20 Jun 2011

PC-BSD: Devil With Human Face

This blog is mostly about Linux. You can guess it from the name: Linux Notes from DarkDuck.
Linux world is huge. But it is not the only world of Operating Systems on the Open Source Software universe.  I have already visited "neighbours" from another world, world of BSD: FreeSBIE. That time I was impressed with both stability, speed and size. That's why I decided to have more reviews of BSD-based systems.
Today I will make another visit to same world.
PC-BSD is another system based on Berkeley System Distribution. It is targeting personal computers, as you can guess from it's name.
Official page of PC-BSD lists several mirrors where you can get distribution. ISO file of PC-BSD 8.2 weights 3.4 Gb.  The problem with file size it that I could not download it from any official mirror. All attempts to download it either via FTP or HTTP ended in timeout message after 30, 50 or 80% of download. Finally, I dowloaded it from torrent site. When I was downloading, there were more than 100 seeders in the warm, but only 1-2 could actually feed me the file. Unfortunately, I do not have USB stick big enough to get the ISO image onto. That means I had to use DVD-RW.
Anyway, all the troubles with getting the image are in the past. Image is downloaded. DVD-RW disk is burnt and placed into the drive of my Toshiba L500-19X laptop. Reboot. Choose to boot from DVD. Let's go!

Cold start.

Boot menu of PC-BSD has about 10 items in it. Default option there is installation program. Live version is also available - this is #3, but you should be quick: you only have 10 seconds to read the menu and make a choice.
Boot itself takes significant time. That's OK bearing in mind that it is DVD-based Live system.
After some time with running lines on black screen, you get nice colorful picture with PC-BSD logo. Soon after, icons start appear on the screen. Once I saw that, I had no doubt: this was KDE. To be precise, it is KDE 4.5.5, as I checked little bit later. PC-BSD has some interesting finding in here. KDE startup icons (from hard drive to KDE logo, as you might know) appear in half-circle below the PC-BSD logo.
Finally, system is fully booted. KDE widgets are very useful tools to check system behaviour in terms of resource requirements from cold start to very end. PC-BSD is quite resource-hungry in these terms, I should admit. Just booted, it occupied about 700 Mb of memory. Couple of applications like Konqueror, and memory usage is about 900 Mb already. That's OK for this Toshiba laptop which has more than enough of physical memory, but can be a potential problem for other systems. If you look at screenshot, you'll see that XOrg alone takes almost 400 Mb of memory. And about the same amount was eaten by different KDE processes.

Network. Wireless and Wired.
Unfortunately, WiFi card was not recognised at all by PC-BSD. This laptop has Realtek 8191SE. I found several forum threads on different forums about this WiFi card usage on PC-BSD, but nothing promising, unfortunately.
Moreover, official Wiki lists drivers for Realtek 8191 and Broadcom 4311 (which is on my other laptop - Compaq C300) as needed drivers for developers at Google Summer of Code 2011. Let's hope that next release of PC-BSD will have them already included.
When I understood that WiFi won't be available for this testing, I had no choice but to use wired connection. Another small surprise: LAN did not start automatically when I plugged in connector. Though, it started working when I called up System Network Configuration. I'm online, although not the best way. This post was drafted from within PC-BSD.
Later, when I rebooted laptop with LAN wire already connected, network worked perfectly from very beginning.
Once I got my network up and running, I tried to mount my external network drive. Mounting from Dolphin was OK, even Russian characters were recognized correctly. Funny enough, I could not mount same drive from command line. I am sure that Samba is included into default distribution. But for some reason system did not like my parameters of mount command. I suppose parameters for this command are different at Linux and BSD. I honestly tried to figure this out from help page, but without any success.

Keyboard. Do it twice. Or once?
There is keyboard configuration tool in PC-BSD called "iBus input method framework". You can find it on the taskbar running from the very beginning. It looks like to allow several keyboard layouts, different methods of switch and keyboard layout indicator. But all my changes there did not work. Simply because iBus configuration was a red herring.
Actual keyboard layout configuration can be found in PC-BSD in the same place as in any other KDE-based system: System Settings - Hardware - Input devices. Few clicks, and Russian and English (UK) keyboard layouts are enabled.

