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OpenBSD As A Linux Desktop Replacement

I recently tried out OpenBSD as a possible answer to recent Linux engineering. I thought I’d share my notes here on my results, from a beginner’s and Linux user’s perspective. (I tried FreeBSD briefly before as well.) If you’ve used OpenBSD more extensively on the desktop, your feedback on any of this is welcome too – I’d like to know what you think of my opinions, you being a longer-term user.

OpenBSD is a bit of a leap from Linux – not everything will be familiar, but it is UNIX-style, so some things feel the same. It was my thought that if OpenBSD desktop is ready, it might be worth the investment to go there directly, rather than fighting systemd and such in Linux distros. I’ve liked what I read about some of OpenBSD’s approaches to security. They ship a very simple, locked down, code-reviewed system, to which you add components. They don’t use SELinux or other similar technologies (which I think is wise), so they take a simpler approach. Compared to FreeBSD, which seems to be more open to systemd (you can see FreeBSD lead developers acclimating their users to systemd already, and trying to turn it too into a mobile thing), OpenBSD seems to be rejecting it thus far.

If you’re fairly familiar with setting up Linux systems, you can try out OpenBSD in a day, including reading some docs. The FAQ is a good place to start – seems to be their install manual. While OpenBSD is well-known for being meticulously documented, I find introductory documentation and explanation lacking. Simply put, it’s a bit difficult to figure out what the hell they’re talking about at times, because they make so many assumptions. There’s also a horrible lack of hits on Google for questions/problems compared to Linux. With the forums rumored to be intolerant of entry-level quesions, I suspect you’ll be largely on your own. Getting a decent book on OpenBSD is probably a good idea if you plan to use it seriously.

Yet the install is fairly simple. The boot CD just asks a few questions, and to most you can press Enter for the default. The tricky part is partitioning. The OpenBSD partition is split into slices with something called disklabel. So they basically use partitions within partitions. On my first install, when I told it not to use the whole disk, but to let me edit the MBR (partition table), it ran fdisk. I set a 10G partition to type A6 (OpenBSD), set the boot flag, and updated the MBR. So far so good.

Next it layed out the disklabel setup for that partition, breaking the partition into 5 or 6 slices with mount points (/, /tmp, /usr, etc). But later when I tried to install a few X apps, I ran out of space in /usr. Clearly their default partitioning for a smaller space is not well done. So I did the installation over, and chose a custom layout. It put me into disklabel, where I deleted all the slices except the root filesystem (/). (Also be careful not to delete ALL the slices, because some seem to refer to other partitions on the drive – just delete the ones with mount points.) Saving changes, it continued with the installation okay. This way the whole root filesystem is in one slice. It’s okay to do this (slightly less secure as they explain in the FAQ), and later you can repartition if you know how you want the space shared.

So basically the partitioning requires a little adjustment and reading, and use of fdisk and disklabel. They could improve this with a few simple typical setups – how many variations are there really for most users? Either you do a whole disk install, or just want it on a smaller partition. Also, I updated the MBR boot code in fdisk, making the system boot directly into OpenBSD, but you can also tell grub to boot a BSD partition.

Next it boots into an xdm login (if you told it to boot into X in the install). I pressed Ctrl-Alt-F1 to get a root prompt, create a user, and add some software.

The package manager is easy and simple, and they recommend using packages (versus ports, which create packages from source, similar to gentoo or Arch). However, they have an odd release method, which I’m not sure works well, and which their FAQ explains poorly.

The ‘release’ branch is what they release every six months, and is never updated otherwise. It quickly accumulates security advisories. These are corrected in a ‘stable’ repo. But the ‘stable’ repo is only available as source (ports), not binary packages. People generally recommend that you start with ‘release’ and manually patch bugs as needed. They claim you learn the system better doing this.

So there’s no packages branch comparable to Debian’s stable, where security fixes are added. That is clearly something missing, as evidenced by the fact that a third party now offers pre-built packages for the ‘stable’ branch. The ‘release’ branch is already open to a serious Xorg bug that lets a normal user run arbitrary code as root (Red Hat is doing a great job – and notice how OpenBSD too is susceptible to their ‘bugs’ through Xorg). So you pretty much need to run a manually patched ‘release’ branch, staying attuned to security notices, or run the full ‘stable’, building everything from source (or third party packages).

There’s also a ‘current’ branch, and this is rolling release. It’s packaged in binary ‘snapshots’, similar to Debian unstable. But I didn’t immediately see any instructions on how to switch to using ‘current’ – there seem to be a few manual changes required. Some people do say they use ‘current’, but it’s also considered a more advanced use. You also have to update the whole system, you can’t just update pieces and expect it to work. So using ‘current’ looks more maintenance intensive as well, and may require more experience.

