Open Source

When BSD and Ubuntu meet on the dance floor, magic should happen

Jack Wallen takes UbuntuBSD out for a dance to see if it can keep up with the competition. Find out if this new distribution stands a chance at surviving among the already challenging Linux landscape.

ubuntubsdhero.jpg
Image: Jack Wallen

The tag line is quite promising:

The power of FreeBSD kernel with familiarity of Ubuntu OS.

On paper, it sounds like a perfect match. On one hand you have the rock-solid stability of the BSD kernel (which is not the Linux kernel) married to the simplicity found in Ubuntu. If you're curious why this would really matter, consider this of the BSD kernel:

  • The BSD kernel is not a stand-alone kernel, but rather is developed as part of a whole (which leads to improved system coherence)
  • The BSD kernel is developed with a more conservative point of view, which leads to more consistency
  • The BSD developers have made security a priority
  • The BSD kernel offers full support for ZFS

Considering that BSD is far closer to UNIX than is Linux, why would anyone go out of their way to merge it with Ubuntu? Two reasons. First, if you're a long-time fan of Ubuntu and a long-time hater of systemd, UbuntuBSD might be the "systemd-less Ubuntu" you've been looking for. The second reason? Because one of the biggest complaints about BSD is that it's more complex than it's Linux relatives. That leads to one simple conclusion: far less usage. Even though BSD is an ideal platform for servers, it winds up little more than a wallflower at prom, watching all the cool Linux kids dancing the night away.

Enter, UbuntuBSD, an attempt to help nudge BSD into the spotlight, so it can enjoy a dance or two. The big question is: does it work? Did the developers of this powerhouse combo pull off what others have tried (think Dragonfly BSD and PC-BSD)? I installed an instance of UbuntuBSD to find out.

Installation

This is where UbuntuBSD first fails. If you're a developer claiming the "familiarity of Ubuntu", then making users work with an NCURSES-based installer is one of the last things you want. Why not go all the way and include a graphical installer? Don't get me wrong, there's really nothing wrong with the NCURSES installers (it works great for the Ubuntu Server), but when a platform wants to hang its hat on ease-of-use, insisting new users work through the text-based installer (Figure A) will only serve to turn a lot of people off.

Figure A

Figure A

Package selection for the UbuntuBSD installation.

Image: Jack Wallen

Once you manage to get past the installation process, you'll find yourself at an Xfce login. Enter your credentials to be greeted by a fairly basic desktop (Figure B).

Figure B

Figure B

The default UbuntuBSD desktop.

Image: Jack Wallen

Upon first login, I immediately noticed an error. The small red circle in the notification tray is indicative of an update issue. This is something I've encountered before on Ubuntu installations and was able to resolve. None of the usual tricks would resolve the issue (not even sudo aptitude safe-upgrade). This issue, of course, led me to discover one glaring problem with UbuntuBSD...the lack of a package manager frontend. Yes, UbuntuBSD includes a GUI tool for updates as well as update settings, but none for the process of installing packages. How is that, in any way, adding to the claim familiarity of Ubuntu? It's not. Sure, you can drop to the command line and install all the available apps you want. You can even install the Synaptic package manager (with the command sudo apt-get install synaptic) and enjoy one of the older frontends for apt. Of course there is also the tasksel command (installed by default) that will allow you to install a number of related packages (LAMP server anyone?). However, when attempting to install a LAMP server with tasksel, the process errors out (turns out there are packages required for the LAMP server that aren't available for this new distribution). Even attempting to install a Samba server (with the command sudo apt-get install samba-server^) ends with the same level of errors.

It's beta, I get it

I understand this is a beta release. But I've used plenty of beta releases before and none of them seemed to fall short as hard and fast as UbuntuBSD. In defense of UbuntuBSD, however, they have undertaken a much more challenging task than simply creating a standard Linux distribution, so it is quite understandable that there will be serious issues until the platform finds its way out of beta. Nevertheless, that does not smooth over the fact that UbuntuBSD is more BSD than it is Ubuntu. In fact, this particular distribution seems little more than BSD with a bit of Xfce shine and the dulling headache brought about by the beta label.

The problems don't end with the lack of a software installer (or the inability to install software from the command line). Even the task of opening LibreOffice fails. It's a far stretch to point the finger of blame toward the beta tag for an office suite not running.

How I would fix some of the issues?

If UbuntuBSD really want to go full-on friendly, I would recommend (at least) the following:

  • Drop the Xfce desktop and opt for GNOME
  • Include the GNOME Software tool
  • Fix tasksel
  • Resolve the LibreOffice issue (issue points to unsupported locale and missing java runtime environment)
  • Enable users to actually restart or power down the machine from the GUI (out of the box, they can only log out)

Even so...

Even with the problems (some of which are glaring), UbuntuBSD offers some promise. If they can resolve the issues they will have something many users will want: a Ubuntu-like platform running a BDS kernel and no systemd. However, if they don't resolve these issues quickly, what they'll have is a forgotten distribution that will have gained zero traction. I applaud the developers and hope UbuntuBSD can find its place on the dance floor among competition that certainly knows how to cut a rug.

See also

About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox