Mar 02 2009

Why I Still Use FreeBSD

The other day I considered switching my desktop to Linux for a minute or two.  It didn’t last long, and it would probably have been half an excuse not to work on something else, but I wavered for a moment.  I was looking at some new applications that looked interesting, but then I saw they require Adobe Air, which is apparently their new Flash platform.  It’s just recently been released for Linux, and considering they only recently finally released a Flash 9 that works on FreeBSD, I don’t suppose this new system Air thing will be coming any time soon.  Not long after that, Firefox crashed on me, complaining as it does every few days about either the Flash plugin or the Java one.  That’s when I started wondering how much trouble it’d be to switch to Ubuntu.

photo from

photo from

I’ve been using FreeBSD for probably ten years now, since discovering it on a client’s servers and deciding I liked it.  We hardly ever need to compile a custom kernel now, but back then we did it a lot, and it was much simpler on FreeBSD.  The ports system was also far better than RPM, the most common software distribution system on Linux at the time, which would gradually develop dependency issues after you’d used it a while.  So I liked FreeBSD better at the software level.

The FreeBSD philosophy also seemed more professional and yet freer than the Linux community.  The FreeBSD license is basically, “Here, take this and do whatever you like with it (including making money); just give the person who created it credit.”  That’s much simpler and more open than the GPL.  There’s an “Information wants to be free!” attitude in a lot of the GNU/Linux camp that I guess I got too old for.

Thanks to the FreeBSD philosophy and design and a lot of hard work by serious people, it’s a rock-solid server platform.  It makes a wonderful web server, and the new stuff you can do with jails means even shared servers can let webmasters run insecure junk PHP scripts without any risk that they’ll hurt each other or the system.  It also works very well with qmail and the whole suite of DJB tools for DNS and other server purposes.

As a desktop, though, it’s still a bit of a struggle sometimes.  Market-share-wise, FreeBSD is kinda where Linux was a decade ago: used by a small, dedicated group of people who have to port programs written for other platforms before they can use them.  Now Linux is mainstream enough that big companies like Adobe develop for it, and it’s the FreeBSDers who have to do the porting of the Linux versions.  I guess I don’t mind too much because I still enjoy computers in and of themselves, so it’s okay if I have to tinker a little to get things working the way I want them.  I suppose I’d miss it if my system came ready to use out of the box.

I do wish Flash would just work, though, and not kill my browser once or twice a week.

By the way, I just didn’t have time to get a Latin lesson out last week, so I apologize to anyone who’s using them.  There will be a new one this Friday, and back to the regular weekly schedule after that.

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