The update/upgrade path seems primitive too – more manual steps required. Generally it all seems geared to servers that want stability while being able to patch minimally.

All of that said, the package/ports system does seem clean and simple, as does OpenBSD overall. Longer-term users seem to like their ability to maintain their system, so I suspect once you get used to it, it works well. It may require more knowledge, but it also doesn’t change much. Overall I’d say it looks usable.

So I installed some packages:

    pkg_add openbox dillo geany nano roxterm geeqie gnash gimp \
        libreoffice vlc mpv imagemagick htop jhead smplayer file-roller \
        gnash claws-mail filezilla pdnsd bash pcmanfm firefox xchat

A few things I couldn’t find in their packages: deluge, gftp, flashplugin-nonfree, and spacefm

Adobe Flash is pretty much unavailable, unless maybe you get into some i386 linux emulation for it. Hard to find answers on how *BSD users handle this, but the preferred methods seem to be to use programs that download videos so you can play them in mplayer, or to use HTML5 on Youtube (see Firefox’s ‘All HTML5’ plugin). Yet while HTML5 works for me in Linux, it just showed a black box in Firefox on OpenBSD. Nor would Gnash work – it locked up Firefox with network errors in stderr. So in my brief attempts I didn’t find any in-browser support for Flash sites.

I also tried the Dillo web browser. It’s a very simple browser – doesn’t look like it has javascript – but for browsing simpler sites it’s much faster than Firefox, and has a nice look.

I also found that Firefox ran more slowly, and programs seemed to start slowly. Overall the system didn’t seem fast. This seems to be a known issue of OpenBSD on the desktop (some attribute it to scheduling).

Another issue I encountered was my laptop hard drive powering down every 1 or 2 seconds. Linux had this problem too, but there is no hdparm or sdparm for *BSD. The closest I found was atactl, and I eventually solved the problem like this:

    atactl sd0 apmset 253  # use 127 to 253 for no standby

I didn’t actually try openbox, I just logged into a plain X session and started some programs from xterm. PCManFM did run, but did not show any devices. After inserting a USB stick to try playing a movie in mpv, I realized I didn’t know how to mount the USB stick, or even what its device name would be. So I never got to try that.

As far as a possible port of SpaceFM to *BSD someday, it looks promising. SpaceFM depends on only glib, gtk, and udev (and inotify in the kernel, but I did see gamin on OpenBSD, and SpaceFM can use gamin instead of inotify already). udev code would have to be removed from the build, and there is no HAL either. To show and detect device changes, it might need to do some polling for something like sysfs, not sure. But with SpaceFM’s Device Handlers and overall design, I think it would make an excellent conversion to a BSD file manager. Also, people were saying there is no Brasero, so what will they use to burn, but SpaceFM can be used as a burning app. That and other automation, as well as its few dependencies, makes it a good candidate for a *BSD port.

Hardware seemed to be detected well in OpenBSD – and it has a good reputation for this, in some cases better than FreeBSD. My ATI video seemed okay and required no initial tweaking, though I didn’t see it play any video. (Nvidia is less supported on BSD, from what I read. That’s seems true on Linux too.)

Overall, OpenBSD looks like it’s usable for my purposes, minimally. It doesn’t seem quite ready for full-featured desktop use unless you’re willing to keep things very simple, have more limited web, and limited software choices (but still quite a few – you’ll have a lot of Linux there with you). I also have some speed concerns, but the laptop I tried it on isn’t very fast.

OpenBSD reminds of some of the earlier versions of Linux I tried a few decades ago, before it really became Ubuntu-easy to install and maintain. It’s also similar to Arch Linux, yet with less software and less information available.

I read that many of the OpenBSD developers actually use other OSes for their desktop – even among them it’s not the most popular desktop OS. If true, that also means they don’t optimize it for that (because they simply won’t encounter the issues). Plus it is designed for servers.

I also tried FreeBSD some time ago, and that is similar. My impressions are that somewhat more software is available for FreeBSD, there are more Linux-like forums for discussion, there is more on Google when you have a problem. I think more people are using FreeBSD on the desktop. However, FreeBSD developers also seem to be more accepting of Red Hat’s engineering, Adobe Flash (a security nightmare we’re all better off without, except that they have made it hard to avoid), complex and poorly reviewed things like SELinux, and other questionable choices. OpenBSD on the other hand seems to avoid the Red Hat camp actively and wisely.

Having given OpenBSD that initial try, I have decided that it’s still a candidate, but that it seems a little too primitive on the desktop yet, and that I would be giving up quite a bit without getting much in return, in terms of my needs. It also means learning new BSD filesystem tools, backup tools, porting my file manager, and other differences between BSD and Linux.

