28 Aug 2011

GhostBSD: not "just another BSD"

This article continues series of reviews of non-Linux operating systems which you can find existing. Another big family of OSes is based on BSD core. PCBSD, BSDanywhere, FreeSBIE... you can read more about them. It's time to start our today's adventure.

GhostBSD is GNOME implementation in FreeBSD system. Latest version is 2.0. It was released at the end of March 2011. This version is based on FreeBSD 8.2.
ISO image size of this OS distribution weights 1.1 Gb. Quite a lot as I need to note.
I have complained earlier that I only had 1 Gb USB stick which restricted me from testing large-volume distributions on my Compaq C300 laptop. Things are changing. I now have 8Gb USB stick, so can test distributions with ISO size >1Gb on same hardware. And GhostBSD could be the first candidate for this exercise. If...
If GhostBSD could be run from USB. Unfortunately, neither dd command nor Unetbootin helped with LiveUSB creation from ISO image here...
Forum, Documentation and FAQ sections are pretty much empty on official site. I have not found any information about LiveUSB creation process for GhostBSD in the Internet either.
Finally, I decided to look at DVD-RW option. This means the test could only be carried out on Toshiba L500 laptop. Expectedly, it would be a hard task for BSD since not every Linux distribution worked fine on that laptop so far. This laptop has Realtek 8191 WiFi card which is not the most popular among free open source software developers. But let's talk about this later.
To give the GhostBSD more chances, I also tried same DVD-RW on the HP Compaq 6710b laptop which has Intel 3945ABG wireless card.
Anyway, DVD-RW is ready. Reboot. Choose to boot from DVD. Let's go!

How long should I wait?

GhostBSD, like many other operating systems, met me with boot menu where I could select boot options. This time menu was not very fancy designed and allowed me to select options by pressing keyboard number. It also had countdown for 10 seconds until default option was automatically selected. Basically, there is nothing wrong in it since default option is Live run without any fancy parameters. Other than that, boot menu allows to choose different options like Safe mode or without ACPI.
Boot time of GhostBSD was relatively long. I did not use stopwatch for this test, but it was significantly more than I used to have for majority of Linux systems. Of course, some Linuxes also have long boot time in Live mode, Mandriva and Mageia are best examples. But most systems boot in 2-3 minutes from CD or DVD drive. GhostBSD as opposite took about 5 minutes to boot.

How do you do?

Immediately after boot I got to the GhostBSD desktop with standard GNOME layout: panel with menu and notification area on the top and panel with taskbar at the bottom.
Desktop itself is in green colours. If you don't like it (and I don't), you can choose from a dozen of other wallpapers. Those with space theme are definitely enjoyable!
There are 4 virtual desktops by default with switch panel in the bottom right corner.
In other words, once booted, you get into pretty standard GNOME environment. Nothing here tells you you're in BSD. Adventures start when you start acting.


Of course, wireless network was not activated on my Toshiba L500 laptop when GhostBSD was finally booted. Network Settings application had no clues about wireless connection availability. At all! Command pciconf -lv (analogue of Linux's lspci) listed the Realtek RTL8191SE card, but driver still was not here. Quite similar situation with many Linuxes, I must admit. But there is z difference. I know the answer for Linux: driver is available on manufacturer's site. And there is no driver for BSD. FreeBSD forums also do not contain solid answer on support for this piece of hardware.
Was situation better for second laptop (Compaq 6710b)? Unfortunately not. Intel 3945ABG iss not supported out of the box here too. Although, there is solution in the FreeBSD forum, but I am not sure it is applicable in Live run.
At that stage I dropped an idea to use wireless on GhostBSD and took my Toshiba laptop to network cable. Configuration and activation of this connection type took me less than a minute and worked fine.

What's in the box?

Before I start the list, I should warn you... list won't be long. Don't switch off your computers.
Firefox 3.6 is default browser in GhostBSD. That is not the latest version now, but was a such when this OS was released. Other Internet tools include Thunderbird, Pidgin and XChat IRC. Probably that's enough for most cases.
I have mentioned above that GhostBSD is GNOME-centric BSD distribution. it was not a surprise for me to see that GNOME office was included as productivity tool. AbiWord, Gnumeric and Project Management Planner are here. Of course, gEdit is also included, like in many GNOME-based Linux distributions
Graphics section of menu only contains Eye of GNOME image viewer. In other words, there is nothing you can edit your images out of the box in GhostBSD.
Multimedia tools of GhostBSD distribution include Movie Player, Rhythmbox, and Sound Recorder. If you want to burn your on CDs, then Brasero will be your default tool. Surprisibly enough, spartan set of GhostBSD applications has another option here. You also can use CD/DVD Creator utility in System tools menu section which calls up Nautilus with disk burning plugin. Such a generosity from developers!
And yes, Nautilus is default file manager in GhostBSD, as you could already guess.
Other than that? More or less standard set of system tools and utilities.
Not very big selection, argh? For example, I have not noticed any partitioning tools.
Of course, many users would like to enlarge list of available programs. Package Manager exists in the list of applications, but I was not able to run it. Simply because it requires password which is not mentioned anywhere. Even on the GhostBSD main site or forum. It means I can't tell you how this application manager looks like, or what else is available. Likely user would not face this password issue on installed system, so if you use GhostBSD, feel free to comment with more information.

Do you speak Russian?

Does GhostBSD support other languages? I can say yes. I was able to configure keyboard layouts without major problems. GNOME task-specific utility worked like a charm, and even automatically placed layout indicator onto the panel.

Can you listen, read and write?

