9 Feb 2012

Another Live spin of OpenBSD

The ability to run an operating system in Live mode is a great invention in the computer world. This way you can achieve multiple aims. I have written about some of them already.

Many Linux distributions these days have Live versions of their operating system, and many have Live as the only available option.

Unfortunately, Live systems are not so spread in the BSD world. There are not very many BSD-based operating systems which have ability to run in Live mode. That’s why each of them is of particular interest for me.

Today I will look at the system which was created by a single author, nicknamed Jggimi. This Live system is based on OpenBSD 5.0. The official page of the project is http://jggimi.homeip.net/, and this site does not have many pages, although there’s enough information for you to download the system and get answers to frequently asked questions. Honestly, these FAQs helped me to better understand the system’s approach, so I recommend you to read them too.

Jggimi’s version of OpenBSD Live (I’ll call it OpenBSD Live in this blog post, just for convenience) can be downloaded in several variants, from simple command line only to a full-blown GNOME edition. All the versions have ISO files packed into an archive to reduce the size for downloading. The latest version was released in September 2011.

I downloaded the GNOME version from the only server where you can get this distribution: msu.edu.

The unpacked image size of this version is about 2.9 Gb. First, I tried to create Live USB using the image. Neither the dd command nor Unetbootin were able to help me here. No surprise actually, because Live USB is not mentioned in the Project’s FAQ. Finally, I burnt the ISO image onto the DVD-RW.

So, the DVD-RW is in the optical drive of my Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505 laptop. Reboot. Choose to boot from DVD. Let’s go!

Booting up

Once the boot process started, I got a command line prompt boot>. The system waited for me to enter the command boot bsd. This one, and many more hints about the system usage are on the official page of the distribution. BSD-based operating systems are known for their documentation: thorough and of high quality. This distribution is no exception.

A few seconds passed after the boot bsd command, and the boot process stopped again. This time the system asked me whether I wanted to change the password for user root and, later, for the user user. I wanted neither, and the Enter key was my response to both questions. If you're interested, the usernames and passwords for the system are root/root and user/user.

The next question was whether I wanted to start the system in Graphical or Console modes. Of course, Graphical was my answer.

Finally, the system asked me whether I want to generate a configuration file for X-server, use VESA mode or just start with default values. The default values worked for me, so I went that route.

After some time, the system asked me to enter the username and password. My first logon was with user.

Later, I tried to login to OpenBSD Live as root just for an experiment. Visually, I saw no difference.

When the username and password were entered, the system started to load all the necessary components. And that was a real torture. The total boot time of OpenBSD Live was reeeeeeaaaaaaallllllly long. I've never seen any system boot for such a long time. I appreciate that this is BSD, not Linux, and that the system was running from an optical drive. But still, it was too much for me. Just to give you an indication, the system auto-started the screensaver while booting!

The desktop

Finally, the desktop appeared.

Jggimi’s OpenBSD Live uses GNOME 2.32.1.

The freshly booted system took just below 290 Mb of memory. Quite a bit for Linux, but I assume more or less normal for BSD-based system.

The default OpenBSD Live desktop has green coloured wallpaper. I could not understand whether it was stripe-textured leave or fabric. The image itself is nice, although the blur made by the graphical editor is obvious. There's a choice of about 2 dozen other wallpapers, so you can select something that suits your taste.

There are 3 icons on the desktop: Computer, user's home and Trash. Obviously, all of them launch the same application: Nautilus with different starting points.

The GNOME desktop environment in the OpenBSD Live uses 2 panels by default. Same as you can see in many GNOME-based GNU/Linux operating systems.

The top panel features three usual drop-down menus in the left part: Applications, Places and System. Next to them, you can see two quick launch items. I could not understand the purpose of the first one. It did not have any name and started no application. The second button was for the Evolution e-mail client. The right part of the top panel had clocks, a calendar and a windows selector in the top-right corner.

The bottom panel has the "Show Desktop" button in the bottom-left corner and the switch between 4 virtual desktops in the bottom-right. All the remaining space on that panel is given to the taskbar.

I found no volume control elements anywhere on the panels. The same is true for network and USB devices management.
In general, there was nothing unexpected at this stage. By the looks of it, this could be any Linux-based distribution. Comparing it to a car, there was nothing wrong with the body, apart from some missing details. But those could be a part of the overall design. At this point in time, I still could not see anything beyond the surface. Let's look under the hood.


There was nothing like Network Manager icon on the panel. That’s why I looked through the menu searching for it.

This search allowed me to explore several applications with Network in their name. But none of them helped to configure my wireless card and home network. At this stage I came to the conclusion that OpenBSD Live did not allow me to connect to the wireless network. I may be wrong here, but I have not found any way to activate the wireless connection.

To check whether the LAN connection would work, I connected the laptop to an Ethernet cable. Unfortunately, even this did not help. I could not get any network connection on my laptop.

As a result, I could not check some of my usual test elements, such as external network partition mounting, playback of multimedia from it and playback of Flash videos.


