Thursday 31st May 2007
PC-BSD should make an interesting change for two main reasons. Firstly, it uses a BSD kernel, as opposed to the Linux kernel used in distributions such as Debian and Slackware. Secondly, its main method of installing new programs seems to be closer to that of Windows than apt. So, let's see if its claims of user friendliness are accurate.
Installation is handled by a graphical installer, which fits its role well. The first few screens are relatively straightforward - setting language, keyboard layout and timezone, the latter even providing the opportunity to set up NTP to keep your clock accurate.
There's also a screen for setting up root and an ordinary user, although a little more explanation of exactly what root was wouldn't go amiss for newer users.
One nice thing about the installation is that there is an option at the end for 'Advanced Setup', allowing you to tinker with the partitioning, networking and firewall. When choosing what partition to use, I didn't see any options to actually modify any partitions - I'm probably just being blind, but the ability to create and destroy partitions, rather than using what's already there, would have been handy, and saved fishing out that GParted LiveCD. Incidentally, this is one of the differences between BSD and Linux - BSD first claims a slice of the hard drive, and then partitions this slice further.
The networking screen is unremarkable, not that there's any way in which a networking screen really can be remarkable - it gets the job done! The firewall screen lets you open certain ports, telling you what services use them - while its not an exhaustive list, it does mean that there's very little tinkering required post installation.
Once you've finished all of your option-setting, the installer whizzes off until you get a nice shiny new system.
On The Desktop
PC-BSD uses a KDE desktop - whether that's a positive or negative is a matter of opinion! Suffice to say that it looks clean, tidy and up-to-date without being tacky or obtrusive.
By default, the applications installed cover most, although not all, main uses you'll probably have for your PC. For instant messaging there's Kopete, Konqueror for web browsing, Akregator for web feeds, and Kaffiene for multimedia. However, an office suite is absent, whether its KOffice or OpenOffice.org.
In terms of multimedia, Kaffeine is unable to handle everything since, as it points out upon first use, the Win32 codecs are not installed, and nor does a PBI appear to be available for them from pbiDIR, although they do seem to exist at pbis.in (more on PBIs later).
One of the major problems I encountered on my real PC (as opposed to QEMU) was that the network didn't work. For some reason, PC-BSD couldn't use my 3COM network card. The resulting difficulties are fairly obvious - I couldn't access other PCs on the network to get files that I normally use to test distros, and I couldn't get any packages online.
Sticking a CD into the drive causes it to be automatically mounted, and a dialog pops up asking if you want to open it. Unfortunately, there's no handy icon created on the desktop for the CD, meaning the quickest way I found to eject it was to go into Konqueror, choose the System tab (out of several tabs), go to Storage Media, right click on the CD and hit Eject.
As for my USB stick... it didn't even turn on. Logging onto the same PC with Debian showed that neither the stick nor the hardware was at fault.
I'm pleased to say that Samba works out of the box, accessible via 'Network Folders' in Konqueror, although you probably need to open the relevant port with the firewall during the installation.
Sadly, trying to enable a share is less successful. By right-clicking a directory, hitting 'Properties' and going to the 'Share' tab, there's a button that says 'Configure File Sharing...'. Pressing this asks you for the root password. However, after obliging, nothing happens. I looked through the menus for a application to setup the sharing, but nothing jumped out at me - if I have missed the obvious, please let me know!