It was a warm summer night, circa 1996, when I installed my first Linux distribution. I remember it well, the old text-based installation of Caldera Open Linux (and then Red Hat Linux, when Caldera proved to just not work well). The install took some time to get used to, but it worked. I felt at the top of my nerd game, being able to successfully install Linux. And at the time, that feeling was spot on. When Linux first arrived on the “mass-market” scene it wasn’t the most user-friendly operating system to install, but when it was installed, it worked like a champ.
But back then there was very little wide-spread usage. Why? Not only was the installation foreign (and none too easy), the whole of the operating system was nothing like the masses had used. For those whose interest was piqued, however, it was the installation that would make or break new users. Even the new Windows 95 had a nice graphical installation. Linux, on the other hand had the old ncurses-based installation method that launched a thousand install fests across the globe (if you never attended an install fest, you don’t know what you were missing).
That was then, this is now. Linux now enjoys some of the easiest, cleanest installation routines of any operating system available. Many of the modern distributions are a live CD and a few clicks from going from CD media to your hard disk. But what about the BSDs?
That, my friend is a different story.
Back in the day, I was one with the text-based installation. I could install Red Hat 4.2 in my sleep. Manual partitions? Child’s play. There was nothing I couldn’t install.
Over the weekend, I installed OpenBSD. And then I installed FreeBSD. And then I quickly realized why the BSDs are getting no love. For some odd reason, the BSDs refuse to join the rest of the modern world. Instead they have decided that they (the BSD communities) are going to rebel and remain in the 90s with the text-based installation and their cryptic install instructions. But then the BSD community complains that they get no love…no press…no user-base. Oh sure, the silver-back geeks and the server farms will run one or more flavors of BSD (it IS insanely stable and secure). More than likely, those are the users that have been running BSD since their days in high-school computer club.
I write these words in hopes that a member of the BSD clan will get word back to their high counsel. If BSD wants to gain any respect among the masses, they have to modernize, join the new world order, and (at the very least) add a GUI installation tool – or, heaven forbid, a Live CD. I did find a Live BSD project that hadn’t been updated since 2004. After much digging, I did finally come up with the BSD Anywhere project that attempts to modernize the BSD (OpenBSD at least), but shoots itself in the foot by including only the IceWM window manager with a default configuration that looks, surprisingly, very 90s! Go figure.
Hear me out *BSDs – you need to accept the fact that the PC world has come a long, long way since the 90s. The graphical environment (as shown by the overwhelming ooohs and ahhhs that accompanied Windows 7) can go a long, long way to help the public accept you. No one wants to work on a desktop without smooth, anti-aliased fonts and a color scheme reminiscent of an old SPARC Station running CDE.
But why is this important? Simple. The BSDs are amazing operating systems. Not only are they, hands-down, some of the most reliable operating systems, they are bastions of security that refuse to be taken down. It’s a shame the BSDs have not met more acceptance across the globe. Instead they play second, third, and fourth string to all other operating systems.
So to the BSD community I beg you, make modern your image. Stop playing in your basement laboratory and show the rest of the world how powerful you really are. Just make sure when the masses of the world see you they don’t think, “Oh, how outdated is that?” Gain the love you deserve, BSD.
UPDATE: I have to give props to the PC-BSD developers who have managed to create a distribution, based on FreeBSD, that is as easy to install as any Linux distribution. To those other BDSs out there – pay attention else PC-BSD leave you in the dust. Seriously, if you are looking to try a BSD, you can not go wrong with PC-BSD.
Thank you all for pointing this distribution out.