Exaile

PC-BSD 8 review

Issues you should be aware of – If you’ve been thinking about distro-hopping to PC-BSD, here are a few issues you should be ware of:

  1. The number of binary packages available for installation is nowhere near what you’ll find on any Linux distribution. What that means is that for some applications, installation from source could be your only option. That takes time.
  2. The first time I left the test PC unattended for some time, I was unceremoniously logged out. This is when the screen saver should have been activated, but instead, the system just kicked me out. The second time I left it unattended, the system just froze. Rebooting was my only option.
  3. The third issue has to do with pbiDIR, and I’ll illustrate with the following screenshots. Look closely at the first screenshot. Notice that the highlighted line indicates that Firefox 3.5.7 is installed. Now to the second screenshotFirefox installed
    Here I’m attempting to install Firefox, the same version that the system shows it already installed. Now see what happens when I click to install it again.
    Search Firefox

    There’s no need to re-install the same version of Firefox. Ideally, the prompt should read, “Do you want to install Firefox 3.5.7? (Will replace existing version).” But in this case, it doesn’t. Now see what happens when I click “Ok.”
    Install prompt

    This screenshot shows the system installing the same version of Firefox that’s already installed. Note that this behavior is not consistent. I’ll illustrate this inconsistency with one last screenshot, after the one below.
    Reinstalling Firefox

    This screenshot illustrates the expected behavior. The system clearly shows that it is aware that Exaile is already installed.
    Exaile

  4. While some bugs are specific to PC-BSD 8, others seem to be related to KDE, the desktop environment. For example, trying to configure Network Time Protocol from the graphical utility never succeeds.

These are just a few of the problems I encountered with this distribution. There are several more. Though I like PC-BSD as a desktop distribution, it is still very buggy, still very rough around the edges for a newbie. I certainly will not recommend that you dump your Linux distro for PC-BSD 8. Note that I am not saying that Linux is better than *BSD, but that as a desktop distribution, PC-BSD 8 is not yet in a position to compete with the best Linux, desktop distributions. Before you launch your keyboard-propelled grenades, re-read this paragraph.

Ok, so I’ve told you about aspects of the “dark side” of PC-BSD 8. Let’s take a peak into the bright side. Let me clue you in to some of it’s best features, features that power users will just love. One of those features is ZFS, the file system that the Linux community wish they had. Here’s a geek’s head description of ZFS, the “future-proof file system,” from the official site:

Solaris ZFS offers a dramatic advance in data management with an innovative approach to data integrity, tremendous performance improvements, and a welcome integration of file system and volume management capabilities. The centerpiece of this new architecture is the concept of the virtual storage pool which de-couples the file system from physical storage in the same way that virtual memory abstracts the address space from physical memory; allowing for much more efficient use of the storage devices. In ZFS, space is shared dynamically between multiple file systems from a single storage pool, and is parceled out from the pool as file systems request it. So, physical storage can be added to or removed from storage pools dynamically, without interrupting services. This provides new levels of flexibility, availability, and performance. And in terms of scalability, Solaris ZFS is a 128-bit file system. Its theoretical limits are truly mind-boggling—2128 bytes of storage and 264 for everything else, such as file systems, snapshots, directory entries, and devices.

Another nice feature is Packet Filter (PF), the firewall application. If you ever need to, writing PF rules will be one of the easiest tasks you’ll ever undertake on a UNIX-like operating system. It is a whole lot easier than messing with IPTables/Netfilter. If you’ve never used PC-BSD/FreeBSD, one more feature I’ll like to bring to your attention is The Warden. The Warden is a graphical/command line utility for managing Jails. On a FreeBSD-based system, the Jail, an enhanced chroot implementation, makes it possible to install applications within an environment securely isolated from the host system. The Warden takes the hassle out of creating and managing Jails and installing applications in Jails. There are similar technologies on Linux, but I’ve not come across an application like the Warden on a Linux, desktop distribution.

ResourcesHome page. Installation images for all supported platforms are available for download here.

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