Title photo
frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Sun, 24 Sep 2017

I'm thinking about OpenBSD again

I received an email recently from Ewa Dudzic of BSD Magazine asking to interview me. I demurred because I'm barely using Linux right now, let alone a BSD. My "intense" BSD period was around 2008-09 when I had a laptop that wouldn't boot from CD, and OpenBSD's floppy image (you heard right) allowed me to get it up and running.

I blogged a lot about it. I had a lot of fun with OpenBSD, and I tried a couple of others with endings both catastrophic (FreeBSD, where updates puzzled me and broke the system) and anticlimactic (DragonFlyBSD, where too many applications didn't work).

I've done a few sporadic OpenBSD tests since then, but circumstances at both my work (needing Citrix) and personally (not so interested in operating systems or free software as a movement, seeing overall interest in free software wane considerably since Windows 7 came out, and my growing interest in programming) led me to the point where I was running Fedora on my "old" laptop and Windows 10 with the Windows Subsystem for Linux on my "new" laptop.

I'm still very much involved in programming, using Ruby, Java, the Bash shell and a little bit of Perl.

And in my day job, I can mostly leave my Citrix-delivered system behind in favor of a whole lot of WordPress.

And -- yes there is another and -- these days I mostly use an old Roku (with USB input) for video, so my laptops don't double as entertainment machines.

Could I set up my old laptop as a development machine using OpenBSD?

The one difference in favor of this is the JDK being available as a package. Installing the Java Development Kit back in 2009 was far from easy. I can't remember if I was even able to do it.

Adding Ruby and Node seem easy. Will Ruby gems and npm packages work? That's something I'll have to investigate as I go.

Whenever I look at the OpenBSD website, documentation and, more importantly, extensive list of available packages, I get hopeful about the system working for me.

I'm not afraid of a little maintenance, and the new syspatch utility promises to make updating the base system quicker and easier than ever before. Being OK with the same non-base packages for six months is potentially unsettling, but for a sane system that just works (just works is very, very important to me these days), I could be OK with it. What I don't want is problem after problem after problem with basic functionality (display, WiFi, sound, CPU heat, suspend/resume). I'm cautiously ... cautious.

I have learned that there are OpenBSD communities on Reddit and Facebook and probably in other places (obviously including openbsd.misc).

I've already started collecting links (mined from Reddit) to help me get an OpenBSD system installed and configured:

Since my old laptop (HP Pavilion g6 from 2010) has easily swappable drives, I can put test OSes on their own drive and not worry about partitioning or blowing out a production system.

I just got an OpenBSD 6.1 image on a USB drive using Win32 Disk Imager in Windows 10, and I'm ready to do the installation.

So am I a good candidate for a BSD-focused interview? I'm not an OS developer, or a serious sysadmin. (I do play at being a sysadmin, don't get me wrong. I run a CentOS system on the live Web, though I do have help when the going gets tough.)

I'm just a user, but I have blogged plenty about what I do with the software I use, and that's not as common as you'd think (and seeming to be out there alone did push me away from my steadfast commitment to open-source operating systems). So the answer is "maybe," and maybe in the days ahead I'll have something to say about OpenBSD in the late 2010s.

Updates (newest first):

  • I have done two OpenBSD 6.1 installations on my HP Pavilion g6. The internal Atheros WiFi doesn't work, so I'm using the wired network and an old Realtek-based USB WiFi stick. I blew up the first installation, and now I'm working on the second. I still can't believe that it's so easy to get the JDK installed and running (add the package, add the path to the JDK binaries -- /usr/local/jre-1.8.0/bin -- to your path in .profile ... and that's it).
Thu, 13 Nov 2014

Why OpenBSD runs so hot on AMD A4 APU hardware -- and how to cool it down 20 degrees C

The good news is that I can run X in OpenBSD 5.6 on my AMD A4 APU-equipped HP Pavilion g6 laptop. Before now, starting X would cause a kernel panic.

The bad news is that the laptop runs very, very hot.

