PC-BSD is a FreeBSD-based desktop distribution, with KDE as the default desktop environment. It is the most actively developed of the BSD, desktop distributions listed on this site. This review is of PC-BSD 8, the latest stable edition, which was released earlier this week.
Installation – PC-BSD 8 sports a redesigned graphical installation program. It is one of the better graphical installation programs available on any distribution – Linux or BSD. It features a very clean and intuitive interface. Aside from providing a means to install a complete desktop system, the installer also allows for the installation of a FreeBSD server.
It supports the following file system types: UFS (UNIX file System), ZFS (Zettabyte file system), UFS+S and UFS+J. By default, the installer creates the following partitions: a main partition of about 2 GB for /, the main filesystem, one for swap of about 10 GB, another for /var of about 1 GB, and the rest of the disk space is assigned to /usr. UFS+S is the default file system type for all partitions. Encryption of the root partition is not supported. While it is possible to specify the encryption of the other partitions, the implementation does not provide the protection that disk encryption is expected to. Fedora has a better implementation of disk encryption than this or any other distribution.
Desktop – PC-BSD is a KDE-focused distribution. This release ships with KDE 4.3.5, using the kickoff-style menu by default. If you have the requisite hardware, Compiz-Fusion, a 3D compositing window manager, works right out of the box.
Administration and Software Management – PC-BSD uses the traditional UNIX root user account system. As on any other distribution, that account is created during installation. You may also create one or more regular user accounts during the installation process. All graphical management tools are accessible from System Settings. With regards to software management, new users should be aware that PC-BSD is, in a sense, a hybrid distribution: The pbi technology makes installing pre-compiled applications very easy. Many other applications have to be compiled from source. pbiDIR provides a graphical interface for the installation of pre-compiled packages. If you’ve never used PC-BSD, you may browse the list of installable packages at http://www.pbidir.com/. That site shows exactly the same interface as the graphical installer.
Default Installed Applications – Most of the applications and system utilities pre-installed on PC-BSD 8 are those that you’ll find on most stock installations of KDE-based distributions. Here’s a list of some of those applications::
- Konqueror, a file manager and Web browser
- JuK media player
- Kopete, a multi-protocol, instant messaging application
- Dragon Player
You’ll notice that Firefox and OpenOffice.org are missing from the list. This is because those applications are “optional” applications that you may choose to install during the installation process. In any case, you can install Firefox, OpenOffice.org suite and many more application packages on a running system via the graphical installer.
Browsers and browser plugins – If you did not install any available components during the installation process, Konqueror, a file and Web browser for the K Desktop Environment, will be the only browser installed on the system. Out of the box, Konqueror does Flash, but because Java JRE is not installed, it fails the Java test. Konqueror is a decent browser, but for a better browsing, most users will opt to use Mozilla Firefox.
Network Manager and Security tools – The network manager automatically configures the network interfaces on the system. It shows facilities only for configuring and managing wired and wireless networks. On the security applications front, OpenSSH server and client are installed. There are no VPN clients or servers installed, and there are none installable via the graphical package manager. PF, OpenBSD’s packet filter, and IPFW are the firewall applications on PC-BSD 8. Both are enabled by default, with PF doing the heavy lifting. A graphical interface to PF is installed and pre-configured.
The Warden, a graphical/command line security tool, simplifies the management of applications in PC-BSD’s Jail system. The Warden is not in the default installation. It is one of the “optional” components available during the installation process, and may be installed using the graphical package manager.
Media and Hardware Detection – Media and hardware on PC-BSD 8 is no different from what you’d experience on any KDE-based distribution. The lone choice for playing DVD videos available in the video dialog prompt is Dragon Player. Because libdvdcss is not installed, and it’s not installable via pbiDIR, Dragon Player is unable to play encrypted video DVDs. If you need to play any commercial video DVD on PC-BSD 8, you’ll have to compile libdvdcss from the ports system, where libdvdcss-1.2.10 is available in the multimedia category.
For audio CDs, KsCD is the only audio CD player in the audio dialog prompt. However, it is broken. It will only play the first six seconds of an audio CD and then stop. You’ll have to install Exaile or another audio CD player of your choice if you need play audio CDs on PC-BSD 8. By default, most Linux distribution will automatically configure a connected printer. On PC-BSD 8, however, you will have to do it manually. On the test system, configuring my HP Deskjet F4280 All-in-One using the installed HP Device Manager was a breeze.