A Week in FreeBSD

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For the past few weeks I have been dabbling myself in FreeBSD. Doing something like this has always been in the corner of my head ever since I installed Arch Linux and have been exposed to the world of UNIX-like operating systems beyond Ubuntu but have shyed away because it's unfamiliar ground for me. Despite that, the BSDs have a faint "hipster" allure to me, I am aware that sounds pretentious and misguided but it's just what I thought at the time, and to be honest it is this faint allure of "hipsterness" that have brought me to Free Software in the first place where I have learned more about the value and philosophy of allowing software to be Free.

Regardless, this faint allure has always been with me and when I found that most of the software that I run on a daily basis work on FreeBSD, I immediately installed one in my extra hard drive to test out and found that FreeBSD is not only a brilliant substitute for me but also exceeds GNU/Linux for my specific use case.

Now, I don't intend to spark a "which is better" argument as for the brief period that I have been reading about the BSDs and GNU/Linux there always seem to be a hint of "x is better than y" or more aptly "is x better than y" on every conversation that veers to compare the two. I don't give a damn about that, which is why I have explicitly stated that FreeBSD works for my specific use case. I am a tech dilettante, I only know computers to as deep as I need at the moment. I don't study computers on a deep and fundamental level nor would I want to. I love learning more about computers but not enough for me to write research papers about specifically about it. (or would I? Haha!)

With that, one of the biggest things that I have immediately noticed using FreeBSD was the cohesive documentation. Now, I didn't come to FreeBSD blind as I have been reading about it since I've been interested into trying it out and this point that I am touting right now is a point that have been brought up time and time again whenever a non-FreeBSD user asked about what FreeBSD users liked about FreeBSD. And it's true, the documentation is solid and in my opinion provides a more holistic understanding of the system which is something that I missed out on while using GNU/Linux. Perhaps it's more to do with how integrated the BSDs are compared to GNU/Linux that makes their documentation much more holistic and cohesive. I would even go out to say that I'm learning more about the basic system functions using FreeBSD while compared to when I was using GNU/Linux. While using GNU/Linux, I often found myself hopping from ArchWiki page to ArchWiki page or scouring either the Linux kernel pages or the GNU manuals but I was never given the holistic view, it's often disparate and disjointed. It is as if the operating system are a patchwork of stuff that may or may not have been intended to fit together. Perhaps some would like that kind of "non-approach" to documentation, but going through the FreeBSD handbook spoiled me and would definitely be my benchmark moving forward.

The second thing that I noticed using FreeBSD was how sparse the core utilities are. I've done my fair share of watching and reading to have known that this sparseness came from the provenance of the BSDs to the original UNIX operating system and this made me to realize how much "unportable" my scripts are. Using GNU/Linux and the GNU core utilities really spoiled me with the plethora of options but are not included in the BSD core utilities. While it is not much, it meant that I had to rewrite some of my scripts to work in FreeBSD by default and even then there are some that I had to concede and just call /usr/local/bin/bash as rewriting that script would mean starting from scratch. Now, I don't think that this is a negative to the BSDs per se. As this would easily segway to the main thing that I wanted to point out.

Well documented lean programs makes the understanding of an operating system approachable.

I think this is main takeaway that I got using FreeBSD. Its lean core utilities and well documented operating system made me learn more about the system functions than when I was using GNU/Linux. I realized how much less I actually need to have and how much less I need to learn to have a fuller and more integrated understanding of my computer. Perhaps it's a bad thing for some but I like the idea of being able to have an understanding of every nook and cranny of the system and to be able to do so while going through a cohesive, well-written documentation made by the team who made the operating system itself.

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