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PC-BSD 17 December 2007
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PC-BSD is based on FreeBSD. It is an easy to use solution which saves time and energy. Think of PC-BSD as a port. Someone made a port for FreeBSD, KDE, mail, IRC, office suite, and scores of other applications. If you want FreeBSD and lots of extras, it is available as a nice little package in the form of PC-BSD. They've figured out all the dependencies, twists, and turns, and packaged it all up for you in one easy ISO. Well, two ISO actually, but you get my point. But it's not a port. Included is a fantastic installer. Time to upgrade? PC-BSD will download the upgrade and install it for you.

It all just works.

You might call PC-BSD a distro of FreeBSD. I call it a big time saver. Plus, it solved a couple of problems for me and allowed me to get on to solving bigger and more important problems.

Why the move to PC-BSD?

A few weeks ago, mplayer started acting up. It would barf on the video and cough up an error which didn't make any sense. A reboot fixed that. Later, the problem returned, and would not go away. No videos would play whatsoever.

In an attempt to solve the problem, I did a portupgrade -a, which takes a while. With the upgrade to the latest xorg, I found that mplayer still acted up. Hmm, that's annoying. Even more annoying was a problem related to the backlight, or so it appeared. On resume from a suspend, the screen remained blank/black. The backlight was on, but I saw nothing. I could not switch to a virtual terminal (e.g CTL-ALT-F2). CTL-ALT-DEL has no effect. The only solution was a power-cycle. This was annoying.

Even more annoying was the same thing happened when the lid was closed. My laptop was set up to not power down or suspend upon lid closure. It should just sit there. After the upgrade, it started freezing, as described above, whenever the lid closed. I found that set dpms force on would bring the screen back. But the suspend/resume problem remained.

Oh, and the xchat channel tabs all looked the same regardless of which tab was selected.

I was running FreeBSD 6.2-prerelease3 (if I recall correctly). Given that I should upgrade the base OS before debugging these problems, I felt the move to PC-BSD was a good option. Two weeks ago, I installed PC-BSD it on my desktop box at the office (albeit in a VMware environment) so I had no hesitations about it being usable. The only risk was: would it run on my IBM ThinkPad T41 (2378-DMU)?

The install

I spent a hour or two doing some backups off the laptop and onto one of my servers. While that copy occurred, I retrieved two CDs from the office. Shortly thereafter, I was installing PC-BSD. If you are familiar to the FreeBSD install, then you'll know it's a bare-bones type of install. PC-BSD is a GUI install. It has a look and polish to it that will appeal to many people.

I regret I have no screen shots to show you. They would be photographs and would not do justice. You'll just have to see it to know that it is a very nice install. :)

Apps? What about applications?

PC-BSD comes with many applications. More than I can comprehensively list. I will list the main applications that I consider important to me, and then list the applications that I installed myself.

I asked PC-BSD to include the following optional items:

  1. Opera
  2. Firefox
  3. OpenOffice
  4. the ports tree

I know I asked for others, but I cannot remember what they were. After PC-BSD was installed, I used the ports tree to install the following:

  1. cvsup
  2. Thunderbird
  3. xchat
  4. xplanet
  5. pgadmin3
  6. PostgreSQL Server/Client
  7. putty
  8. joe
  9. portupgrade

If you like using the FreeBSD ports tree, you can continue to do so. If you would prefer not to, you can use the PBI system instead. Either way, it just works. For example, here is a screen shot of Settings | Software & Updates | PBI Update Manager:

install manager

If you click the Get Update button, you are taken to a website from which you can download the PBI. When the download is finished, double click on the file, from within a file manager. The upgrade will then proceed.

The following screen shot will give you an overview of the install process. It is pretty much like every other install wizard you've seen. See Installing Applications in the PC-BSD Quick Guide for more information.



Here is my standard background, xplanet. And here is what a few apps look like when running.

Oh, and imagine my pleasant surprise to see this pop-up just as I was finishing this article:


Want it? Go get it.

I've been wanting to try PC-BSD on my laptop for a while. I was hoping to get a larger HDD first, so I could dual boot it with my existing installation. Yet, I have no regrets. Over the next few weeks, I will keep track of my PC-BSD experiences and document them. Watch this space.

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