So now I’m thinking that a good systemd-free Linux distro may be the more usable and convenient route for now, maybe keeping an eye on OpenBSD development for longer-term. I think my next stop is going to be Gentoo. I tried Gentoo a few years ago, and I liked it overall. The USE flags setup can be a bit much for the newcomer (I wish they would choose some reasonable defaults). I also had a problem with momentary hangs of the whole system, which is really annoying. This appeared to be a possible scheduling issue. Hopefully that won’t recur. I also had problems with my Brother laser printer driver, but I see they have some new ‘overlays’ for similar printers, so maybe that will be improved. (I’ve decided not to make the printer a critical issue.)

I liked what I saw of the Gentoo community in response to systemd, with eudev, etc. They seem to have many genuine contributors, flexibility, and a policy that allows it, so I think that will be a boon in countering some of the upcoming power plays in Linux.

While BSD looks promising, there is a lot of software and work that has gone into Linux, and it seems unfair to have to dump it all just because of things like systemd. Maybe with something like Gentoo’s flexibility it will be possible to move it forward on another track. Gentoo also has good security protocols, so I look forward to trying it out again.

If you’re looking for systemd-free Linux distros, there’s a large list at Without systemd.

UPDATE: Speaking with a few OpenBSD people in email, I can clarify a few things which I didn’t find to be clear in the FAQ. In OpenBSD, the OS is not part of the ports or packages systems, unlike in Gentoo or Arch, for example. The OS is built separately from a CVS tree, manually. Or patched manually. Or, you install or reinstall the system using the install ISO (or manually extract the files). That is also how you switch from release to current – you must reinstall. Software is updated via ports (like Gentoo) or packages (like Arch).

Also, OpenBSD was not as vulnerable to the Xorg bug I mentioned because it doesn’t run Xorg as root! In fact it runs it with even less privs than a normal user. Great work there!

And, according to one person who seemed to know, OpenBSD developers are commited to using OpenBSD on their own desktops, because they want to improve it. FreeBSD is where they tend to not use it as much on their own computers. That’s encouraging to hear.

Overall, I probably gave a more negative impression of OpenBSD than I intended. In general it looks good in many ways, even on the desktop. Probably comparable to Arch or Gentoo in terms of setup and maintenance challenges. I’m still weighing it, and I think it’s worth getting to know.

June 10, 2015 - Posted by | reviews

38 Comments

  1. Thanks for this report! Too bad BSD didn’t work out so pleasingly. Sounds indeed like Gentoo will be more appealing than BSD.

    Even more offbeat than BSD, I keep thinking about Minix… :)

    Comment by Russ | June 10, 2015

  2. Not sure if gentoo has made use of of it yet but funtoo allows you to choose your own sane defaults for use flags through a profile system, makes things much easier and quicker to configure things to how you want them to be globally.

    Comment by turon | June 10, 2015

    • Thanks and someone mentioned funtoo’s systemd-free work in gentoo as well – I’m going to look at funtoo.

      Comment by IgnorantGuru | June 10, 2015

    • Gentoo allows for making your own profiles, which inherit from other profiles as needed. All you need to do is set up your own local overlay, if memory serves correctly. Some Assembly Required, they say. :)

      Funtoo’s biggest claims to fame iirc are its mixins, which I’m not wholly educated about.

      As a Gentoo user of 3 years (and developer of 1 month), I can attest to its ability to easily avoid any of Poettering’s software.

      Comment by sporkbox | June 10, 2015

  3. Since you mentioned porting SpaceFM to the BSDs, it might interest you to know that the BSD’s don’t understand EXT4 (and many other filesystems) out of the box. I had to use fuse to get FreeBSD to read an EXT4 partition on an external HD.

    On another note, a comprehensive guide was recently put together to remove systemd from Arch Linux and replacing it with OpenRC: https://github.com/throwawaygh/arch-openrc-guide

    Comment by Larry | June 10, 2015

  4. I’ve been using Slackware 14.1 with OSS4 and the standard init system and I’ve been quite happy. I hate ALSA, it’s a very underpowered piece of software compared to OSS4 (in fact the only thing going for it is more adoption and USB/Bluetooth support). But I found the situation (with systemd) similar to the situation of ALSA, I fear of it being a forced dependency. It’s already a bit of a problem with sites like GOG packaging their own version of DOSBox with only PulseAudio output. I have to ask WHY? Linux and Unix isn’t like Windows, you can just execute the user installed version of DOSBox rather than their shit version. I myself don’t think I’ll ditch Linux, I’ll just customize it to not use undesired software. BSD systems like OpenBSD seem great, but not for me.

