[nycbug-talk] OSViews review of the BSD family

G. Rosamond george
Tue Oct 19 17:30:03 EDT 2004

For those who haven't see it. . .

Not a very useful review, IMO, as it seems to rest on very dated 
information on many points and utter confusion on others.

 From reading Bugtraq, I would hardly think that NetBSD "is not secure." 
  And I hardly think that FBSD is in a "precarious" position due to the 
simultaneous 4.x and 5.x branch existences. . .He probably thinks they 
are competing "distros." <g>

And actually, if I didn't know better, I wouldn't be very excited by 
the future of the BSDs from this article. . .

Really just posting for the records, as it's been Slashdot'd.

And I do think that it would be useful to post a detailed response to 
this in our library. . .


It's an exciting era in the Berkeley Software Distribution world; 
indeed, things started off with a litigious bang over a decade ago, but 
now BSD solutions are more varied than ever before and offer the user 
heretofore unprecedented choice and power. So many are the options 
today that it's time for a roll call from the various distributions. 
Paul Webb submitted the following editorial to osOpinion/osViews which 
takes a look at what each BSD has to offer and also looks at where each 
is going.

Each of the four major BSD projects are pushing forward with 
development and experiencing growth, diversifying the Open Source 
playing field's offerings Let's take a look at what each project is up 
to these days.


FreeBSD is in a precarious state. While it has almost hit critical mass 
in the corporate world, their latest growing pains have left potential 
adopters confused. The new FreeBSD 5 branch offers some exciting 
technology, generally regarded as comparable with or superior to what 
is offered in Linux. The FreeBSD foundation is still upgrading its 
FreeBSD 4.x line and suggesting its use for production environments 
over FreeBSD 5. The reasons for this are very simple -- FreeBSD 5 won't 
be ready for prime time until FreeBSD 5.4 or 5.5 -- but users are left 
confused and timid.

FreeBSD's last major release, which now sits highly optimized at 
version 4.10, works just as well as always. For systems already running 
with FreeBSD 4.x that see no need to adopt the new technology in 
FreeBSD 5 or jump to Linux, this operating system is a godsend in 
stability and continued support. FreeBSD 4.11 is scheduled for a 
February '05 release, while plans for FreeBSD 4.12 are on the 
backburner should FreeBSD 5 not achieve -STABLE status by the fourth 
quarter of 2005. But what if you need the technology available in 
FreeBSD 5 and don't want to jump to Linux?

FreeBSD 5, currently available at FreeBSD 5.2.1 with FreeBSD 5.3 in 
late beta, tantalizes the BSD world with the culmination of several 
year's hard work and narrow escapes. Back in the late Nineties, when 
WindRiver bought BSD/OS (a closed-source BSD operating system owned by 
the now-defunct BSDI), FreeBSD users were promised a next-generation 
BSD made possible by crossing the ultra-robust corporate OS with its 
Open Source counterpart. While WindRiver let go of its plans leaving 
the future of FreeBSD in peril, the realization of its goal is almost 
here thanks to the FreeBSD community and Apple Computer, Inc.'s 
contribution of FreeBSD code.

That almost is a killer, though, in that it now causes potential users 
to look elsewhere for modern operating system features elsewhere until 
FreeBSD 5 is blessed as stable. Given FreeBSD's track record and the 
corporate sponsors now behind its operating system, however, it has a 
bright future ahead of it despite these stumbling blocks. Sadly, the 
same can't be said for its two little brothers, NetBSD and OpenBSD.


NetBSD's claims to fame aren't its optimization or secure code -- it's 
instead known for running on a wider variety of platforms than any 
other operating system out there, including Linux. NetBSD's binary 
releases include support for an amazing 40 platforms and an additional 
12 platforms in the source code. In other words, it runs on everything 
but the kitchen sink. NetBSD forked from the 386BSD/4.4 BSD merger in 
1993 and continued on its own in parallel to FreeBSD since then, albeit 
at a slower pace. It's currently at version 2.6.1, with aggressive 
testing on the new NetBSD 2.0 promising fruition by the first half of 

Those familiar with NetBSD swear by it, though its use in serious 
environments is limited. It is not secure and device driver support is 
paltry at best. NetBSD's true usefulness comes in providing developers 
of other operating systems -- such as FreeBSD, OpenBSD, and Linux -- 
with hardware support to base their own new ports off of. For instance, 
much of the code for the PowerPC FreeBSD port comes from NetBSD. 
OpenBSD implemented support for AMD64 by means of hefty imports from 
the NetBSD source tree, and Linux runs on Motorola's ColdFire processor 
family thanks to the work previously for NetBSD's port.

