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Distro hopping: shutting down PC-BSD

October 14th, 2015 2 comments

Like the other distros before it the time has come for me to move on from PC-BSD. This has been an interesting experience as it is really my first time working with BSD up to this point.

Welcome to your PC-BSD desktop

Welcome to your PC-BSD desktop

Pros:

  • Neat standard technologies (like ZFS, file system compression, jails, etc.).
  • Really not that different from Linux so it feels very familiar.
  • Good software selection for the most part, although it could be more clear as to what the differences between some versions are. Common software makes it easy to jump between PC-BSD and other operating systems.

Cons:

  • Weirdly AppCafe which is designed to make installing software easier gave me a lot of problems. Sometimes clicking install wouldn’t actually install anything. Other times there would be errors but redoing the same process a second time would make it work. Once I somehow initiated a system update while trying to install a program and it wasn’t very clear what was happening or how much longer it would take before I could continue.
  • Konqueror is unnecessary with Firefox installed by default and often times doesn’t even work well. This is especially odd because I haven’t had as many problems using Konqueror in the past on Linux so the problems may be unique to PC-BSD.
  • I know this will likely start a religious debate but from a practical day-to-day desktop user perspective I’m not quite sure what would draw someone to using PC-BSD over Linux. That isn’t to say PC-BSD is bad or even lacking but with the much larger software library and support for Linux and very little differences between the two it seems like a no brainer to stay with Linux.

Other:

  • How come PC-BSD uses /usr/home/{account}? It still requires a link from /home/{account} (I assume for compatibility) so why not just keep it all under /home?

Where will I distro hop to next? Stay tuned!

This post is part of a series:

Categories: PC-BSD, Tyler B Tags: , ,

Distro hopping: installing Plex Media Server and Home Theater on PC-BSD

October 10th, 2015 No comments

Back when I was using elementary OS I made a post on how to install Plex Home Theater on Linux. While Plex officially supports Linux in most cases it did not for Home Theater but that thankfully didn’t stop me from getting it working. When it comes to PC-BSD things get a little more complicated. The only BSD download that Plex officially supports is Plex Media Server and even then only for FreeBSD. As I’m not overly familiar with BSD yet I’m not sure if I can just use that download on PC-BSD or not.

A search through the AppCafe

Thankfully PC-BSD comes with this nice application called AppCafe that is basically a big repository of software (like an app store). Searching for Plex in there finds Plex Media Server:

AppCafe

AppCafe

However if I check the box that says “Search all available PBIs and packages” then not only do I get a newer version of Plex Media Server but also Plex Home Theater as well.

Even more options!

Even more options!

The newer version of Plex Media Server was called ‘Plex Media Server – Plex Pass’ and as I don’t have a Plex Pass I chose to just install the slightly older version instead. Maybe this is the beta channel download or something? Anyway the install went well and Plex Media Server was good to go. One odd thing I did notice was that the local Plex management website wouldn’t fully load in Konqueror for some reason, only in Firefox…

Plex would only load in Firefox for some reason...

Plex would only load in Firefox for some reason…

Installing Plex Home Theater was a similar experience. I simply grabbed it from the AppCafe and away it went.

Because who doesn't love Big Buck Bunny?

Because who doesn’t love Big Buck Bunny?

So all told it really wasn’t that different of an experience installing Plex Media Server and Home Theater in PC-BSD compared to elementary OS. This mirrors what I’ve seen elsewhere in PC-BSD during my time with it as well. Basically as a long time Linux user I must say that so far BSD really isn’t that much different in day-to-day operations.

This post is part of a series:

Categories: PC-BSD, Tyler B Tags: , ,

Distro hopping: so what comes with PC-BSD?

October 6th, 2015 No comments

In my previous post I talked about the differences between Linux and BSD and quickly showed the installation process. Now I will go through what comes with a default install of PC-BSD.

Just like Manjaro, for some reason PC-BSD ships with a number of development utilities including tools for Qt interface builders. It also comes with something called Easy PBI. I have no idea what a PBI is but apparently it’s easy to make one!

EasyPBI

EasyPBI

Interestingly the next two on the list didn’t even start when I tried to launch them… The first was Marble which claims to show a globe (again I can’t confirm that), and the second is AMOR which might be a game?

The graphics menu is full of little utilities but the real heavy weight there is the venerable GIMP.

For browsers PC-BSD comes with both Firefox and Konqueror. This is likely due to Konqueror being a big part of KDE but it still feels like an unnecessary addition that could confuse new users. Even weirder Konqueror is the set as the default which I guess actually makes Firefox the odd inclusion… very confusing indeed.

Two browsers for the low, low price of FREE!

Two browsers for the low, low price of FREE!

For media playback it also comes with two options in the form of VLC and SMPlayer. Again I’m not quite sure why both are included in the default install as each would have been a decent choice in their own right.

You also have your choice of default media players

You also have your choice of default media players

Beyond the major applications PC-BSD comes loaded with Adobe Flash saving you an install as well as a number of additional utilities. I’m not sure why it doesn’t come with an office suite by default like most Linux distributions but I suppose that’s not a huge deal.

So there you have it. A quick walk through of what comes with PC-BSD by default. Check back soon for my ongoing adventures in the world of BSD!

This post is part of a series:

Categories: PC-BSD, Tyler B Tags: ,

Distro hopping: a Linux user tries PC-BSD

October 6th, 2015 No comments

That’s right, the next hop on the great distro hopping experiment of 2015 is not a Linux distribution at all but a BSD instead! While some of us have briefly used BSD on The Linux Experiment before, including PC-BSD, I personally have not and so this is a bit of a new experience for me. I’m looking forward to seeing what the differences are and if I end up preferring one over the other but first what exactly are the technical differences between the two?

If you would like a full list of differences I would highly recommend checking out the following excellent links from which I will summarize below.

  • Different kernels
    • Linux distributions start by using a version of the (shocker!) Linux kernel whereas each BSD maintains their own BSD kernel.
    • While the distinction is largely a technical one the other main difference is that while Linux is worked on by many people it is Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, who maintains control over the direction of the project. For BSD each project team maintains their own control, although within each project there is usually a small group or single individual who has last say as well.
  • Linux is just a kernel
    • As mentioned above Linux is actually just a kernel, thus that whole GNU/Linux thing. BSD projects on the other hand maintain all software in one place, including things like the applications (Firefox, KDE, etc) as well. That doesn’t mean that BSD projects create all of that software mind you so the differences again are largely minor.
  • Different software licenses
    • Linux is released under the GNU General Public License while BSD is released under the BSD License. The major difference between the two are that if you make a change to Linux you must make the source code for that change available upon request and it must also be licensed under the GNU GPL. The BSD license on the other hand has no requirement for you to make your changes available to the public.
  • Not compatible with each other (well… sort of)
    • While Linux and BSD software are compiled differently and technically incompatible many BSDs come with libraries that can run Linux programs almost natively making the difference (at least in that direction) somewhat moot.

Without further ado I give you a walk through of the install process for those who are interested in seeing how it may differ from a standard Linux install.

Welcome to the graphical installer for PC-BSD

Welcome to the graphical installer for PC-BSD

On the first screen you get to choose the type of install (i.e. Desktop or Server) as well as customize the additional software you want to install. PC-BSD uses KDE by default which should provide some familiarity.

System Selection

System Selection

By default PC-BSD uses the ZFS file system and appears to enable compression on a number of directories which may not be unique in the BSD world but is certainly something new for a Linux user.

Default disk layout

Default disk layout

Here is one thing all operating systems have in common: loading bars…

Installing the system

Installing the system

A quick reboot and some minor user configuration later we get to log into our desktop.

A pretty basic login screen but not the worst I've ever seen

A pretty basic login screen but not the worst I’ve ever seen

Welcome to your PC-BSD desktop

Welcome to your PC-BSD desktop

In my next post I’ll go through the default applications that come with PC-BSD and provide my initial thoughts on using it.