This OpenBSD misc post explains it:

List:       openbsd-misc
Subject:    Re: Slow performance on Radeon (HD7770) video card
From:       Jonathan Gray 
Date:       2014-06-22 5:12:12
Message-ID: 20140622051212.GC9087 () mail ! netspace ! net ! au
[Download message RAW]

On Sat, Jun 21, 2014 at 10:32:55PM +0200, Julian Andrej wrote:
> Hello,
> i'm getting really low performance on my ATI Radeon HD7770 video card.
> glxgears runs at poor 27 fps and videos are stuttering (playback with
> mplayer and different -vo options).

We don't do acceleration on southern islands or newer Radeon
parts because it depends on LLVM, glamor and drm backed EGL.
This also requires the gbm part of Mesa which until very
recently has only supported Linux and udev/systemd.

Yes, even basic 2d acceleration requires this mess because
xf86-video-ati only has OpenGL backed glamor acceleration
for these parts, they didn't write any normal X style acceleration.

In the default configuration, my cpu is running at 70-80 degrees C as reported by:

$ sysctl hw.sensors

I was able to cool it down about 20 degrees C with this (as root):

# sysctl hw.setperf=0

I'm sure there's a way to get that parameter set automatically on boot, but I leave that to you (or for me another day).

So now I'm getting CPU temps of 50 to 65 degrees C, which is 122 to 149 degrees F. Not horrible, but not anywhere near the 95 to 120 degrees F that I get in Linux.

I did a few other OpenBSD 5.6 tests. I installed the Firefox browser and then the Xfce desktop environment.

Both worked well. Video playback from YouTube stuttered quite a bit. Audio was low, even when boosted via the Xfce volume control.

Then I installed GNOME, which consisted of adding the metapackage and making a couple of configuration changes.

That went well. I had a working GNOME 3 desktop in OpenBSD 5.6. I must say, it is probably more responsive than GNOME 3 in Fedora. It's pretty much like it is in Debian, except for the CPU heat and the fan blowing.

So the combination of excessive heat and fan noise along with poor video performance means I won't be doing much with OpenBSD on this particular laptop.

But it's always instructive to check in on OpenBSD with various hunks of hardware to see how they work together. OpenBSD has always been a project to watch, and I can only hope that hardware compatibility improves as development continues.

Sat, 15 Mar 2014

OpenBSD replacing Apache web server with nginx

In a move that surprises no one at this point, OpenBSD is in the process of pulling the Apache 1.3.x web server it has been maintaining on its own for what seems like forever and replacing it with the hot web server of the 2010s -- nginx.

Having a web server in the base install is mighty quirky in the first place, and OpenBSD has proudly flown this particular freak flag with no sign of changing things up.

But as much as a built-in web server (it's quite a help for development, in my opinion) is an enticing feature for many users, having that web server be nginx, which couldn't be more popular at this particular moment in geeky circles, should give many more people a reason to take a look at OpenBSD.

I'm not sure exactly how nginx will be configured in OpenBSD, by which I mean: Will it be possible to run CGI scripts without jumping through hoops due to a chroot environment?

Fear not, fans of the Apache web server. It will still be there in ports and packages for your use in OpenBSD.

Editorial: I don't think running CGI in Apache in the OpenBSD chroot was (or is) impossible in and of itself. What I do think is that a lack of interest among OpenBSD users and developers in doing it and writing tutorials about it made it pretty much impossible. Without someone leading the way, it's hard to stretch the well-established use case on just about any platform (those use cases being networking and firewalling on OpenBSD).

That OpenBSD users and developers are not interested in a particular feature, making said feature difficult to implement for mortal users -- and leading to "why do I have to re-invent the wheel?" syndrome among them -- is something you just have to accept when using a platform for a use case that isn't in its popularly accepted wheelhouse.

Thu, 21 Feb 2013

Things OpenBSD doesn't have that keep me from adopting it as my primary desktop operating system

I've used OpenBSD as my primary desktop OS before, but it's been a long time. Since then my main laptop has run Linux -- a bit of Fedora and Ubuntu and a whole lot of Debian.

I still dabble in OpenBSD, and I've done a few installs of version 5.2 recently on older test hardware.

