Chad Perrin: SOB

18 September 2008

a question for Linux users

Filed under: Cognition,Geek — apotheon @ 12:05

I have a question for my readers who use a Linux-based OS. This question is intended not only to satisfy my own curiosity and possibly provide grist for a future SOB entry — but also to get people to think about their own answers. Hopefully, I’ll get a lot of answers here. Even if I don’t, though, I’d consider the act of asking the question worthwhile if people honestly answer the question to themselves, no matter what the answer is. Sometimes, we learn something from examining our own choices — even if it’s just that we made the right choice for the wrong reasons.

Without further ado, the question:

Why do you use a Linux distribution instead of a BSD Unix system?

Feel free to answer in comments or via the contact page link in the right-hand column of this Website.

I promise I will not engage people in unwanted debate in response to answers in comments, and I may delete comments that stray too far off-topic or attack people for their answers.


  1. Good question. I’ve often wondered the same thing. At this point, perhaps it has to do with available applications?

    Comment by Sterling Camden — 18 September 2008 @ 12:10

  2. Maybe, in many cases — but right now, I’m looking more for individual, personal reasons, rather than theories about why people in general might choose Linux-based systems over BSD Unix systems.

    Comment by apotheon — 18 September 2008 @ 02:15

  3. Why I started using Linux as opposed to BSD in the first place:

    1) Linux was what we had in the labs in university, so I knew what I was getting into.

    2) I had used fink for MacOS X, so I was already familiar with the Debian package manager before I ever touched Linux.

    3) I was using PowerPC at the time, and I had good reason for confidence in the PowerPC port of Linux at the time that I switched. Whether or not any BSDs had good PowerPC support, no one I knew of was using it.

    I would like to try a BSD distribution (I’ve tried Ubuntu and Gentoo, and found them lacking compared to Debian, and FreeBSD is probably next on my list), but my motivation is very low because:

    1) I’m very happy with Debian.

    2) I use Libre software (almost: adobe flash) exclusively, so the only difference between BSD and Debian would be the very low level stuff and the distribution/packaging, and there’s no obvious win there that I know of. If there is significant technological win for desktop use in the BSDs, I would like to know.

    3) I only have so many computers, and they all do something useful. To test BSD I’d have to take one offline.

    4) I have doubts about the culture behind BSD, in part as a consequence the GPL-BSD license “wars.” I find the argument in favor of the GPL straightforward (not the same as actually agreeing with the argument), while some of the arguments for the BSD license don’t pass the smell test for me. Note that I like the BSD license itself and have applied it to some non-trivial software I have written. The issue is whether I want to invest time in a culture that plays these kinds of semantic games with the definition of “freedom” and generates what I perceive as FUD. However, it’s not at all clear to me that this is an endemic problem.

    Comment by Anonymous — 18 September 2008 @ 03:31

  4. 1.) Support. 1a.) I still don’t know quite as much about *n?x systems, and having a relatively friendlier environment helps in learning. 1b.) Vendor support — not sure, but I’m fairly certain that most unfortunately useful vendor-provided blobs are linux-only.

    2.) Politics. 2a.) I like the GPL better than the BSD license, in that it actually enforces the preservation of the domain. 2b.) I recognise that they might not be representative, but at the very least I have not seen the same views of the BSDs from Linuxers that I have seen from OpenBSDers of Linux.

    3.) Choice. 3a.) Bajillionty distros vs. three. Some see this as a negative, I see it as useful and necessary. 3b.) Larger range of applications.

    and any errors in the above can be attributed to

    4.) Apathy. I am a geek, indeed, but I’ve got more than enough to be chewing on with my current Linux system. Changing OSes is a big step, and I would have to do extensive research before I could decide to switch. I am, in bits and pieces, doing this, but it’s definitely low-priority.

    Comment by Sohum — 18 September 2008 @ 04:00

  5. Regarding support:

    1a) I’m not sure what you mean about friendliness in this context. Please elaborate.

    1b) What vendor binary blobs do you need that prevent you from using a BSD Unix OS instead of a Linux distribution?

    Regarding choice:

    3b) What applications are available on your distro of choice that are not on BSD Unix systems?

    I ask these questions because, as I remarked above, I’m interested in the personal reasons you (not just you, but all readers and respondents) in particular choose a Linux-based OS.

    I’ll be addressing some of the points brought up here in future SOB entries (rather than in comments here), including answering questions people pose — such as the anonymous commenter’s request for information on technical benefits to BSD Unix systems. I don’t want comments to this entry to get away from the main topic too much.

    Comment by apotheon — 18 September 2008 @ 04:26

  6. Inertia.

    In ’93, FreeBSD wasn’t really an option to a 17 year old with only 3 years of real Unix experience. Heck, most of my friends crew was unaware that “Slackware” wasn’t perfectly synonymous with “Linux”. So we all installed Slackware (from stacks and stacks of 3.5″ floppys) and made our way through the trials and tribulations of having root access. 15 years later, I’ve gotten past the joy of having my personal computer be as bare metal as possible, and so it’s just easier to upgrade my Fedora install than it is to completely reOS my box.

    But, the next time I build a ‘put from scratch, it’ll likely be a FreeBSD box. I mean, if I’m already going to the effort, I might as well just change over.

    Comment by ilcylic — 18 September 2008 @ 06:04

  7. I think it involves some of these: (the first two are the most important)

    • Lack of knowledge about BSD — specifically, about the ways BSD is nicer than Linux.

    • Popularity / larger community. This seems like a fallacy, but popularity provides …

      • More apps, both packaged and not.
      • More hardware support.
      • More commercial support.
      • More extensions, customizations, and flavors available.
      • Generally, more use cases already solved.
    • APT.

    • Debian’s package set… ‘apt-cache stats’ shows me about 27000 packages available.

    • Less compiling. So, less time wasted on installation and maintenance, less disk space wasted by source and intermediate build files, less heat generated, fewer packages needed (no compilers / headers unless I want them), and I can be sure the binaries I’m using are exactly the same as what the maintainer/vendor tested.

    • Generally no base-vs-ports distinction, and a more bazaar-like development model. I only have to deal with one package system, and if I want a different flavor of ls, ping, /bin/sh, or even /sbin/init, it’s fairly easy to change.

    • /usr/local is reserved for things I build manually, not things the package system builds.

    Basically, I just haven’t seen any compelling answers to “Why *BSD?” It would be nice to have some more advanced filesystems, and for redundant routers it’s cool that BSD can fail over without dropping a single packet, but these don’t help with any use cases I actually encounter.

    Comment by ToyKeeper — 18 September 2008 @ 06:07

  8. linux is what i’m familiar with, what’s free (in both senses), and what i perceive to be under constant major development. haven’t had a particular reason to switch.

    Comment by sosiouxme — 19 September 2008 @ 05:18

  9. 2 words. Hardware support. Especially new hardware.

    Comment by Greg — 20 September 2008 @ 10:09

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