    Personally, it doesn’t matter if someone wants to use systemd or PulseAudio or whatever on their system. I mean I may dislike those pieces of software but to each their own. All I ask of the world is try not to make things like these forced dependencies, especially when it’s unnecessary (like with the situation regarding systemd and Gnome 3).

    Comment by Xylemon | June 10, 2015

  5. Good to see that you’ve explored a part of the ecosystem! Sucks that it’s not quite ready for most current desktop GNU/Linux users, though.

    I think any derivative of Gentoo (or Gentoo itself) will be perfect. Setting a profile is easy, and my make.conf file doesn’t have a huge list of USE flags (package.use is far different since I’m picky).

    Speaking of Gentoo, I recently became a formal Gentoo developer (zlg is my nick) and am the maintainer of SpaceFM for them. udevil has a proxy-maintainer, but s/he seems inactive so I’ll probably be taking up that responsibility, too. :) If you ever decide to stick to Gentoo and need some assistance, I’ll gladly lend my assistance.

    All these recent posts from you make me want to write a few things on my own blog! I’m in between jobs and planning a move, so it’ll be a few weeks before I can really sit down and write something good, though.

    Great to read from you again, IG!

    Comment by sporkbox | June 10, 2015

    • Hi sporkbox! Gentoo is neat, just higher on the work-to-gain curve. I’m more geared for Debian use these days. :) I don’t want to mess with the OS continuously. But it’s just the install mostly, I could get used to it. I’m trying Funtoo out. Was a bit disappointed to see he doesn’t sign his stage3 releases, on mirrors, etc! Seems careless, especially distributing a “hardened” variant. He’s probably depending on the git in his portage system, but that’s sloppy and there are many exploit vectors open there even with git – trusting the mirror webserver security for your whole ‘hardened’ system – a repeat of Arch. ;) Sounds like a smart programmer otherwise though, but with a brief review, his approach to security doesn’t impress me. I didn’t like some of what it installed before I told it too, but not too bad.

      I also like that antiX is now on Devuan. May try that – he does good work. And OpenBSD is tempting too. Decisions, decisions.

      Btw do you recommend Gentoo/Funtoo current as fairly solid and usable, or is stable less trouble? Still on SpaceFM 0.9.4. :/

      And if you email me your portage USE flags and package.use dirs, I’d like to see what you’re using, since your goals are probably similar to mine. Thanks!

      Comment by IgnorantGuru | June 11, 2015

      • Since I’m a developer, I tend to run on testing (~amd64). One of the dangers of using stable is you’ll inevitably end up mixing stable and testing packages if you’re interested in desktop software or anything new. That configuration is not “officially supported” in Gentoo due to how much can go wrong.

        Anyway, with testing, there are package blockages sometimes, but most of the time a resync and emerge @world fixes things. There’ve been less than a handful of times that’s happened due to legitimate structural changes in the tree since I started using it in 2012. Most of it’s PEBCAK. :P

        I can e-mail you my settings, no problem. I’m a *really* picky person though, and run some non-free stuff (Steam, Skype) as necessary, but I feel that my Gentoo system is very stable. I’ll sanitize it and send’em your way if you’re still interested.

        Comment by sporkbox | June 14, 2015

        • Thanks, testing sounds like the way to go. I haven’t gotten back to it, but Gentoo is definitely attractive in some ways. PEBCAK – lol. I’ve encountered a bit of that myself. I’ll let you know about the settings – someone shared some files below as well. I like examples.

          Comment by IgnorantGuru | June 17, 2015

  6. OpenBSD too complicated. Count me out.

    Comment by humpty | June 11, 2015

  7. I’m using Debian Sid for years now and I also I’m exploring to escape the nefarious systemd.
    Recently I’ve tried Void Linux with great satisfaction.

    First of all I found delicious the chance to ‘assemble’ your system by putting exactly the packages you want to have and nothing more (see these examples: http://uggedal.com: when you execute the package manager ‘xbps’ the firts time in a empty path it will generate the skeleton of the system from scratch!..).
    in any case there is an official installer to a more traditional approach ..

    The init system is ‘runit’ supported by ‘eudev’ and systemd has recently been totally eradicated from Void Linux (https://github.com/voidlinux/void-packages/issues/1736)

    There is a number of other points of interest: the package manager ‘xbps’ and its extension ‘xbps-src’ that allows you to easily maintain a build environment in a parallel system, leaving all very neat and clean ..

    currently binary packages are far inferior in number to those it offers Sid but with Void, from the very day it was released, I was able to install SpaceFm 1.0.2 while in Sid it still not arrived :-).
    all the essentials are here and very up-to-date; in any case there is a total opening to the demands of new compilations which can be made here https://github.com/voidlinux/void-packages/issues

    I will not dwell over, I only recommend to those who are looking around to even consider Linux Void too..!
    http://www.voidlinux.eu/

    Comment by paolo germano | June 11, 2015

    • Hi paolo,

      I tried voidbang for a while and liked it, but it seems to have disappeared

      Comment by John Jensen | June 11, 2015

  8. I’ve found OpenBSD to be a bit too much work for my simple abilities, although I do buy their software set occasionally as I respect their work.

