23 May 2011

FreeSBIE: Is Devil Live or Dead?

This blog is about Linux. I try different Operating systems based on Linux and share my opinion, whether it is good or not.
But is the Linux the only operating system in the world? Surely not! Shall I tell you few words about other systems? Why not?
I see your mouse pointer now rolling towards "close" icon on your window. You most likely think that this my post is about Windows or Mac. Stop, wait a moment. Of course not!
This my post is about BSD. BSD stands for "Berkeley Software Distribution". This is open source operating system developed by University of California in Berkeley. It is UNIX-based, which makes it relative to Linux. By the way, BSD is also "parent" for Mac OS X.
Actually BSD is family name for several Operating systems. It's like Linux has Debian, Slackware, Arch and others. Same way, BSD has FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, DragonFly... and FreeSBIE.
I think first and seconds of them are most known by people, while others are not so famous.
You maybe know that I prefer to test Live versions of Operating systems. Unfortunately, neither FreeBSD nor OpenBSD have Live versions. Their distributives are for installation purposes only. Though, FreeBSD site has a link to its clone with Live CD: FreeSBIE. Unfortunately, latest available version of FreeSBIE (2.0.1) is dated January 2007, which is just few months younger than my laptop Compaq C300. Let's have a look how well they can live together.
Image file for FreeSBIE weights just under 700 Mb, which means I can burn it to CD-RW for test purposes. OK, CD is ready and placed into the drive. Reboot. Let's go!

First impression from FreeSBIE was not so nice. It took extremely long time to boot. Though, that might be my own fault - my CD-RW is in far from ideal condition.
By default FreeSBIE boots into command line interface. You automatically get into home folder for user. What can you do there? Basically, anything you want to do in CLI. Navigate through directories, list them, start programs or... startx. Yes, that was my command in FreeSBIE which led me to graphic interface. Again, it took significant time to load, because disk was read at extremely low speed. First of all, grey pattern covers whole screen. Then it changes to white background with mouse in the middle: this is XFCE without any doubt. Finally nice desktop wallpaper opens you a window with shore and pier view.
Booted XFCE desktop environment in FreeSBIE had something like conky enabled. It shows that fully booted system takes only 130M. Wow! That is quite impressive!
Of course wireless network card (Broadcom 4311) is not enabled. It could be expected from system released just few months after hardware release.
What surprised me more is the fact that even local disks were not mounted. And I could not mount them manually. The reason was very simple: I could not create mount point, because file system was in read-only mode.
Another disappointments in FreeSBIE: it does not have any screenshot tool. That's why I can't give you any screenshot from my computer. The screenshot which you see on the right is taken from official site. You can find more screenshots there.
What is included in FreeSBIE? Like it is said in release notes, developers tried to put a tool for almost any imaginable task.
Actually, I have never seen so nicely written Release Notes! They are very clear, comprehensive and still easy to read!
FreeSBIE distributive included GNOME Office: AbiWord and Gnumeric. Unfortunately, AbiWord did not start in my case. Gnumeric worked fine, and I could check that it had version 1.6.3. This version was released in 2004. Such a rarity!
Network tools include: Firefox 1.5, Thunderbird, gFTP and others tools.
GIMP 2.2, Inkskape are main parts in Graphics, although there are some more items.
Multimedia tools include MPlayer, BMPx and Beep Media Player.
I have moaned above about disk speed. If I drop this from the scope, system itself works very fast. Snappy menus, switches and so on. Just a CD which spoils all the impession.
I have also mentioned above that I could not mount any drives on my local machine. Having only FreeSBIE system alone, I could not check any multimedia facilities it had.

General impression: That is a pity that FreeSBIE is abandoned project. It has very powerful base in face of FreeBSD, but needs developers to continue work on it. It gives users what FreeBSD does not give: Live version which would allow to touch a system before installation.

I had previous experience with another "dead" project: BerliOS. That system did not start at all. FreeSBIE was better in this, as I could make few steps there and leave my footsteps on Daemon's soil.

Useful links:
http://martik-scorp.blogspot.com/2011/01/freesbie-based-on-freebsd.html - review by Martik
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freesbie - Wikipedia page


  1. That xfce screenshot looks sad. And boring. Thanks for the review though ;-)

  2. @Anonymous:
    Consider the year when this system was released: 2007! Distrowatch lists this system as "Discontinued" now. 8-(
    I think that "core" for FreeSBIE is even older.
    For that age, desktop looks OK.

