The secret is finally out. FreeBSD, the rock-solid BSD UNIX that runs such Internet powerhouses as Yahoo! and Walnut Creek, makes a fantastic desktop operating system. With improved hardware support, over 3,000 applications available in the ports collection, the ability to run Linux applications with Linux emulation, and easily accessible documentation and support, FreeBSD is a definite contender for the corporate and home desktop user.

And did I mention it is free?
FreeBSD coexists nicely on a multiboot computer, which is ideal for comparing the performance of applications on the same hardware and provides a security net if you’re feeling a bit rusty or are just learning your UNIX skills. FreeBSD can be installed with its own boot manager or you can add FreeBSD to Windows NT’s boot manager.

Since the successful installation of any operating system is 90 percent pre-planning, I’ve created a checklist of information to gather before installing FreeBSD.

1. Decide which version to install
FreeBSD is in constant development, with an average of four releases per year. There is a dedicated group of bleeding edge testers who follow the current branch before it is released as stable. The rest of us are encouraged to install the latest release to ensure the most benefits at the greatest stability. As of this writing, 4.0 is the most recent release version.

2. Read the errata
Be sure to review the errata for the version you wish to install to see if there are any known issues with that particular release. The errata for Release 4.0 can be found here.

3. Check your hardware
Verify that the OS supports your hardware and that your system meets the minimum install requirements.

The FreeBSD site has a supported hardware list, which is posted here. You should also ensure that your video card is supported under X Windows. You can view X Windows documentation here.

4. Record your hardware information
You should record all of your IRQs, port numbers, and the make and model of your CD-ROM and video card, at the least. Doing so will help you in the future, should you need to troubleshoot errors that might arise.

5. If multibooting, record your partitioning scheme
Take note of the size of each partition on your hard drive and where the existing operating systems reside. If you don’t have a free partition and want to keep your existing data, use a conversion utility such as Powerquest’s PartitionMagic to create some free space.
Check out TechRepublic’s review of PartitionMagic 5.0.
Save yourself some frustration and be prepared to install FreeBSD’s root directory (typically around 40 MB) below the first 1024 cylinders on your first hard disk. You can install /var and /usr in any partition with free space.

At least one GB of space is recommended so you can install a decent window manager and have room to build some applications. If disk space is not an issue, give more room for FreeBSD; building applications from the ports collection can be very addictive!

6. Select an installation media
FreeBSD can be installed for free via FTP. However, this installation type is only recommended for those with fast (DSL, cable modem, T-1 or above) Internet connections. For those who like to burn their own installation CDs, both CDO and ISO formats are available from FreeBSD.

CD-ROM-based installations are the fastest and easiest installation method. CD-ROMs can be purchased for a reasonable amount online from

If you are not installing from CD-ROM, create the two boot floppies. You’ll find simple instructions available online from FreeBSD. Please note that you won’t need the floppies if you are installing by CD-ROM and your BIOS supports booting from the CD-ROM drive.

If you will be installing via FTP and a dial-up modem, you’ll need the following information on hand:

  • The phone number of your ISP
  • Your username and password for your ISP
  • The IP address of your ISP’s DNS server

7. Read the installation guide
Don’t wait until all else fails, read the directions! At the very least, skim through the sections that apply to you. You can find the FreeBSD installation guide here.

For a blow-by-blow account, with screenshots of what to expect during the install, an excellent reference can be found online at

Armed with the above information, you should now be ready for a successful and painless installation of FreeBSD. The only remaining question to ask yourself is “What am I waiting for?”
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