I still haven tried other BSDs. Why you may ask did I start with OpenBSD? It all started with the problem that I had an old Fedora Core 4 which was really unstable (kernel panics). I then installed OpenBSD back in July 2007 . The interesting result was: Although I did not know much about OpenBSD I got it working AND it just ran. It felt like every day it looked the same. One of the core principles of OpenBSD is to install fewer packages and to have these secure. Fedora OTOH installs quite a lot and rather suggests graphical administration (classical Red Hat style). Also Fedora suggest to never upgrade a release but to always reinstall from scratch. For my usage this just wasnt useful. The only way would have been to make a partition for the data (should be Samba server) and then always erase all system settings. But still – system settings are essential. So from my perspective an OS that suggest to always reinstall from scratch can not be taken seriously. My alternatives where either other BSDs or Debian. Why not Debian? Because Debian is always outdated. So I would have to live with outdated software for many years. As even software like Samba is evolving quickly I dont want to miss additional features. Why not other BSDs? 1.) OpenBSD has a good reputation in security 2.) FreeBSD is the BSD that is most similar to Linux – and also has some hype – but as I want something different I dont want a big thing but something small 3.) OpenBSD is rather aggressive when it comes to demand open source driver support from hardware vendors. Although Theo de Raadt seems to be somebody who know how to make himself enemies I like that he speaks up and has an opinion. I am a Linux guy, I like/prefer the GPL but I respect the work of OpenBSD and thing they did some great work. In September I had the possibility to chat a bit (just too short) with a OpenBSD guy (Bernd Ahlers) on our Linux day in Kiel which i helped to organize. In fact OpenBSD said they come to Kiel in the same week as I was considering it. So this was one of the reason I said – ok if they come I try it and maybe have the chance to ask some questions.
I did ont have the chance to discuss it really because I was too involved in helping with the event. And also I did not have much questions as OpenBSD just did what I expected.
Tomorrow I am going to install OpenBSD first time for a customer where it also shall replace a Fedora system. Same background: Hard disk is full – but should I install Fedora again? If you go to a Fedora channel and ask for FC 4 or 5 people just laugh at you. So on systems that should run for longer time without often upgrades its much nicer to have a system which you can fix with help of the distribution. I dont particular like the source compiling. But OpenBSD gives me ports that it has copied from FreeBSD.
I have also made some experiences with Gentoo, but my impression is that its not really taking care about packages. The worst thing they did was to mask fastcgi and suggest fcgi. For somebody who is only a part time Gentoo user this resulted in some time offline. I really expected that fcgi would work just the same with my setup (small fastcgi processes of my moin wiki where the Apache connects to), but fcgi does not support that or at least must have a totally different syntax. I dont accept any drastical changes from one day to the other that require me to make decisions or to learn how not to do what Gentoo suggests – I rather like to trust a distribution to know better then me that something is better AND compatible. So Gentoo for a server was no go for me, too.
So far I could deal Ok with OpenBSD. I have asked some questions on #openbsd and so far found them always helpful. They are not guys who will always answer your question liek you expect – rather they sometimes tell you that you dont want to do something if you aksing such stupid questions. But this is ok. Because then I dont end up with a system state that I cant handle. If you are reading this because you are thinking about if you want to use OpenBSD I would say: If you come from Windows OpenBSD might be too different maybe – but if you are an administrator who is willing to learn and look for a system that is easy to maintain (easy not in the sense of comfortable but in the sense of: you can maintain what you want without a lot of compromises) then OpenBSD might be for you. If you come from Linux I suggest you try to forget most that you learned. Althought the principles are the same OpenBSD doesnt use systems like the System V init scripts. After you have installed a server package you will have to add start commands to /etc/rc.local. Thats not that hard. Mostly OpenBSD packages tell you what you can use after installation or you find that in /usr/local/share/doc/*. If you know about scripting this isnt a problem anyway. So startup process in OpenBSD tned to be more simple. As System V scripts tend to be rather complex.
Another priority is to have 100% of the system documented with manuals (man command). This is very nice if you dont have an internet connection – and then OpenBSD offers you all information you need to fix a problem. Many Linux distributions dont have that. Debian has extensive docs – but more often in /usr/share/doc/* – and also Debian packages often are very different – so lets say the postfix maintainer and the exim maintainer (both MTAs) do make very distinct packages and ask different questions. On OpenBSD its rather that all packages are installed in more or less the same way BUT you can expect that every command has a manual.
For desktop systems that is not always needed also because many graphical apps cant be documented fully with text alone. But still I have found this “feature” EXTREMELY helpful for administring. And I know if I am alone at my customers and dont have the possibility to make extensive internet researches I will be able to find all I might want to know inside the system I am just working. Fedora for instance is rather bad in that respect.
So to summarize OpenBSD looks very clean. I have encountered some problems with the ports. Some seem to have a dependency problem (like Moin and Python). Not sure why that is the case. Either I did something wrong or OpenBSD needs to work on that part. OpenBSD is not something that “just works” – so if I need to tweak this and that its ok as long as the things I depend on (the core OS) works as expected. I was able to upgrade my newest install for4.2 to current. I needed to compile “userland” and a new kernel which took about 2 1/2 hours in a 2 Ghz system. Well in fact I think should have only needed to update 3 packages but that I did find out too late and also I was interested in how long all this would take.
I was happy to see that all I learned on Linux was not for nothig but in fact I was able to do some things different because I knew what the documentation tried to suggest and how to make it quicker or better. In some situations I still rather like to follow the docs word by word sometimes.
I expect this new installation to be much more stable and clean than the Fedora system. We often had some problems with Samba. On my own trials with OpenBSD my samba access was 4×5 times more stable and felt more solid. I dont have any stats but thats what I have experienced.
What next? Next I like to try out Minix and NetBSD. Minix because it should boot a lot faster. I will watch how the package progress is going. For now I stick with Foresight also because its package manager is really cool. With Conary package manager you can go to an unstable system and then back. Dont try that at home with any other Unix/Linux besides rPath! NetBSD I like to try to see whereit differs from OpenBSD and how it “feels”.