Though it's the unsung hero of the BSD family and Linux, you can safely 
ignore NetBSD unless you have old or obscure hardware or are looking to 
port your operating system project to new hardware. Its desktop and 
production applications are so limited as to be nonexistent and this 
isn't likely to change even after NetBSD 2.0 is released.


Forking from NetBSD in 1995 after a very heated -- and embarrassing -- 
personal argument, OpenBSD's one and only focus is to offer security. 
Every line of code is hand-audited and, as the site claims, there 
hasn't been a hole in the default install in over seven years. Striking 
a balance in hardware support somewhere between FreeBSD and NetBSD, 
OpenBSD runs on very few platforms and even then only in 
single-processor mode. Sticking with Intel and compatible chips is a 
safe bet as its Alpha and PowerPC ports are still in their infancy.

OpenBSD is updated every three or four months and doesn't experience 
the major upheavals that FreeBSD is confronting now: When OpenBSD is 
updated, there is no question as to whether or not it's secure or ready 
for production. Oftentimes it stands in on a general computer to 
emulate a specific network device, though in a highly secure fashion. 
If you're in the market for a firewall, OpenBSD can make an aging 
Pentium system do the job better than pricier hardware. OpenBSD isn't 
acceptable as a desktop system or 3D workstation, however.

One factor that mars OpenBSD's fair weather is its primary developer, 
Theo de Raadt. This individual is known to be highly unstable and even 
destructive at times. OpenBSD's very birth, as noted above, is owed to 
one of his infamous tantrums and many users have been flamed off the 
Internet due to his bad moods and compulsive control issues. Though 
excellent for network equipment, developers may wish to remain wary of 
this platform and its creator.


Apple Computer, Inc.'s Darwin operating system is now the most 
widely-shipped UNIX in the world, with a user-base of over 10 million 
strong and growing. The current platform has been out for over a year 
with Darwin 7.5 corresponding to Mac OS X v10.3.5. Darwin 7.6 will be 
released before 2005 with another one or two follow-ons before Darwin 8 
goes live, which has been in development since last January.

Darwin 8.0b1, the first beta for Apple's next Mac OS X release, shows 
many improvements over Darwin 7. First and foremost, it includes 64-bit 
memory addressing and optimizations for Apple processors going back all 
the way to the PowerPC G3. Many of its libraries and userland will be 
synced with FreeBSD 5.2, while also enhancing Linux API compatibility 
and support for AMD64.

Other points of improvement are symmetric multi-threading (SMT), NetBSD 
and OpenBSD binary support, next-generation on-the-fly file 
de-fragmentation, integration of TrustedBSD security hooks, support for 
Java 1.5, XHTML 2.0 and CSS 3.0, and a myriad of minor improvements 
sure to make thousands of developers and end-users happy. Clearly, 
Darwin is the most inclusive and feature-complete BSD -- and, indeed, 
UNIX -- out there.

With so much going on with Darwin, it might be hard to realize that 
it's not right for everyone. There are certain groups who might not be 
happy with it. Developers, for instance, have expressed frustration 
over how fast Apple's evolves its operating system, which can sometimes 
make it hard to create applications that run on more than one version 
of Mac OS X.

Another point of contention is hardware support. While Darwin supports 
the PowerPC G3, G4 and G5 processors and all of Apple's mainboards and 
other devices, it only runs on Intel's Pentium Pro, Pentium II, Pentium 
III and Pentium 4 families. Darwin 8 will fix this, with support for 
AMD chips, but it could be as long as eight more months off. The future 
burns brightly for Apple's Darwin BSD.

Final Thoughts

If you're looking for a software solution in the Berkeley Software 
Distribution family, you won't be disappointed. All four major projects 
are continually updated and developed whether you need a general 
workstation solution, network security, hardware development, or a 
desktop operating system. The BSD world has never looked brighter than 
now and each project is geared for major upgrades in the near future, 
guaranteeing a continuity of utility in the years to come. ::

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