    I’ve been following Devuan and found that the antiX/Mepis(sp?) community are using that base for a systemd free install. I’m using their MX-14 offering right now. Works beautifully.

    John

    Comment by John Jensen | June 11, 2015

  9. Oh, and the antiX/Mepis community is coming out with new antiX offering soon, I believe, that should be even lighter on old laptops like mine :)

    Comment by John Jensen | June 11, 2015

  10. A few weeks ago I tried out OpenBSD 5.7
    The target architecture was ppc32. I haven’t got very much experiences with BSDs, but I think it was quite easy to get started with it. The FAQ is quite good in my oppinion, but yeah – for deeper questions it’s not the very best and my short experience was, that it’s quite hard to get answers.
    I didn’t plan to run on it graphical stuff, but to be able to work with the ports you need to install the x-components as well.
    But I’ve got a problem with ncurses stuff, what I couldn’t solve – also didn’t got an answer yet in a forum. The problem was “only” a visual : lines on tty (ncurses) were displayed with rows of questionmarks. So if you imagine a tmux-session with splitted screen and some programs like mc and/or calcurse + the pane borders and every line of each program displayed in questionmarks … for my taste a bit ugly.
    I also decided to try out Gentoo and yesterday I installed it. On my desktop and my other laptop I work with Slackware 14.1.

    I’ll give it another try with OpenBSD on my desktop one day, because I’m still interested. I’ve also been thinking about to install it on my ARM board .. so I haven’t got exact plans, but somehow I’m bit fascinated :)

    Comment by Rebeka Catalina | June 11, 2015

  11. I have used OpenBSD on the desktop for years, running fluxbox and firefox, and I have noted none of the problems you mention.

    I think the overall “slow” feeling you have noted under OpenBSD may be due to (a) a slow machine or (b) a lack of virtual memory. Please make sure you assign plenty of swap to OpenBSD, and the slowness should solve itself.

    Before you install OpenBSD, make sure you read, and understand, the documentation contained in OpenBSD FAQ and in the INSTALL.i386 and INSTALL.amd64 files. These are life savers.

    Another documentation I have seen is this one: http://www.gilandre.net/cgi-bin/wiki.cgi/OpenBSDInstallationGoldenRules

    And a great site for lots of OpenBSD things is: https://calomel.org

    Please note that 99.9% of the documentation of OpenBSD is in the form of “man” pages. These man pages are very, very well written, and you should always, always, always, read the man page for a command.

    The project offers a very good, and very comprehensive man page system over the www, at the following: http://www.openbsd.org/cgi-bin/man.cgi

    You can use this from pretty much any browser, and it’s a great resource.

    Regarding USB mounting, it’s as easy as entering:

    mount -v -t fat /dev/ /mnt/

    You will find the device name and number by entering “dmesg | tail -25” and looking for the message of a new USB device being connected to the machine.

    On Unbuntu, OpenSUSE, and many other Linux, the system will do this automatically for you. OpenBSD is a bit more specific about what it mounts, and this is a very good thing, given that many attacks can (and will) use rogue devices in order to either crash the system, or hack into it, or both.

    Finally, if you feel like OpenBSD is not the perfect OS for you, I encourage you to run it in a virtual machine. That way, you can play with it without fear of breaking your main machine. Once you understand how to do basic functions and configurations, using OpenBSD is not much different from using any Linux (or UNIX) systems.

    The main difference between Linux and OpenBSD is that (a) OpenBSD is more secure “out of the box”, (b) OpenBSD does not do any “hand holding” or “automagical” operations like many Linux (see above for the USB mounting example) and (c) the OpenBSD provides great documentation, and expects you to do your homework and read everything before asking questions…

    Hope this helps!

    Comment by Master Shuffler | June 11, 2015

    • As someone running a 6-core processor and has 16 GB RAM, would I need to have swap space on a BSD? If so, why? I’m interested in knowing why BSD would need swap if I’m in no danger of running out of RAM. I run GNU/Linux with no swap and haven’t had a single OOM kernel panic or other issue.

      Granted, you need swap if you’re going to suspend or hibernate, but since I’m using a desktop, that’s irrelevant.

      Thanks for your comment, though. It’s great to get a discussion going.

