One of the great joys about using Linux full time is the fact that I can also appreciate other operating systems like BSD.
Like Linux, BSD is open source, provides the user with the freedom to distribute the code to others at no cost, and allows users tremendous freedom with regard to tweaking it to meet their needs.
But there are some fairly significant differences, too. One of the biggest differences is this: Linux is presented in distribution releases whereas BSD is either kept intact or distributed as a forked release. In other words, each BSD is a completely separate operating system.
Some of the most commonly known BSDs include FreeBSD, OpenBSD and NetBSD. Each BSD has its own benefits and applications for use.
FreeBSD for instance, is where the Darwin OS is derived from for Apple’s use on the desktop.
Hence, one of the various reasons why BSD might be the stronger contender for mass market adoption than Linux has already been proven, thanks to the efforts of the Apple Corporation.
Let it be said, there are some strong arguments for its use in the mainstream desktop world outside of Apple’s own derived version. Those arguments are:
1.) BSD Is Dead Simple
Unlike Linux, BSD user interests lay with stability, speed and control over their computing environment.
You rarely hear from these BSD users, as they have nothing to preach. Use the desktop friendly FreeBSD or don’t, it’s not a concern to existing users or the operating system’s developers.
Because of this lack of interest in turning the world into users, the various versions of BSD are free to do what they were designed to do, and that is run computers/servers in their various capacities.
This also means that end users that use BSD on their own desktop PCs are free to do pretty much anything they wish without concern of violating a more restrictive license such as the GPL.
2.) Create Your Own OS
Perhaps one of the biggest advantages for a business looking to protect their proprietary interests in an operating-system development effort is the fact that you can take most BSD/BSD-type licensed operating systems and do nearly anything you wish.
Take bits and pieces of the code, create an OS like we have seen with Apple.
Or simply create a BSD that more closely encompasses the vision of a smaller group of users as seen with the always interesting PC-BSD.
I have stated numerous times in the past that if Microsoft had a clue, they would have been all over one of the FreeBSD forks to create a truly coherent operating system that could truly compete on the same level as Linux.
Yet with a BSD-themed license, a company like Microsoft could release the OS into the wild and maintain as much of their own IP (intellectual property as they deemed fit.
Despite being a Linux user myself, I am the first to admit that with very few exceptions on the desktop Linux front, the BSDs present the user with much faster boot times.
In addition, the operating system also tends to run with greater speed overall.
While most certainly more stable than Windows, Linux is not as stable as BSD.
There are a number of reasons for this, but the most compelling is that you are not likely to hose your desktop installation with one update gone bad.
This happens with Linux distributions such as Ubuntu often, even if it is rare with other Linux desktops.
Perhaps the biggest argument for stability is that the BSD are essentially Unix at the core, where as Linux is “based on” Unix.
And as most of you may already know, Unix code has been tried and true for decades, not just a few years.
5.) Software Packaging
One of the largest hassles with Linux on the desktop is wanting to try a later version of new software, only to find that you may face dependency issues.
Now, before everyone begins going on about how dependency issues are a thing of the past, let’s be honest.
Many software packages are bound in very tightly with specific code released with specific Linux distros.
And thus, updating to software designed for new releases of other code means that all sorts of stuff needs to be updated as well. This can be rather frustrating.
The BSDs on the other hand, most specifically FreeBSD (or its cousin, PC-BSD), provide a software installation system that make this much easier to deal with.
The FreeBSD ports software management system remains unmatched for its ease of concept, with the possible exception of Portage on Gentoo Linux.
FreeBSD’s ports system of package management uses directories to ensure things are kept nice and orderly.
PC-BSD (based on FreeBSD) for instance, keeps the programs out of your system folders.
Here is an area that is going to get plenty of hate mail sent my way for sure.
Being as I am not, nor do I pretend to be, a BSD expert, allow me to say this on BSD security.
Out of the box, without heavy administration, BSD tends to be more secure for server use.
On the desktop front, it is less important, perhaps as both Linux and the BSDs are quite secure by nature.
7.) Suitability For Intellectual Property (IP)
Despite not being a tremendous fan of IP myself, the fact remains that there are business situations where adhering to IP does make sense in the long run.
The BSDs provide a much more suitable environment for this as neither the developers nor the user community really care if IP is used in conjunction with BSD code.
ON THE OTHER HAND …
Now that I covered the reasons why the BSDs are better, I am going to take aim at some areas that simply must improve in order for the BSDs to be taken seriously on the desktop.
1.) Not Flashy Enough
The BSDs taking aim at the desktop really need to figure out a way to get on board with something newer than Flash 7.
I realize this is an issue with Adobe, but it is completely killing a desktop switch for anyone who uses their web browser for anything short of 1990’s browsing. Flash 9 is a must, and WINE with Firefox is not cutting it.
More work promoting wireless options like Ralink and Zydas chipsets out of the box.
Come on, last I heard FreeBSD supported both of these. There is no reason not to make this a high priority as wireless is a big item of concern regardless of the OS.
3.) Better Hardware Support
Yes, I realize that the BSDs are stable operating systems and not necessarily designed to be as “cutting edge” as Linux.
That said, it is a tough sell when the user is finding that his relatively new PC has incompatible video or audio.
Again, this is generally on the notebook front, but I have dealt with this three times now.
Not sure how to best balance this and still maintain BSD stability, however I am open to suggestions.
Out of those three items, one and two are critical in my opinion. So critical in fact, that the benefits from the top seven reasons why BSD is better than Linux become all but void for most casual users.
There is little doubt that newbie-friendly options from the BSD world such as PC-BSD and DesktopBSD would see significant inroads with regard to gaining ground with Windows users that tried Linux and just found it to be too easy to break.
Fix the three critical items listed above and mark my words, BSD would become a force to be reckoned with, even if OS X was left out of the equation.