I love the whole vibe of the project: the care that is taken with the base system and even the ports and packages that you add later, the like-clockwork development schedule that puts incremental improvement and not breaking things ahead of whiz-bangery, the best documentation anywhere (they care about the man pages and offer a by-your-own-bootstraps FAQ).

It feels solid. I've run every BSD I could at one time or other (FreeBSD, NetBSD, DragonFlyBSD, PC-BSD, GhostBSD, DesktopBSD) and have had more success with OpenBSD than any other. That's me. And my hardware.

Read the rest of this post

Sat, 09 Feb 2013

GNOME 3.4.2 in OpenBSD 5.2 -- I have it running

I decided to pull out a test machine -- the old Gateway Solo 1450, circa 2002 -- and try to install GNOME 3 in OpenBSD 5.2.

As you can see from the screenshot above, I was successful. Tips from Call for Testing helped.

This is an old laptop, so there is no 3D acceleration. That means it's Fallback Mode only for GNOME 3 on this machine.

But it's a working GNOME 3.4.2. Here is what I have in /etc/rc.conf.local:

 ntpd_flags=        # enabled during install
 pkg_scripts="{ dbus_daemon avahi_daemon"</code>

Here is my ~/.xinitrc:

 exec /usr/local/bin/ck-launch-session /usr/local/bin/gnome-session
Thu, 07 Feb 2013

It's easy to see what's happening in OpenBSD development

Though developers for OpenBSD have a reputation -- deserved or not -- as less than warm and fuzzy, the project is nothing if not transparent in terms of letting the world know what they're working on.

I'm sure other projects are as good at detailing what has changed from one release to the next. But this is one area where OpenBSD excels.

Look at http://www.openbsd.org/plus.html for the changes between OpenBSD 5.2 and -current (the current development version). Every change is in there.

Most of what's new in the 5.2 release can be seen at http://openbsd.org/52.html, and the full changelog is at http://openbsd.org/plus52.html

The source is always available and up to date on the web -- http://www.openbsd.org/cgi-bin/cvsweb/ and via the CVS version control system.

You can follow the latest in ports -- software you can compile and run -- at http://openports.se/.

It's not like other open-source projects don't make their source available because they do. But I find it very, very easy to figure out what's happening in OpenBSD because of the systematic way the project's developers go about their work, which includes detailing what they've done in these changelogs as well as in the man pages for the operating system.

It appears that some machines can run GNOME Shell in OpenBSD 5.2

If the graphical stars align, it looks like it's possible to run GNOME Shell -- and not just Fallback Mode -- in GNOME 3.x when running OpenBSD 5.2.

A lot of the progress in getting GNOME running on OpenBSD goes to the developers at m:tier (more here, who are also offering binary updates to the OpenBSD base system.

So what other BSDs offer GNOME 3 packages without a whole lot of trouble? I'm not sure any at this point.

I have run GNOME 2 and Xfce 4 in the past on both OpenBSD and FreeBSD (and Xfce 4 on DragonFlyBSD), and a familiar environment goes a long way toward making you productive in an less-familiar OS.

Sat, 02 Feb 2013

From callfortesting.org: GNOME 3 on OpenBSD 5.2

A look at and how-to on installing GNOME 3 on OpenBSD 5.2 from Michael Dexter of http://callfortesting.org.

Fri, 01 Apr 2011

OpenBSD on 32-bit SPARC in 2011

I’ve been going back and forth on whether to get rid of my Sun Sparcstation 20 and all of the hardware and software that goes with it.

Once I got the SS20 for plus a nominal shipping fee (and it’s the shipping that’ll kill you) from eBay, I got it running with OpenBSD and Solaris 9. Yeah, it’s a 1995-era system, and even though SPARC is optimized for Unix in a way x86 will never be, there’s only so much you can do with a 50 MHz SPARC CPU and 256 MB of RAM.

Even though I have a boxed edition of Solaris 9 for SPARC (I paid $1 for it), I don’t have access to updates, so it’s basically a system that is preserved in digital amber circa 2003. Not much help. And I’m not crazy about Solaris.

Read the rest of this post

Thu, 24 Feb 2011

Check out my devio.us site

I got an OpenBSD shell account on devio.us. Here’s what I have in my web directory.

It won’t be long before I drop a FlatPress install in there.