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Categories: PC-BSD, Tyler B Tags: ,

Initial thoughts about PC-BSD

January 16th, 2014 No comments

[Please note: this is a historical post – I’m no longer running *BSD in 2014, and this is a collection of thoughts on its setup in case I decide to return to the operating system. Further posts from me will focus on other Linux experiences.]

So after not too much effort, I’ve gotten PC-BSD to replace my FreeBSD installation and am back up and running. Some minor tips, interesting facts and tweaks:

  • Default filesystem and mountpoints all seem to be ZFS, which would make PC-BSD probably the quickest and easiest way to get a functional desktop environment running with this neat filesystem.
  • To enable Flash playback in Chromium (and I assume Firefox), run
    flashpluginctl on

    from the terminal (under your own user account, not root) and restart the browser. Thanks to the PC-BSD forums for this answer.

  • Enabling SSH server: add sshd_enable=”YES” to /etc/rc.conf, then /etc/rc.d/sshd start. You’ll also need to allow TCP port 22 inbound through the firewall in the PC-BSD Control Panel/Networking/Firewall Manager application.
  • Sound worked out of the box without any driver finagling, and is a much more simplistic setup:

 

From the PC-BSD Control Panel, a very simple way to select the default sound device.

From the PC-BSD Control Panel, a very simple way to select the default sound device.

I’m assuming the situation would have been better than the Kubuntu trials and tribulations with PulseAudio – all the possible nVidia HDMI output ports are listed in this dropdown list, as well as my onboard sound and USB/stereo audio adapter. In Phonon, the list is much simpler:

No greyed-out cards or shenanigans - Phonon just shows the default sound card from PC-BSD.

No greyed-out cards or “missing sink”s – Phonon just shows the default sound card from PC-BSD.

 

So far this has been a pretty great introductory experience – the desktop is polished, KDE integration appears to work well, and manual configuration has been limited to what I’d consider more advanced functionality like the SSH daemon.

Categories: Flash, Jake B, PC-BSD Tags: , ,

Falling off the FreeBSD bandwagon

August 25th, 2013 No comments

I’ll have to admit that during the previous week or so, I haven’t been able to exclusively use FreeBSD at home or Linux as a workstation in the office. Kayla and I have still been using Kubuntu (now with improved PulseAudio support) on the basement machine, and that’s been working quite well for both Netflix and media files stored over NFS. Even Dragon Player, the default KDE association for .avi and .mkv files, is quite reasonable for lightweight playback and has given us no issues.

Dragon Player

Here be dragons

It’s a combination of things that have contributed to my slide back to Windows/OS X. First has been time at the office. When there are several urgent projects, it’s significantly easier to use the tools and infrastructure that are already set up on a Windows partition by virtue of Group Policy or already-existing tools. Wasting several hours because you can’t access a DFS share that would take one click from Outlook on Windows is unproductive.

What’s more, my choice of Arch Linux meant that there were several “rough around the edges” spots where I was missing packages or things just weren’t as polished as something like Fedora or Ubuntu. Font smoothing, for example, wasn’t quite what I was expecting and replacing/editing complicated XML files was going to be very frustrating. Arch seems very powerful and customizable, but that’s not something I can justify when there is a corporate-provided Ubuntu image available for install at the office.

FreeBSD has been fairly standard, to say the least. It supports the usual assortment of desktop applications, but the missing 20% of things that I do under Windows start to really show after a few weeks. My large Steam library sitting on another drive becomes almost worthless, and tasks such as scanning a document are also painful – Brother, for example, does a great job of shipping OS X and Linux (.deb and .rpm-enclosed) drivers but when it comes down to just needing a PDF, it’s way easier to grab the nearest Windows laptop and get things done.

What am I going to try next? After some review, I will be installing PC-BSD 9.1 (based on FreeBSD) and seeing if there’s a more polished experience available out of the box. I’m also going to be reviewing and polishing some of my GitHub-hosted scripts for BSD compatibility.

Categories: FreeBSD, Jake B Tags:

Getting FreeBSD up and running with X.org and nVidia drivers

July 27th, 2013 No comments

The Experiment has officially begun, and with that I’ve gone through the FreeBSD installation process. The actual install was fairly uneventful: apart from the fact that FreeBSD defaults to a different base filesystem and has partitioning identifiers, sysinstall did the trick without the same bootloader issues that Dave experienced.

