|"App" Version Reviewed||9.0-RELEASE|
|Test System Specs|
HP EliteBook 8560p
8 GB RAM, some Core i7 CPU
Windows 7 64-bit
VirtualBox 4.1.8 with 2 virtual CPUs and 3 GB virtual RAM
|Supported OSes||Itself. (But it can also run Linux ELF binaries.)|
|Support Methods||Mailing lists, a bug tracker, a plenty of international bulletin boards, newsgroups, user groups, IRC, wikis, random BSD Conferences. Commercial support is also provided by some companies.|
|Upgrade Policy||Free. (As in "free beer", not as in "free speech".)|
|Trial Version Available?||You can run FreeBSD for 30 days and then run FreeBSD for another 30 days and then run FreeBSD for another 30 days and then run FreeBSD for another 30 days and then run it until your hard disk dies. (Or you do; chances are good you do before FreeBSD does.)|
|Pricing Scheme||Free. (As in "free beer", not as in "free speech".)|
|Author Donation Link||Preferably via the FreeBSD Foundation.|
|Screencast Video URL||YouTube search lists some.|
There is some famous statement around that says: "BSD is for those who love Unix, Linux is for those who hate Windows."
I like to spend time playing with operating systems just to know more about what they do and how they work. To keep things short: FreeBSD is one of the several Unices around, a direct descendant of the original AT&T Unix, hence developed and matured for 43 years now, and it perfectly feels like this.
Who is this "app" designed for:
As *BSD is generally focused on stability and security, people prefer to view FreeBSD as a server system, complementing their Windows or Linux or even CrapOS desktops, but there is no actual reason to not use it as a desktop computer. Multimedia might not be one of its strengths, but today - with all that HTML5 around - it does not make reasonable problems either.
First: BSD is free.
People tend to say that GNU stands for freedom, but in fact it does not. The GPL license, for example, forces a certain licensing of derivative work, so closed source applications are effectively incompatible with the "free" licensing model. The BSD license does not do that.
Second: BSD is stable.
One of Linux's major problems is that it relies on external packages which might break things every now and then. The several BSDs are a, more or less, closed ecosystem, its entire userland is homegrown, the several available applications are special builds to fit the particular system and installed libraries. ("Xfce 4.8", for example, is not really Xfce 4.8, it is a BSD-specific DE based on Xfce 4.8.) However, it does not mean that you can't use applications from other platforms. (See below.)
Third: BSD is anti-bloatware.
Although there are a couple of BSDs around which pervert it (like the KDE-based FreeBSD derivative PC-BSD), FreeBSD is actually rather minimalistic. By default there is not even an X server installed - you can control every single aspect of your system without having to touch any defaults: There are none.
Fourth: BSD is flexible.
I know this sounds like the Apple ads: You want to do ______? There's an app for it.
FreeBSD uses a "ports" system: While it is possible to get most applications as precompiled binaries by typing pkg_add -r <package>, you are advised to compile your desired applications yourself to get the maximum flexibility and optimizations for your specific environment. FreeBSD has a virtual folder called "ports" which stores the necessary Makefiles for all applications which have been tested by the FreeBSD team, so you'll just have to cd there and type make install clean. Admittedly it might take a while to compile things like KDE though.
If an application is missing, you can also run and/or compile most Linux applications; the repositories are updated quite regularly anyway, see FreshPorts.org in order to watch them.
Let's face it: Unix is not Linux, Unix it not Windows. John Doe with his random needs to point-and-click will probably despair of it. In order to get a full-featured FreeBSD desktop, you'll have to RTFM a lot if you do not have had any Unix experiences before. At least you'll learn a lot about how your system works. My first try to set everything up took me about 5 or 6 hours until Xfce was set up and ready; of course practice makes perfect though.
Another thing "missing" is a graphical package management system; PC-BSD has it but only for own ".pbi" packages. On the other hand you'll learn to love the command line even more than you already do. FreeBSD's package management scripts - a lot of them are in /usr/ports/ports-mgmt/ - are quite mighty. A new package management, called "pkgng", which works similar to apt on Debian is currently being developed, so interesting things might follow here.
Why I think you should use this product
If you like free software, you should see if FreeBSD - or, for the start, PC-BSD which is basically FreeBSD + a pre-configured desktop + some own packaging system - fits your needs. If you are happy with your current operating system, you should stay with it: Don't fix it if it is not broken. (This applies even to Windows.)
How does it compare to similar "apps"
Similar to BSD are its clones, like Linux and MINIX; but why choose the copy when you can have the original?
Links to other reviews of this "application"
I'd recommend the BSD vs Linux rant for those who want to learn more about it. Also, the Wikipedia is a great resource.