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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
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.


And as crazy as the OpenBSD community might seem to some, the tough love works. These people use this OS, and they want it to work. A certain level of competency is assumed, and getting there is as easy as RTFM.

But the BSDs are a bit notorious these days for being more than a little behind Linux in terms of hardware compatibility and desktop functionality, though I did have a wireless chip that worked in OpenBSD before Linux at one point, and networking is something that OpenBSD handles very, very well. And the horror that is kernel mode setting in Linux has made X in OpenBSD run better on my older Intel hardware.

One not-so-secret secret I've uncovered (in my own mind) recently is that OpenBSD stands alone among the BSDs in its out-of-the-box ability to run GNOME 3. As far as I can tell, the other BSDs are still shipping GNOME 2.x.

Why does OpenBSD have GNOME 3? Because developers want it.

That's how OpenBSD works: What developers want, the rest of us get. There's no use trying to fight it. Embrace it and reap.

So why am I running Debian GNU/Linux as my main OS? Why not OpenBSD on my laptop? I'm considering dual-booting, though being too lazy to totally reinstall all the systems on the machine keeps me from taking the plunge. And I need a bigger hard drive. I find 320 GB a bit restrictive given all the video I'm hauling around these days.

Some of the things that could bother me with OpenBSD don't. I'm not troubled by:

  • Lack of a Linux-like binary update mechanism
  • Aging of packages over the six-month development cycle

However there are a few things I rely on in Linux that I would miss in OpenBSD:

  • NetworkManager-like tool (anything that would make it easy to switch between multiple networking configurations would be welcome)
  • Working video editors (OpenShot or KDEnlive; I can't wrap my head around editing with Blender)
  • Occasional need for Flash (though this is less of a problem than it's been in the past)
  • A Dropbox-like tool for file-syncing between Unix and Windows (though I use rsync for general backup tasks, and I'm sure there are more than a few decent solutions, including Unison)

And unfortunately I'm now in the position of needing to use Citrix Receiver, which Linux supports -- especially after hacking into the post-install script (more on that later).

I also tried recently to set up an OpenBSD web server with Perl CGI support. I don't know enough to make it happen. And judging from the state of tutorials on how to do this, it's not of much interest to the OpenBSD community.

There are still use cases where OpenBSD works for me, and my future needs could change and make the OS a better fit for more of my desktop work.