      Comment by sporkbox | June 11, 2015

    • Thanks for your info. I used NO swap, so that could explain it. And it wasn’t ridiculously slow, just seemed a bit laggy compared to Linux in the same machine. Some tuning would probably help. That laptop has nasty slow disk i/o too, Linux really doesn’t run fast either on it.

      I’m also curious to know why no swap would slow it down. I would think it would be faster (why I usually don’t use swap). I only have 2G RAM with no swap, so if I run out of memory on Linux my system lands hard. :)

      As for USB, for some reason I didn’t think it had dmesg! And I had encountered differences in device naming. But I was finishing up for the day so I never looked into a solution. Looks like BSD can use a udevil port, which aside from a udev replacement for disk properties, would probably be very doable.

      I’m still liking the OpenBSD option, but there are a lot of factors to weigh.

      Comment by IgnorantGuru | June 11, 2015

    • You can actually mount USB devices automatically if you want using hotplugd.

      Comment by Peter Ljung | November 17, 2015

  12. Oh, and one more thing: OpenBSD releases do get a bunch of security updates.

    You can find them at: http://www.openbsd.org/errata57.html

    The above if for 5.7, which is the latest release, but you can find the other releases linked from that page. Do read the FAQ and the information supplied with each patch to know how to apply the security update.

    For packages (meaning additional software) you can simply do a: ”pkg_add -v -u” to update all installed software. These are less frequent than the security erratas that apply to the OS itself.

    Comment by Master Shuffler | June 11, 2015

    • I was referring to this statement in the FAQ re the release branch: “Each -release is never changed; it is what is on the CDs and FTP servers.”

      So you’re really talking about stable, not release. I realize they do patches.

      Main problem I had was figuring out how one switches to using snapshots after installing release. And why the FAQ taqlks about CVS for following stable rather than ports.

      You’re right that there is much there to read, and I just scanned the FAQ and tried a few things.

      Comment by IgnorantGuru | June 11, 2015

  13. I regularly run FreeBSD on the same system as I do Debian. FreeBSD has a much better repo of packages and it supports things like VirtualBox where OpenBSD does not. OpenBSD’s heart is in the right place, but the lack of being able to run virtual machines is a deal-breaker. Also, OpenBSD makes it super-hard to connect to samba or Windows shares.

    In my opinion, if all you’re doing is surfing the web, using e-mail, playing music and simple things like that, OpenBSD is pretty good. If you are a developer and support specialist and need access to Windows or samba shares, virtual machines and so on, OpenBSD will fight you all the way.

    I’m not sure I understand your statement about FreeBSD being in the Red Hat camp…maybe I’ve missed something, but FreeBSD (or if you’re a BSD newcomer, PC-BSD) is pretty good and does nearly everything I require of it.

    Thanks for the article! :-)

    Comment by wbrokenbourgh | June 11, 2015

  14. From the responses, I see I gave a more negative impression than I intended. So let me clarify this wasn’t a review of OpenBSD, it was just a first look. I was trying to capture my initial experience and problems coming from Linux, but much also went smoothly, and I can imagine fixes for any of the problems. When I said it’s still a candidate, that should carry more weight than I stressed it – ‘usable’ is not easily earned from me. OpenBSD is a serious professional tool that does many things excellently, and I can see a lot of work went into it. I was deliberately giving it a tough and shallow comparison to a polished Linux distro on the desktop, not evaluating it overall. And I was trying to just be honest about places where mainstream Linux users may find it different or a chore.

    Also, installing it is fairly easy and quick, so I do recommend trying it out if you’re even slightly curious. It deserves serious review, not just my brief collision.

    If anything seriously turns me off from OpenBSD, it’s just the amount of work involved in moving to a new platform overall. But even that doesn’t look ridiculously bad, I’m just lazy.

    Also, installing Funtoo I become aware of Viewtube, which sounds like a cool Flash alternative, for Linux too.

    I also added an update at the end of the article with some new info.

    Comment by IgnorantGuru | June 11, 2015

  15. […] OpenBSD As A Linux Desktop Replacement […]

    Pingback by Links 11/6/2015: Linux in DARPA Robotics Challenge, Fedora 22 Scientific | Techrights | June 11, 2015

  16. I also tried OpenBSD as a desktop replacement for Linux because I’m suspious that systemd is a backdoor attempt on the entirety of Linux
    and I dislike ALSA.

    My experience was positive except the blue and white boot text.

    The major issue I had was playing videos in Firefox worked well, but showed what I assume to be that the graphics
    card drivers for the KMS ati drivers seemed to be a early very basic port, video was skipping very easily opengl speed
    exceeded the refresh rate of my monitor (so it wasn’t limited by being sync’d to my refresh rate) but just barely and was only giving about 80 fps in glxgears.

