Realizing that I'm not actively attracted to FreeBSD for my desktop

December 12, 2016

Right now, I'm in a mood where I'm disgruntled with Fedora on my desktop and more broadly with systemd's recent evolution. When I'm in these sorts of moods, my mind turns towards making real changes in what my personal machines run, and if I'm going to do that, why, maybe I should not just change Linux distributions but go all of the way to FreeBSD. After all I run a completely custom window manager environment using programs I build myself, and things like fvwm and so on are not Linux specific. At least in theory it shouldn't be difficult to get a version of my desktop up on FreeBSD.

So I thought about it for a bit and came to a realization. While I could run my desktop on FreeBSD and everything would probably work out, there's almost nothing that actively makes me want to run FreeBSD for my desktop instead of Linux. Perhaps this is a testament to the interchangeability of Unixes in the modern era, or perhaps this says more about how little I use the system's tools and so on. Or perhaps I'm just living in ignorance of some really cool FreeBSD features that I'd really love.

(I doubt it, though. I can't really think of anything that would change my life, partly because I do so relatively little on my desktops. I'm not developing software or running daemons that need deep inspection with DTrace or anything like that; if I'm honest, at least 80% of my usage is xterm, ssh and Firefox. With that said, yes, FreeBSD would give me ZFS for everything. I like ZFS, but I can mostly get it on Linux and I'm not quite 100% sure I trust ZFS with my root filesystem on anything except OmniOS.)

There's definitely a part of me that dislikes this realization; despite what I've written before, part of me thinks that it would be neat and cool to use FreeBSD instead of Linux, and it sure would prove that I'm not a Linux-only person. Using FreeBSD often feels like what a long-term Unix person should be doing, and I'm definitely a long-term Unix person. To put it one way, FreeBSD is the romantic choice.

But that's all it would be for me, and I know that there would be various practical disadvantages to taking the road less traveled (sorry, FreeBSD people, but it's unfortunately true). So I guess I'll be staying with some form of Linux on my desktop, although I have no idea what exactly that will be in the long term.

(FreeBSD is not the first Unix and Unix-like thing that I have had a romantic attraction to that was eventually smothered by practical considerations. Back in the days, I really kind of wanted to run Plan 9 because it seemed so cool (cf).)

(This elaborates on a tweet or two of mine.)

PS: Servers are another matter entirely, especially for ZFS fileservers. FreeBSD is very much in the running for the next generation of those, although probably not for servers in general.

PPS: I do sort of admire people who run FreeBSD on their desktops for hand-waving reasons beyond the scope of this entry but that partly get mentioned here. You're taking the road less traveled and I salute you for it; Unix needs people like that to keep us all honest and to keep Linux on its toes.

Written on 12 December 2016.
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Last modified: Mon Dec 12 00:48:47 2016
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