Saturday, May 16, 2009
A FreeBSD Homecoming
So after enduring Ubuntu's terminal instability for close to a month, and finally getting sick of it two days ago, I wiped Ubuntu and decided to go back to what was the first UNIX system I ever encountered, on an Internet provider's text shell back in 1995.
Although I know Rilgon has, and possibly Pike, it's possible that not many of you have heard of FreeBSD. It could be considered Linux's older cousin, being directly descended from the initial, non-PC versions of UNIX.
I've included the image of the Tumbler here because, as far as the "operating systems and cars," analogy is concerned, I can't think of a better fitting comparison in this case. FreeBSD was initially primarily intended as a server operating system, perhaps a little moreso than a desktop, and is still used for web hosting by some of the busiest sites on the planet. Yahoo is probably the best known, but there are many others, including three of Netcraft's top 10 most reliable webhosting companies this last April.
To answer the single most important question, however, yes, it does run World of Warcraft. ;) There are native nVidia drivers, and WoW runs on it via Wine, just like Linux.
So why am I running this instead of Linux or Windows?
I was tired of the amount of random hardware failures and other instability that I had suffered through with Ubuntu. Although XP is fairly stable, there were times with earlier versions of Windows when the Blue Screen of Death was seen regularly by me, and it never really went away completely until after Service Pack 2.
FreeBSD, on the other hand, is as solid as the above image suggests. ;) As far as I know, FreeBSD's sister distribution, NetBSD, was used as the host operating system for the recent Mars rover. If you install this, you can forget about seeing the Blue Screen of Death, or any other equivalent, ever again. For the most part, it simply doesn't happen. ;)
I read another report online a bit back about how some people installed a FreeBSD web server on a headless machine, (that is, no monitor or keyboard) stuck it in a desk drawer, and then unintentionally ended up completely forgetting about it for six months. It was only rediscovered when they noticed a power cord trailing out of the drawer. On discovering it, they tested it and discovered that it was still functioning as well as it had been when it was initially installed.
Have any of you who run XP, ever had this nagging, uncomfortable feeling that maybe there's something nasty lurking away in some corner of the operating system, waiting to pounce and trash your files? I used to get that feeling on a regular basis myself, and I didn't like it. I feel that peace of mind when using a computer is very important.
Now, I don't have to worry. I can install anything I want from source code, (unlike even Ubuntu, where, even though source compilation is possible, it is awkward and inconvenient to do, and also frequently uses non-signed, or potentially unsafe, source packages) and potentially review said source code myself if I'm worried about it, to ensure that malware isn't contained within it. Even if, on the rare offchance, something nasty is contained in a program I've installed, as long as I've run it as a non-root user, it might destroy my own account, but it can't destroy the entire system.
System resource efficiency is another big priority. Not only in Windows, but also with Linux I hated how bloated KDE in particular was. I still don't have more than 1Gb of RAM on this system, so I can't afford to be wasting memory because of someone else's bad programming.
When I install FreeBSD, I can choose exactly what makes up the system that is the end result; and that also means that I have access to some window managers and other software which is extremely minimalistic in terms of memory and disk space consumption; and the less memory a window system takes up, the more I've got left for WoW, right?
Even before I'd installed a window system though, I had a look at the system's memory use just after I'd finished the base install. Out of that 1024 Mb I mentioned, I had 964 Mb free; so it was using just 60. To put that in perspective, even when it is idle, Windows XP will generally be consuming at least 300 MB.
I will put another link to FreeBSD's download site here, in case any of you are curious about checking it out.
The installation process is a little involved, but it's very well documented. That is one of the other respects in which, if you try it, you'll find it very consistent with Survival in WoW; but you might also enjoy driving stick. ;)