    Though in all honesty I might have been able to configure my graphics card by setting up xorg more, I just used the default.

    There is a few software programs I use day to day that would be tough to part with on OpenBSD (wine for my emulation and rom
    hacking tools) and probable dolphin-emu, though it had a port of almost every other console emulation program I regularly use.

    Audio worked out of the box but occassionally stuttered in firefox while playing HTML5 video on youtube which I put down to a graphics
    driver issue (the audio has to sync to the video framerate right?).

    I’d be willing to do without them, if the graphics acceleration on my AMD ATI A10 Trinity 5800k was more substantial.

    Actually I’m probable just going to hold out for awhile and hope they improve the drivers they’ve been porting over.

    Comment by Dreyeth | June 14, 2015

    • Oh yeah and except the default partition layout on OpenBSD ended up with a installation that didn’t have the room
      to compile anything from ports because one of the system filesystems was too small.

      Comment by Dreyeth | June 14, 2015

      • mkdir /home/ports && ln -s /home/ports /usr/ports

        Problem solved ;)

        Comment by Francisco | October 25, 2015

  17. Just tried out Manjaro 0.8.13 ( uses OpenRC, eudev).
    Installer is oldskool terminal but it’s easy and it let me choose extlinux boot instead of grub.
    If I can get everything onto one parition, I will probably switch to it instead of the next Lubuntu.

    Comment by humpty | June 15, 2015

  18. First, please stop putting Gentoo and ARCH Linux in the same bag when it comes to sourve vs. binary packages,–ARCH is a binary distribution while Gentoo is exclusive a source distribution,–the only thing in common is… rolling release! And there is absolutely nothing in common about the package manager. It is a well known fact that it’s a pain in the arse to maintain a system which have packages in AUR.

    This is easy as simply having new packages on Gentoo either by forking the main tree or having overlays[1]–easy and common way to do this, packages availables in any tree/repository is treated as a… any package obviously, no extra hassles requied here. Maintaining systems remain extactly the same regardless of the number of trees/overlays. And this is why a few distributions use Gentoo to be able to finely customize *any* distribution. This explain the learning cuvre requirement when using Gentoo, because any user would be building his/her own distribution. Wait, notthing scary here when using a pretty simple setup with the appropriate profile! Still, the user is the master of the system, not the other way around.

    FreeBSD seems to have a more wide range of packages[2], and some depend on… systemd-libs*, so, no choice but have various systemd libraries available. Still…

    One can use Gentoo to install FreeBSD ang get the benefit of Gentoo Portage system and be able to build any FreeBSD OS variant, so, avoiding SystemDebug is as easy as running Gentoo with a FreeBSD profile. See [1]/gentoo-bsd for the FreeBSD base @system package set. Gentoo OpenBSD project is in its infancy, so the overlay should not(?) that usable.

    I am also attracted to OpenBSD security and stance againt SystemDebug in general… Still I would rather go to FreeBSD using Gentoo because I am already using Gentoo Linux with ease. The major pros here are obviously the wide software range, especially when using Gentoo Portage–it would be just a matter of patching a few odd balls to get everything I need running. Second compealing reason is… Open-ZFS support in FreeBSD that I am already using on Linux! Other than the specificties of the FreeBSD kernel, specific user space utilities and partionning scheme; I could get something running quickly and learn what should be learned to manage my system, or rather distro, along the way.

    I am giving you a welcome to Gentoo Linux if you decide to go that route. It’s actually easy to run a Gentoo derivative distro contrary to what many tend to say about this… once installed–yes, one has to actully install the whole thing and know what to install in the first place. It’s just a matter to know a few things and be autonomous about managing your OS. And this is why we are using UNIX OSs after all. Or either, accept to be fed by RH and Canonical which do not reperesent the whole UNIX ecosystem!

    You can take a look at my dotfiles[3] for a pretty apps rich desktop with a few handfull GUI software e.g. LibreOFFICE, GUIMP, Inkscape… No Display Manager here, although I could use slim if I need one, just plain console loggin and then an X environment or not depending on the user/root or TTY console–with OpenBOX+tint2 as one of the possibile X session.
    Take a look at `/etc/portage/sets/’ for the basic packages sets.

    Cheers.

    [1]: https://overlays.gentoo.org
    [2]: https://github.com/freebsd/freebsd
    [3]: https://github.com/tokiclover/dotfiles

    Comment by tclover | June 17, 2015

  19. Have a look at Alpine Linux.
    https://www.alpinelinux.org/

    It avoids complexities like systemd, gnu coreutils, glibc, and others.
    I think the best is that they use musl libc instead of glibc.
    http://www.etalabs.net/compare_libcs.html

    Let me know what you think.