My Toshiba L500 laptop has Windows7 installed on it. It means that hard disk is formatted as 2 NTFS partitions. Unfortunately, neither of them could be mounted in GhostBSD from Places menu or Nautilus. Attempt to click those partitions gave me some strange DBus error (see screenshot). I was in despair, but decided to try manual mounting anyway. And... Surprise! Command mount -t ntfs /dev/ntfs/Data /mnt gave me positive result. But in read-only mode only, even with -o rw parameter.
Even read-only access was enough for me to test multimedia support in GhostBSD. Surprisingly, both MP3 music and avi video files played OK immediately out of the box. To be honest, I don't know codec which was used in avi video, so can't be more specific here.
Opposite to video on local drive, YouTube videos did not play out of the box, and Firefox could not find necessary plugin for it.
That was a time for me to stop playing with GhostBSD.

What is my general feeling about this system? I'd say it is not bad enough. Yes, there are some issues with Wireless network, but they more or less concern many Linux and most BSD based distributions. Yes, there was little technical issue with password for package manager. But other than that, system felt pretty solid, responsive and reliable. If you don't need bleeding edge functions and don't use bleeding edge wireless equipment, I see no reason why you should not try GhostBSD yourself.
Have you ever tried GhostBSD or any other BSD-based systems yourself? What are your feelings about it?

Useful links:
Review by Prashanth
Review by Goblin


  1. I have been using OpenBSD on my lenovo x201 laptop for a while. There is a few manual steps and tricks to get the desktop up and running but after that it runs flawlessy. OpenBSD has got very good wireless support (I think drivers ofter are ported from Open to Free). X is normally configured automatically.
    Compared with Ghost and PCBsd Open has no special desktop version, so the basic install is very small. But dont be fooled, with a few selected pkgadd commands you soon have a rock solid OpenBSD desktop. Highly recommended!

  2. @peter-ljung:
    I tried to find OpenBSD with Live version, but failed so far. Otherwise would be very pleased to get my hands on it...

  3. There is an openbsd liveusb project on sourceforge. They have multiple usb images. You can also build your own liveusb using qemu and the iso.

  4. We really appreciate your review.

    We know there are many things to improve but gradually we will overcome.
    The next version includes improved installer, better support for WiFi and also other important details.

    Thanks for writing about GhostBSD. All the reviews (good or bad) are always appreciated.
    We are at the disposal of anyone with any questions.

    Sanchez, Nahuel.
    GhostBSD Team.

  5. @Anonymous:
    Thanks for the clue! Pencilled!

  6. @Prof.Yeow:
    Thanks for the comment "from the heart of the team". Wish you all the best in further development of the system. Hope you liked this review. It is impartial and honest. If you wish, you can let me know when next version is out, I'll do another review then.

  7. I downloaded the 64-bit edition CD version of the latest Ghost BSD 2.5 Live CD. I ran it on an Athlon 64 3800+ X2 on an appropriate Gigabyte AM2 platform motherboard with 4 gigs of PC2-6400 DDR2 RAM. The OS was able, without error to bring me to the GNOME desktop. Then I noticed that things weren't flying. So I went to the "task manager" and saw one core at 100% usage. Activating the show all tasks button reveals that Xorg is taking a processor, doing what I don't know. I was looking for a reason, but I know not of one, nor was there something on the forum about it. I did look for it on the web but I am not sure if it applied to GhostBSD. There might be a legitimate reason but I am merely a Linux novice at this point, having normal experiences with Ubuntu, Fedora, Mepis, Puppy, Zorin, Crunchbang, Tinycore, and a few others. I still consider myself a novice, because each of those Linux distros make Linux easy to use and usable for people that know how to use a computer. At any rate, this would be unacceptable performance for anyone, and without a solution, this distro may be rendered useless. My first impression was nice because of the desktop, but what would make it nicer is a lot of help, and a lot of tools/apps to get under the hood. Perhaps thing would change if I installed it, but at this point, I don't know if there are updates to install after installation, how do I get apps, that wasn't clear, and even what it takes to get the Ethernet to work with DHCP. Also, when I clicked on different SCSI disks, that happen to be NTFS partitions, there was an error without a reason why. I realize this was a beta release, so perhaps these things will be hammered out, but this is my first try with GhostBSD, and I have attempted OpenBSD once, and that was indeed different with the X window interface that was absolutely bare, it felt like 1991. All I had was a clock and a terminal. I had no clue what I was able to do with OpenBSD. I know that with any of the BSD's you have security, so if someone wanted security and ease of use with a pretty desktop environment, I believe GhostBSD would be a great doorway to that world, and it would be great to give people the option to use BSD and what it has to offer while having the GNOME desktop and what it brings to the ease of use of a graphical user interface aka a way to use the computer. I've read that the GhostBSD people do not speak English, so I think a lot of patience is required, but their website is starting to fill out and get friendly, so I think things are looking up. Until there is a "here's why this is happening and how to fix it if you encounter it" for newbies like me, GhostBSD in not quite ready for daily usage. I would like to offer a distro to people that are paranoid that surf the web and where security are job one of the O/S. Ease of use and automation and low or no hassles would be perfect. Isn't that the perfect O/S anyway? Thanks for reading. -A guy who tries operating systems.

  8. @Anonymous:
    Thanks for so long comment! Appreciate it!
    Would you mind to transform it into guest post on this blog some time?

  9. Hi folks,
    every unix-like operating system running from live cd use uni-processor kernel.You can get maximum performance by installing it on hard drive.Live cds are often for demonstration not for full performance.