Software. What is in and what is out.
PC-BSD is distributed as DVD image. It means developers had enough space to pack different applications. And they did. Although, some areas have quite strange selection in my opinion.
PC-BSD has a lot of games included. Is this system for gamers? I am not sure. To be honest, I have not tried any of them. If you have tried, are they good time killers?
If you want to use computer with PC-BSD as multimedia centre, you're in right direction. PC-BSD includes several multimedia players: MPlayer, KMPlayer, Amarok, Juk, and that is not the full list. Isn't it overkill? Bearing in mind that most of modern players are like combines, I think list of players out of the box could be reduced.
There are more than a dozen of different tools in Graphics menu of PC-BSD. Many of them are for photo management: albums and so on. But the only editor is KolourPaint. I would definitely prefer to see something more powerful, but I don't mind to download it later when required.
There are a lot of network tools in this Operation System. They are mostly KDE-specific, because PC-BSD uses KDE. Examples? Konqueror, Akgregator, Kopete, KMail.
What did surprise me a lot was a selection of included office applications. There are lots of games, multimedia and Network tools. But then... no office package! Of course here are some KDE tools like Okular, KOrganizer, KAddress Book. And among them... no text editor or spreadsheet processor. Sure there are KWrite and Kate, which can be used for some basic text editing. But are they good replacements for full-function office package?
PC-BSD put a smile on my face when I was looking through the menu. This operation system from second decade of 21st century includes... KFloppy. This is a tool for floppy disk formatting. When did you see last time floppy disks used?
As any other Operation System, PC-BSD has limited number of application in default configuration. Simply because DVD drive can take only certain amount of information. If more applications required, Software Manager can help. Repository of PC-BSD is very large. Of course, all usual suspects are there: Chromium 12, Firefox 4.0.1, GIMP, KOffice, LibreOffice and so on.

Some annoying stuff.
There were some issues with PC-BSD which annoyed me a little during the test process. I can't say they are huge enough, and most likely they should go in installed version. But I'll list them, so you can be prepared.
Laptop which I used for PC-BSD review usually works under Windows 7. It means that biggest part of Hard Disk is formatted as NTFS. PC-BSD could see this partition, and even tried to mount it. But this moutning worked quite strange: I could only see root directory and nothing else.
There is another partition with FAT32 filesystem. This partition was mounted without any problem, but in  read-only mode.
Documentation for PC-BSD (you can easily find it - is it on the desktop) says that this OS is packed with useful software for everyday use: Flash, MP3 codec, Java.
Unfortunately, MP3 files were not played from network drive, but played OK when I copied same files into Home directory. I suppose this is an issue of mounting drive with Dolphin. I have seen similar behaviour before.
I mentioned just above that PC-BSD is delivered with Flash. Unfortunately, I could not prove it. YouTube videos did not work, and even did not request Flash installation. That actually can be an issue with Konqueror, because PC-BSD documentation says that Flash should work out of the box. I did not install any other browser to check further, because Live version of PS-BSD gave me some errors about lack of free disk space.
I found no shutdown options in Leave menu, even though they are enabled in KDE configuration. When I chose Logout option, I faced black screen with some white flashes at the top of the screen like quickly running text. Only long press on Power button saved the situation.
Later, when I booted PC-BSD for the second time, logout was more successful, but anyway left me at black screen with # prompt where command shutdown now did not work. Quick pressing Power button helped: system understood this as signal to shutdown itself.