  3. FreeSBIE was great in the day .. it booted quick on older machines. Wifi was almost impossible back then due to FreeBSD not having the drivers .. wired worked most of the time. XFCE looks lean and light to me .. same as now. When this came out FreeBSD was out performing most distros but other than the novelty I wonder how many ppl other than me actually ran a BSD as their daily driver? Now its mostly mac/debian/7.

  4. @speedbuggy:
    I think Linux loses its aura of "geeky stuff" while BSD still has this charm on it. FreeSBIE could help to remove this superstition, as more people could touch BSD without need to install it. That's really bad there is no fresh version of FreeSBIE now.

  5. Have you tried PC-BSD? It's a more user friendly version of BSD and uses a Mac type package style

  6. Carl,
    Have not tried it yet, but now it is in the to-do list. Thanks!

    PS. My to-do list grows faster than I write reviews. Thanks to my readers!

  7. @DarkDuck,

    If you want geeky, try Minix: http://www.minix3.org/

    You can even read Linus' announcement of Linux on comp.os.minix: https://groups.google.com/group/comp.os.minix/msg/2194d253268b0a1b

  8. I tried PC-BSD a while back and was quite impressed. I was particularly impressed that it did a great job recognizing the hardware on my system.

  9. Why would you choose to review a outdated BSD distribution from 2007 that is discontinued ?
    Only because it has live CD ?
    None is going to use it today.

    If you want to make a full review, install a current BSD distro and play with it for a week.
    Then compare on what is different from the Linux world.
    (yeah I know that BSD is NOT Linux, but they have many similarities - and they are from a close family).

  10. @Shawn H. Corey:
    Thanks for another item in my to-do list. I'll have a look, it is very interesting.
    Not sure though it will support my hardware, especially WiFi card...

  11. @Anonymous:
    PC-BSD is in the list, let's see how well it works with my 4.5 y.o. laptop...

  12. @Anonymous:
    I try to stick to Live version for the reasons I mentioned several times (for example here).
    I wanted to start with FreeBSD, but since it does not have Live version itself, I brought my attention to its little bro. The bro itself is very interesting from my point of view.
    I have other BSD-like systems in the list (like PC-BSD mentioned above, but not only it), so stay tuned!

  13. @DarkDuck, looked at the linked reasons why you stick to Live versions, and I think I have to say it looks more like you are sticking with Live versions because of conservatism, or intellectual laziness, and not wanting to change than for any solid reason.

    All your concerns about HDD swapping for example are wiped out with an eSATA port/adapter card, pretty cheap item, and drives are dirt cheap now. Never mind the plethora of emulation options which also avoid the issue.

    As for out of the box hardware support, that's a crap criteria. There is more to a distro than which drivers make it to the initrd on the live disk. So what? I've seen live cds find my hardware perfectly, then had to jump through hoops to get the installer to use that same hardware. That's pertinent information to most of us in a review, but something you'll never know to inform us about, because you've mistakenly decided that the live cd is all you, and therefore your readers need to know.

    Perhaps every distro will end up running smoothly after some fine tuning of the installation target. But that doesn't change the fact that amount of fine tuning needed, and how much fine v. coarse tuning is going to vary from distro to distro. Nor does it change the fact that this is really useful information to get from a reviewer, particularly if that reviewer posts the crib for his Mint XFCE installation for your edification.

    Running everything in live CD modes doesn't level the playing field either, in fact, it is heavily weighted in favor of any of the recent deluge of useless Ubuntu derivatives.

    What good is a reviewer who purposefully slants the criteria to favor a limited set of distros? An emulator would be a more level playing field, don't you think? Certainly more useful than your subjective impressions of how well a live CD runs, particularly given how willing you were to ascribe a long boot time to your CD drive...

    In short your policy is at the least intellectually dishonest, and your reasons are patently rationalizations, not defensible reasons for the choice you've made.

    Personally, I'll be looking for a PC-BSD review from someone who doesn't judge the book by it's cover.

  14. @Anonymous:
    You maybe lost your attention when suggested using eSATA card for my laptop. I am smiling when trying to imaging how this card could stick out of the laptop's body.
    As for your expectations for PC-BSD review, as well all other arguments contra my approach, Internet and *nix world is free as freedom. If you don't want to read my reviews, that is your right. I can't make you read them.
    Other people find them useful and interesting - that is their decision. Yours may be different.

  15. Hello,

    Speaking of OpenBSD live-cd, some exist (even for the last one : 4.9) :



  16. @jpli:
    Thank you for links.
    Unfortunately, second link does not work at all.
    First takes me to the page where I can download OpenBSD spin, not official OpenBSD live version.
    Anyway, I will have a look at it some time later.