this release?

Kris: One of the risks I run in naming folks is that I will leave somebody out :) That being said, we owe a lot to our PC-BSD Core Team, Charles-Andre Landemaine, Andrei Kolu, Tim McCormick, and Gerard van Essen. This list doesn't include the myriad of other folks who have been helping us with bug testing, PBI creation, documentation, and more. They all played a very important role in the latest release of PC-BSD. A special thanks is also due to the folks down at iXsystems, for giving me the opportunity to work full-time on this project and providing the resources and contacts to get important things done.

Andrei: We'll never forget the guys from FreeSBIE--Italian FreeBSD distribution guys with their original PF firewall script--and Angelescu Ovidiu from RoFreeSBIE LiveCD distribution, from whom we got video and sound card detection scripts. And, of course, the FreeBSD, KDE, and KDE FreeBSD teams for their hard work.

Charles: Lots of people, and thanks a lot to them. Some people that we know, PBI developers, some active forum members, translators, and some people that download the ISO image secretly in order to report bugs to help the project because they believe deeply in PC-BSD.

Dru: The PC-BSD website is currently holding a web design contest. Any other plans in 2007 for improvements to the site or forums?

Kris: I would probably have to defer some of this to the other team members, such as Charles, who maintains much of the site. I know we plan on an actual site revamp, but as for the forums specifically, we will have to wait until later to say for sure.

Andrei: Easier to navigate site is primary goal and I hope we have it for 1.4 release. We already got rid of the pbidir forums and now there is a much faster and easier way of reporting bugs or deprecated PBI packages on the main forums. phpBB search engine is not the brightest at the moment and I hope we can start using some more-advanced engine like Google or something.

Charles: The revamp of the website is already a lot of work, especially because it's going to use Joomla, a new engine that we'll have to learn how to use. And then we will have to adapt the new look & feel to other subdomains. Lots of nights tweaking code ahead! :)

Dru: Can you give us a sneak peek of what is coming in 1.4?

Kris: We still have to get our core members to sit down and hash out a final roadmap for 1.4, but as of right now there are some things I'm planning on having included. A Backup/Restore Manager and a Firewall Manager are two of the big things that come to mind at the moment.

Andrei: Firewall GUI, PPPoE connection manager, Terminal-server tools with TCR (Terminal Client Release)--my pet project. Backup/Restore Manager would be based on Ghost 4 Unix scripts and incorporated into PC-BSD Installer Livecd; this can be a major enhancement for users who are scared by possible destruction of their files or just want to test out PC-BSD and restore previous system, if something goes awry.

Major change in development would be moving everything to the Trac Source Code Management system. I hope this would bring more developers to our project and make overall development more centralized and transparent.

If we look even further, then I'd like to have GEOM journaling and ZFS filesystems (thanks for your hard work Pawel Jakub Dawidek from FreeBSD project) in PC-BSD in near future. MAC (Mandatory Access Control) that is already in fully working condition in FreeBSD and Quota support for server release are in our to do list also.

Charles: We will continue the creation of PBI automation scripts to spend less time creating PBIs. 1.4 will, above all, be a less cutting-edge release with more enhancements, more small features. But there will also be a firewall GUI and a PPPoE wizard. Hopefully, some i18n aspects such as keyboard, fonts, right-to-left languages, will be revamped also. PC-BSD is an international operating system built by and for people from around the world, no matter his language. Anybody is welcome to contribute with his own language or his way; we have available volunteer positions where our community has the possibility to influence greatly on the future of PC-BSD, unlike some canned systems. Anyone who wants to contribute and to give his opinion is most welcome.

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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