Visiting other worlds is interesting.
Of course, I have never been captured by UFO. I only mean visits made to another parts of Open Source Software universe. I have been in BSD world couple of times.
What are my general feelings about BSD after these two visits? They are mixed, I'll be honest.
From positive side, BSD is extremely stable software. Whatever I have done so far, I was never facing situation where only Power button could help. Actually, I am little bit boggling. I used Power button twice with PC-BSD, see above. Also, BSD is packed with software packages for every need.
From negative side, I am slightly confused with resource requirements from PC-BSD. Why did it take so much memory just to boot itself? On opposite side, I remember FreeSBIE to use only 130 Mb in freshly booted state.
Another part which developers should pay attention to is hardware support. I am afraid BSD world even less prone to follow hardware fashion. Mostly because of the vicious circle: less users means less efforts from hardware manufacturers, and less support from manufacturers means less users. Linux started to break this circle, bringing more and more users and manufacturers under the Open Source Software roof. Unfortunately  BSD still remains with its aura of "geek stuff".
Sure enough, PC-BSD can easily break this stereotype. It is as easy to use as any other KDE-based Linux. But I don't see much being done on this route of BSD popularisation.
Do you see any improvement in BSD world towards direction of desktop PCs? Would you like to have BSD-based system like PC-BSD on your own computer? My answer is "not yet", but what is yours?


  1. Memory use should be much less once you install PC-BSD. Running from the LiveCD, stuff is stored in RAM that wouldn't be when you're running from a hard disk.

    For what it's worth, I have used FreeBSD with Fluxbox in less than 40 MB of RAM.

  2. I've tried PC-BSD 8.0 and 8.1 and didn't have good experience. I installed it on my hdd, boot-up was slow. KDE summoned dozens of kdeinit instances draining my memory, and at some point there was some sort of a memory leak that consumed all my RAM, my desktop would freeze and I had to hard reset and wait for the slow boot-up again.

    Maybe it's KDE's fault, but I run KDE under Slackware and it runs just fine. Also, I tried using the PBI system, and firefox wanted something like 900MB of disk space.... wtf? Mac and Windows use self-contained applications (with all libs and stuff) but the don't take up 1GB for a web browser.

  3. I quite liked DesktopBSD, but although they announced last year that the dead project was being revived by a new group, there has not been a release.
    As for the previous commenter, I would assume that it is because it pulls in the FreeBSD Ports system.

  4. @Anonymous:
    I ran significant number of OSes in Live mode, please check the blog. An none of them had such a big memory requirement.
    Even FreeSBIE (review linked in the text) uses tiny amount of memory.

  5. @Pigkouinos:
    I think there is a bug leading to memory leaks somewhere in PC-BSD. Hope, they will find and fix it in next release.

  6. @Morten Juhl-Johansen Zölde-Fejér:
    There is beta release of PC-BSD 9.0 available for download.Latest update is 07.06.2011, very recent. People are working on it!

  7. You can use ndisgen and get a bcmwl5_sys.ko file.
    kldload the file and ifconfig create wlandev wlan0 ndis0

    Alternatively I had read that someone has already written a working driver for BSD (around a year back) but somehow I do not see why they aren't integrating it in the releases !!

  8. Correction:
    ifconfig wlan0 create wlandev ndis0

  9. Hi

    Do you know that you can use unetbootin to do a temporary 'live' install to your hard drive. This will get you past your 1GB pen drive limit.

    I use Ubuntu Lucid & unetbootin creates its own Grub entry & removes the entry when you use it to remove the installation. I have not had any problems or interference with my main install. Just watch out that the autodelete doesn't remove your only copy of the iso when removing with unetbootin. Hope this helps.

    Best wishes

  10. @Anonymous:
    if somebody has written a driver for BSD, it would not be listed in the desired tasks for Google Summer of Code. Is it logical?

  11. @Anonymous:
    Yes, I know this. Even tried for one of distros I reviewed recently. It did not work. I'll probably try it with PC-BSD. Will report if successful.

  12. @Anonymous:
    I tried to "burn" PC-BSD to HDD using Unetbootin. Does not work. 8-(

  13. try pcbsd9.0beta2 live dvd its awesome!

  14. @Anonymous:
    Good newS!
    Let's wait when release version is ready.

  15. so I installed pc bsd 9 I thought it was a live cd. It installed to my D:...How do I uninstall it or am I just screwed?

    1. Is it still the issue? do i correctly understand that you have 2 parts of the problem: remove BSD's bootloader and format D: drive in file system that Windows understands? What version of Windows do you use?