I was thinking today about FreeBSD.
FreeBSD was a great OS. It had a few drawbacks that caught up with it. The community around it was a little fragile. Some of the leaders left. There was also a bit of negativity due to Linux’s popularity. It seems that the two groups couldn’t share and had some strong personalities. Linux is spiralling off into 100 distros and most of the relevant FreeBSD people are at Apple.
No matter what anybody says, FreeBSD was the most solid free OS on the planet for a large portion of the 90’s. It was so much more robust when compared to other OS’s.
I’ll mention one weakness and then I’ll mention one interesting strength.
As far as weakness goes, one huge one was the lack of a great distro. When you used FreeBSD, you had to do a lot of extra work to get the system to do something. I really have come to love the way a good Linux distro can install an entire desktop and LAMP system ready to go. (Web server, all the necessary PHP and PHP modules compiled or Perl or Python, and MySQL were humming and ready to go) FreeBSD always required hours to tune and compile things to get to that point. Once you get used to the redhat way, it is hard to go back.
As far as a strength goes, FreeBSD did have a better installer than most Linuxes, when it came to going from the thought of running Unix to actually running it. You could download just the boot floppy and it had enough built-in to get on the network. Once it did that, it would install the whole distro directly from the internet. No CDROMs to download or buy.. just one floppy. I once went to a talk (more tales from the 1900’s) given by Dave Filo of Yahoo!. He explicitly mentioned that Yahoo tried FreeBSD because it was so easy to install from the internet. After that, it proved itself well so they made it the default OS for their production site. This saved them millions in capital expenditures when other companies were spending fortunes on Sun, SGI or Microsoft tech.
Tonight I was looking around on the internet to see if any of the Linux distros could install from the internet. I couldn’t find any.