11. A computer program will always do what you tell it to do, but rarely what you want to do. - Murphy's Laws of Computing

PC-BSD 1.3

PC-BSD 1.3

Thursday 31st May 2007

Categories: Reviews, BSD, FLOSS

And Now For Something Completely Different

Well, not completely different, but enough of a change to be noteworthy. Most distributions use packages in repositories to install new programs. FreeBSD, upon which PC-BSD is based, does so using ports. While PC-BSD can also use ports, the main method of software installation is through the use of files called PBIs. This is perhaps closer to what Windows users are familiar with - simply go to pbiDIR, and download whatever package it is that you're looking for. Once that's done, double click on what you just downloaded, and you'll be taken through the extremely simple installation.

There is a clear advantage here in that the process is simple and well-known to users of Windows. Of course, it doesn't come without disadvantages. First of all, more traditional package management, such as Apt, RPM or ports, allows you to download and install packages en masse. When using PBIs, you'll have to download and install them one by one. In addition, its not always clear what package you should download. While there isn't the problem of obscure packages that can be confusing, such as gimp-data-extras, there are multiple versions of the same package - for GIMP alone, there are four on offer.

Finally, trying to get updates for the PBIs resulted in being told that there was a network error, despite the fact that I could access the Internet without a problem.

On the other hand, I did get a prompt telling me an update to PC-BSD itself was available, which was downloaded and installed without any fuss.

The various utilities for installing/updating can be a little confusing - in one section of the menu, you can choose from:

along with plenty of other programs that configure the system.

There doesn't seem to be a graphical interface to the ports system, but you can still install packages from FreeBSD by commands such as pkg_add -r openoffice.org. However, trying pkg_add -r liferea resulted in being informed of conflicting dependencies, with no painless solution evident. Although it suggested removing some other packages, I didn't relish the thought of taking apart a system I'd barely used. I also noticed that using pkg_add often causes warnings about package versions - specifically, it warns that a certain version is required, but that a later version is installed. For instance, installing GAIM alone produced over a dozen such warnings, despite the fact that it worked perfectly fine afterwards. This isn't disastrous, but it doesn't do wonders for the user's confidence either.

Despite being billed as a user-friendly system, PC-BSD lacks configuration utilities for many aspects of the system, such as changing hard drive partitions or configuring X. For instance, so far as I can tell, if your monitor is detected incorrectly, you're stuck with the wrong resolution. Without any equivalent of YaST or the Mandriva/PCLinuxOS Control Center, whether as an entire package or many separate utilities, PC-BSD cannot match those distributions for the ability for an ordinary user to tweak almost any aspect of the system.

Conclusion

PC-BSD is certainly different, and using PBIs should make Windows users feel at home. However, I have encountered too many problems to be satisfied, with the network unavailable and USB sticks inaccessible. I have left out some of the smaller niggles I have for the simple reason that they're trivial compared to some of the larger problems, and therefore somewhat irrelevant at this point.

The lack of something to match up to YaST or the Mandriva/PCLinuxOS Control Center means that users would have to resort to the command line to solve some problems or change some settings, such as the maximum monitor resolution. For that reason, I feel that PCLinuxOS is the better choice if you're looking for simplicity and ease of use. If the flaws I found could be ironed out, however, then PC-BSD is well-deserving of a second look.

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