A new OS with a new desktop.

After having used Ubuntu for about 2 and a half years now, I got kinda bored and decided it was time to try out something new. Not that this has anything to do with Ubuntu — it’s just that every 2 years or so I get this itch that has to be scratched. It usually leads to a complete overhaul of one or more OSes on my machine. In a way it’s good — it gets rid of a lot of crud that accumulates on my hard-drivers over time. However, it also means I have to put in hours of work to get the new OS up to speed. Fortunately these days the Internet connections are pretty good and most OSes come with one click installers for commonly used software. There was a time not too long ago when every utility had to be downloaded, compiled and then installed. It would take days before you could get an OS up and running the way you wanted. I am glad that isn’t the case today.

I wanted to try something different. The Linux world has a lot of distros and though each one has it’s own special flavour (and many of them are really good) , it’s still Linux. There is a world of *NIX and *NIX-like systems that haven’t been too successful on the desktop — up until now (don’t know what the future holds). However, there are some sincere efforts being made to get these OSes on the desktop as well. One of them is PC-BSD, a FreeBSD based distro that has been customized for the desktop user. I decided to give it a shot given that it has had some good reviews.

The installation of the OS is painless — a standard graphical installation that will be too familiar to most users. Be careful though, the partition naming is a bit different from Linux! I had some anxious moments there, but as soon as that was sorted out, the rest of the procedure is pretty straightforward. The installation bundles some of the most commonly used software. Firefox, OpenOffice, Pidgen are all there. The desktop is based on KDE 4, which I must say, is my first experience with KDE 4. All installed applications worked pretty well and on the whole PC-BSD is usable system. Connecting to the Internet was pretty easy, maybe because I already knew how to setup a PPPoE connection under my former Linux system. Nevertheless, the basic OS was up and running within about 45 mins. The great thing about this distro is, most of my movies and videos work straight out-of-the-box, which thus far no distro has been able to achieve. Even with Ubuntu I have always had to download codecs for most proprietary formats (like wmv). That’s a strong plus for this distro. There is a click and install system called PBI for most commonly used software and it is similar to apt based system under Debian distributions. Most other software can be downloaded via FreeBSD ports and works pretty well. The system has an auto-update feature that updates the system components regularly and with ease.

The only real problem I had was not with the OS itself, but with KDE 4. KDE 4 is a bit on the sluggish side and that’s putting it mildly. Maybe it was just my case since I used a PC with only 1 GB Ram, I don’t know, but the same system flies under a default Ubuntu distribution. Another thing worth mentioning is the size of the install. The system took about 7Gb of disk-space for just a handful of software. Even the PBI updates seem to be on the heavier side than their Linux counterparts. Looks like most software packages are either statically linked or the system bundle separate copies of shared libraries for every software. Disk-space however, is cheap and you could live with larger installs given that nothing gets broken because of a missing shared library — overwritten by another install, or removed by an uninstall of some other unrelated software.

On the whole PC-BSD is a commendable effort. I have been using the system for about a month now and the only real thing that bugs me is the sluggishness of KDE 4 (which I am sure will get sorted out as KDE 4 matures). FreeBSD is a good OS and a desktop distros based on it was a long time coming. I hope PC-BSD and other FreeBSD distros gain more popularity as time passes.

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