In spite of non-availability of the network, I did some research about disk mounting. My findings told me that mounting of external Samba partitions in OpenBSD should be done using the command sharity, not the usual Linux and some other BSDs’ command mount -t cifs. I tried to start command sharity from the Terminal.

Unfortunately, this command was not recognised by Jggimi's OpenBSD Live system, neither as user, nor as root.

Local partitions were not listed in GNOME’s menu under Places. I tried to mount my local NTFS partition using the command mount -t ntfs…, but all my attempts were thwarted by the messages "Device not configured" and "Invalid agrument".

As a result, my OpenBSD Live system was isolated from everything else, apart from its own DVD disk.

What is available?

So, what is on the disk then?

The Internet tools are represented by Firefox browser (version 5.0), Ekiga softphone, Empathy, Remote Desktop Viewer and Gyrus IMAP Administrator. You may ask, where is the Evolution mail client, which I mentioned in the description of the desktop? It is not in the Internet section. We'll see it later.

There are about 15 different games in OpenBSD Live, from Chess to Solitaire. I have not tried any of them, so I cannot tell you about their quality. I presume most of them are GNOME-specific applications, and as such should be OK.

The Graphics section of the menu includes DjView, F-Spot photo manager and Image viewer. No, there's no GIMP or screenshot tool in this section. GIMP is not included in OpenBSD Live at all. And, the screenshot tool... Again, we'll come back to it later.

Office tools include Dictionary, Project Management tool and... Evolution e-mail client. Yes, here it is! Not in the Internet section of the menu, but in the Office tools. That’s quite a doubtful decision from my point of view, to move the e-mail client from Internet to Office section. Of course, you can edit the menu the way you like in a normal installed system. But Jggimi’s OpenBSD Live is not intended for installation. You’ll have to use whatever is already there. Also, while I am talking about the office section of the menu, I should note that OpenBSD Live does not give you any productivity suite.

A whole section of the OpenBSD Live menu is dedicated to Programming tools: Hex Editor, GNOME Development Monitor, gitg and some similar applications.

The Sound and Video tools include GnomeBaker, (yes, again my lost favourite!), Totem Movie Player, Sound Recorder and Volume control. Unfortunately, I could not check any of them because I had no access to my network or local partitions where multimedia files are stored. OpenBSD Live comes without any sound file to test with. Inclusion of the GnomeBaker tool is also a doubtful decision, because system runs from DVD, which cannot be ejected. There are not so many computers which stock several optical drives. Where would you use the disk burning tool then?

The System section of the menu in OpenBSD Live includes the Nautilus file browser, Log File Viewer, Disk Usage Analyzer, System Monitor and some other useful tools. There is no disk-partitioning tool. I guess this is because this distribution is not intended for installation. Hence, you don't need to partition your disks.

The Accessories menu lists more than a dozen of different small applications like Gnotes, Gedit, Calculator, Archive manager, Terminal and so on. Screenshot utility is here too. Does it mean I can show you the screenshot of Jggimi's OpenBSD in this review? Unfortunately, not. Because even if I took the picture, I could not save the image anywhere – my system was totally isolated.

The System section of the GNOME panel menu includes lots of the usual GNOME configuration utilities. In particular, Keyboard settings are there. I was able to configure the keyboard layouts for my needs (English UK + Russian), and it worked fine.

As you can see here, Jggimi’s OpenBSD Live operating system gives you a very basic set of tools. Yes, there are enough tools to feel the flavour of BSD. However, they are not enough for daily activities of an average user. For example, you can’t edit documents or images in this operating system, if you would like.

You could argue that these packages can be installed in addition to standard ones. But that’s not an easy process, as I understand. It is still possible, but requires many additional steps to tweak the delivered file system, before you can install anything new. This is described in Jggimi’s FAQ. It’s not an obvious task for novices, and not the process anyone would like to go through every time.

Shutting down

Finally, when I wanted to end my adventures in Jggimi’s OpenBSD Live operating system, I could not find the way to shutdown, apart from the command reboot from the root user ID. I am not sure if the author has done this deliberately, or it is just an accidental miss.


During my trip into the OpenBSD Live world, I spent a lot of time… waiting. It was really painful. I have already mentioned the inordinately long boot time of this OS. But that’s not the full story. Application start times were very long. Each time optical drive operations were involved, it took the system ages to read the necessary elements and process them. And I can bet that some other operating systems can do the same faster, even being run from the same optical drive.

Who is the target audience of Jggimi’s OpenBSD Live project? From my point of view, the system is good for those who can ensure that GNOME is not Linux-only desktop environment. Yes, it works on BSD-based systems too.

But there are other BSD-based distributions which give you more even in Live mode, compared to Jggimi's OpenBSD Live system. The best I've seen so far is GhostBSD. It is not ideal, but still gave me an option to browse local disks, which I could not get working in Jggimi's system.

This post was edited by djohnston.


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