The first major difference, coming from something like Ubuntu or Debian, is that FreeBSD uses a combination of both source packages and already-prepared binary packages. Ostensibly the binary packages are for the most popular software and source packages are provided for convenience when there is no dedicated package build/maintainer team. In practice, depending on what you need to install, there are several possible locations and methods:

  • As a package, which is the binary compiled version. Available with the pkg_add -r option that acts like apt-get install on Ubuntu. The next version of this is pkgng, but I haven’t had much luck with it so far.
  • As a port, the source version of the program with FreeBSD hints to make the software compile. There are stubs in /usr/ports for a wide variety of software, and the “make install clean” process performs what seems to be a level of dependency injection as well.
  • From source directly, where you download and compile the package directly from its creator’s website; I’m avoiding this unless absolutely necessary.

As a result, I just end up using Google to find the package and then installing using the suggested command line. Hilariously enough, when looking for “take screenshot FreeBSD”, the suggested package was called scrot. Here’s that result:

My FreeBSD/xfce4 desktop taken with 'scrot'.

In order to get the desktop working, I had to fight a bit with X.org. Reading the documentation was incredibly helpful in getting my mouse and keyboard to work – I needed to add hald and dbus to the /etc/rc.conf file:

hald_enable="YES"
dbus_enable="YES"

Once that was set up, I then embarked on the process of getting my monitor to display at native 2560×1600 resolution. First, I was stymied by the Xorg -configure process, which provided a number of created screens does not match number of detected devices error but still generated a configuration file. Copying that file into /etc/X11/xorg.conf and running startx subsequently gave a no screens detected message.

A number of suggestions online related to adding a preferred resolution as a “Modes” line to the Screen section in this file, but there was no change. What eventually worked was changing the Driver line from nv to vesa – clearly my GeForce 660 isn’t supported by the default open-source nVidia driver.

As a result, it was necessary to look at installing the closed-source binary nVidia driver. The first stumbling block in this process was during the make install clean command, where I was first told I’d have to install the FreeBSD kernel source. Using this forum article and adjusting the URL to reference 9.1-RELEASE, I successfully obtained and decompressed the code to /usr/src.

The next problem was with my choice of setup options. Initially during the make install process, I selected the default options, and was now blocked at:

===> Installing for nvidia-driver-304.60
===> nvidia-driver-304.60 depends on file: /compat/linux/etc/fedora-release - not found
===> Verifying install for /compat/linux/etc/fedora-release in /usr/ports/emulators/linux_base-f10
===> linux_base-f10-10_5 linuxulator is not (kld)loaded.
*** [install] Error code 1

Stop in /usr/ports/emulators/linux_base-f10.
*** [run-depends] Error code 1

Stop in /usr/ports/x11/nvidia-driver.
*** [install] Error code 1

Stop in /usr/ports/x11/nvidia-driver.

There didn’t seem to be a good way to get back to the options screen to deselect the Linux compatibility mode and make clean didn’t help the situation. Poking around, I was able to reselect the correct options (remove Linux, and also ensure not to select the FreeBSD AGP option) by running make config. A make install clean command after that, and I could continue to follow the rest of the instructions – creating /boot/loader.conf and adding nvidia_load="YES", editing xorg.conf to set the Driver to nvidia, and then it was time for a reboot.

As a side note, unlike other Linux distributions, the idea of installing proprietary drivers wasn’t portrayed as shameful and against Free Software ideals. The attitude and design of FreeBSD seems to be that you should be able to do what you want with it.

So after this work, what was the result when I ran startx again? Nearly flawless detection of multiple monitors, a readable desktop and non-balls graphics performance. A quick trip to sudo /usr/local/bin/nvidia-settings fixed the monitor alignment and was quite easy to use. Now to work on the rest of the desktop components to make this a more usable system, and I’ll be well on the way to future moments of rage.

Categories: FreeBSD, Jake B, XFCE, Xorg/X11 Tags: