DesktopBSD is an operating system for your computer. It is a
customised FreeBSD installation which is designed to offer a powerful, easy to install system designed to meet the needs of most desktop users. BSD is a version of UNIX® and DesktopBSD runs the KDE desktop.
I realised a couple of weeks ago that I didn’t need to keep Windows XP on my newish bargain laptop and rather than dual booting into Linux, as I had been, I thought I would make the little fellow a purely open source system and use it for web development and general use. I was keen to try a BSD variant and DesktopBSD seemed to fit the mould as this machine is primarily about desktop use, rather than being a server.
I prefer the GNOME desktop, but thought I should give KDE a go as many people seem to prefer it and I know there is some very swish eye candy that you can implement. So, I downloaded the DesktopBSD DVD iso via Bittorrent, burned it and went to install.
But DesktopBSD didn’t boot into the installer. You get some options, though and remarkably the system was happy to install in SAFE mode. A very easy install process then went on – much simpler than XP and much, much simpler than the normal FreeBSD install, then I rebooted, fingers crossed.
DesktopBSD didn’t boot. It just freezes after some kernel messages and puts a not very interesting pattern on the screen. Trying with ACPI disabled produced a different pattern, but no progress. SAFE mode worked again, however, so eventually X came up and KDE materialised on my computer. No wireless card, no sound, my 1280×768 screen being stretched into 1024×768 and only working in SAFE mode, but nonetheless I had a (mostly) working system.
Googling for DesktopBSD and FreeBSD problems for Compaq Presario V2000 machines fixed the screen, which was good. A small change to the X.org config file and all was good. More searching indicated my SAFE mode issue is caused by a dud “Serial Interface Bus” driver – sio – not working with my motherboard. So I followed instructions and recompiled the BSD kernel. No change. Tried a couple more times, with different changes each time, but no success. On about my 6th recompile, it worked. The dud driver seemed to be ioapic in my case. APIC stands for Advanced Programmable Interrupt Controllers and for you and means that you get 24 IRQ’s instead of 15, but is really useful in multi-processor systems.
Once the PC was booting up in regular mode I was able to start using it for general use. Web browsing, remote logins and some slideshow creation all worked pretty good. KDE was pretty, but nothing special having come from 3D accelerated GNOME. I haven’t got SuperKaramba going yet, which provides desktop widgets like Konfabulator, or any of the other pretty additions you can make. Ksmoothdock looks pretty cool and probably seems familiar to the Mac OSX users out there.
I can live without sound, but having to run a cable around the house to access the network is pretty annoying and might be enough to have me drop DesktopBSD and pick up another O/S. I’ve followed all the instructions, but still my Marvell chipsetted Netgear WG511v2 card won’t work. It’s been over a week since I started the install (not constant, other things get in the way) and maybe the effort is going to continue to go unrewarded.
FreeBSD is a mature operating system, but I think you need to know how to work with it a bit better than I do to get it to work properly. DesktopBSD is a good step towards making it more accessible and maybe the upcoming DesktopBSD 1.6 will address some of the problems I’m having. Until then, my best shot at a KDE desktop based system is probably running Kubuntu or MEPIS.