    Comment by Pietro | June 21, 2015

  20. Looks like Flash is dying.

    Comment by IgnorantGuru | July 14, 2015

  21. Am ignorant user of OpenBSD and finding it works much better than mainstream Linux including LXLE on two elderly (say 2007) computers I use.This is whether I use XFCE desktop or default wm (cwm).Fantastic OS to learn Unix from,has enabled me to become quite proficient though am 70 with zero computing experience.

    Comment by rwaterlow | August 18, 2015

  22. “but with a brief review, his approach to security doesn’t impress me”

    Nor me.

    So, next. Alpine Linux is THE most secure Linux distro, and gaining a following among Docker users.

    In BSD-land, since you want desktop, give PC-BSD a shot. Its proprietors have some security sense (personacrypt, LibreSSL). They maintain their own server/repo infrastructure on site.

    “I tried voidbang for a while and liked it, but it seems to have disappeared”

    Because Void has a nastier attitude than Arch. I’ve stopped using Void myself just for the attitude problems. Voidbang is morphing. The new basis is arch-on-runit, and later perhaps Alpine. Get in touch, I.G., because SpaceFM is the default file util. If you want to mold a systemd-free desktop, that’s the place, and needs the help. They like you at SpringLinux.org.

    “FreeBSD has a much better repo of packages”

    Most of which are dreadfully out of date if they aren’t server packages or security patches. Desktop apps – forget it. It can take 6-9 months for a dev to even start to update a stale app and 3 more to make it build. This lag is a drawback to BSDs. The other is kernel hardware support. Using BSD is a function of it having the hardware support and packages you want, plus a willingness to run stale versions. If you’re happy with all that, run BSD, it can work for some people.

    “So now I’m thinking that a good systemd-free Linux distro may be the more usable and convenient route for now, maybe keeping an eye on OpenBSD development for longer-term”

    Probably.

    “I liked what I saw of the Gentoo community in response to systemd, with eudev, etc. They seem to have many genuine contributors, flexibility, and a policy that allows it, so I think that will be a boon in countering some of the upcoming power plays in Linux.”

    Totally. I’d use Funtoo, but am glad Gentoo is out there. (Glance at Tin Hat Linux for kicks.)

    Gentoo could prebuild packages with buildbot.net. If Gentoo compiled its vast repo for “standard” profiles (definitions TBD), it would get very popular. I might use it myself.

    From past experience with Gentoo, I just can’t hassle to know that much about my processor flags and whatnot, plus frequent compilation failures flowing from upstream. Gentoo makes you your own package maintainer since a USE flag or CFLAG can break a build. Then YOU get to debug it – like a package maintainer. That’s why Gentoo needs a set of “stock” profiles plus prebuilt repos: so every user is not also a package maintainer.

    In fact, Alpine is binary Gentoo, it says: “Alpine is compiled using Gentoo portage.” If I had just one recommendation for you, I.G., it’s Alpine Linux. It combines nice features of Arch, BSD, and Gentoo atop heavy security: musl, busybox, LibreSSL, grsecurity/PaX, PIE, OpenRC, anti-systemd philosophy, package signing, lightness. The docs are not up to par yet, but you can find your way around, and the community is nice.

    Comment by Voidiver | August 27, 2015

    • Thanks for the reminder on Alpine. A number of people have recommended it strongly, with no dissenters. I’d like to give it a try. You bring up a lot of good points re Gentoo USE flags. I did try Gentoo for a bit and I noticed that it was high maintenance- tinkerer’s OS, which is fine, but ‘just work’ already. I still think I could like it, but it’s also a good distro for one’s like Alpine to branch off of, making for a bit of polish and focus.

      Comment by IgnorantGuru | August 27, 2015

  23. =))

    We are in 2015, Flash is dead. The ones who still are using it on their website are people who do not know about technology. :) Gnash is dead too :P

    Comment by sv | September 1, 2015

    • Yes, it seems some progress has been made since I last brought myself up to date on Flash use, and even since I wrote this article, Firefox has disabled Flash by default. I’ve had some luck with HTML5 (at least in Linux), so Flash is a non-problem for me now if OpenBSD can handle HTML5 successfully. I wish Flash was dead like you say, but that is a bit optimistic. If a website you need uses it, and there are plenty that still do, it can be an inconvenience. So it’s not a non-issue overall. But it’s good to see people are finally having the sense to dump it – I was telling people what a deliberate security nightmare it was decades ago. Glad it only took them a few decades to address.

      Comment by IgnorantGuru | September 1, 2015

  24. Firefox in OpenBSD 5.7 is out of date, version 35. It should be version 40.0.1. The printer will not work. The cdrom will not work.

    Comment by stan | October 16, 2015


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