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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).