Posts tagged freebsd

If you’ve never tried Midnight Commander…

FreeBSD Midnight Commander through SSH on my Mac
Midnight Commander on a FreeBSD machine running in an SSH session on my Mac

Perhaps it's because the first computer I ever used had DOS on it, but ever since I started using it in late 2005 I absolutely adore the Midnight Commander and use it almost exclusively to deal with file management tasks on my Macs and FreeBSD machines. If you've never used it before, you're missing out on a treat.

Midnight Commander is a text based, "orthodox" file maneger that adopts the interface of the venerable Norton Commander (Wikipedia) on DOS. The screen is split into two panes for showing the contents of folders, along with a menu bar, a shortcut key help pane at the bottom and a prompt you can use to enter regular shell commands, view their results and return. I often joke that last feature means you often never have to leave!

As Norton Commander did in DOS, Midnight Commander can be used to easily create and modify your file system without having to use Unix commands with possibly confusing arrays of options. If you're like me you already know how to create folders and symbolic links, move files, change permissions, rename folders and so forth, but as the existence of numerous graphical file managers attests to, sometimes it's just easier for larger projects and tasks to let a program do it for you.

Midnight Commander Light
Midnight Commander Light > in urxvt > in Openbox > on FreeBSD!

Regardless of whether you choose to use the original Midnight Commander or Midnight Commander Light they're also a cinch to configure via easy to use dialog boxes under the Options menu, no need to edit text files then relaunch the applications! Things that can be customised include the view (between horizontal or vertical panes), colour schemes, file highlighting and audible alerts. They also contain a slew of other features such as virtual filesystems which I admit I haven't even tried yet!

Most people who use Unix-like operating systems probably already are well aware of Midnight Commander, but for those of you just giving Linux, FreeBSD and so forth a try, you might want to look into it. The fact you don't need to launch an X11 graphical environment to do file management tasks is a huge plus, and you can even use it to easily maintain systems remotely through a secure shell. Very cool.

Midnight Commander is available from NetBSD's pkgsrc under /sysutils, the FreeBSD ports system under /misc and Mac OS X's MacPorts under /sysutils amongst others.

Congrats to Gerard van Essen from

Gerard van Essen I see to be congratulating a lot of different people here in recent weeks. Frankly it's just so uplifting to have so many deserving people to to praise in light of the shenanigans of… well, other people.

On this gorgeous Monday afternoon I wanted to send my belated personal congratulations to Gerard van Essen who's been tirelessly covering the world of FreeBSD and auxiliary projects over at now for over two years. As someone who struggled for so long to stay on topic on his own blog that he eventually gave up, I hold even more respect for his conviction!

I’ve been running this FreeBSD news blog for exactly 2 years today. FreeBSD and operating systems have developed and evolved a lot since then; reporting and writing about these have been enjoyable.

Many thanks to everybody who’s notified and emailed me about stories, and those that have left comments.

For those who don't know, Gerard is one of the Core Team members of the PC-BSD project which aims to make FreeBSD accessible to more people by configuring hardware and installing a graphical environment automatically. If you don't like Ubuntu or have wanted to try FreeBSD after reading my babble on about here incessantly, you should give it a shot!

I think when we spend so much of our time online digesting news sources and downloading free and open source software, it's easy to forget there are real people behind them that make them possible. I've resolved to give due credit to sites and software I find useful.

Netscape reference in FreeBSD

Netscape Navigator!A reference to Netscape still exists in the latest version of FreeBSD. How nostalgic ^_^.

You can use "whereis" to search standard binary, manual page and source directories for the specified programs. This can be particularly handy when you are trying to find where in the ports tree and application is.

Try "whereis netscape" and "whereis whereis"
— Konstantinos Konstantinidis

The last time I blogged about Netscape was back in 2007 when I was reviewing the final version for Mac OS X, shortly before it was discontinued for good.

FreeBSD 7.2 has been released

FreeBSD 7.2 in VMware Fusion
The all new FreeBSD 7.2 with the all new svelte Xfce 4.6.0 desktop running in VMware Fusion on my MacBook Pro.

If you love FreeBSD as much as me you probably already know about this, but FreeBSD 7.2 has officially been released. I'm really excited about all this good stuff, particularly point 2 shown below in the annoucement. Jails are another reason why I've stuck to FreeBSD instead of GNU/Linux, and now being able to assign mutiple addresses means they're even closer to a virtual machine alternative. Thinking about the possibilities is making my head spin! I'll be looking into it further and posting more about Jails sometime soon.

The FreeBSD Release Engineering Team is pleased to announce the availability of FreeBSD 7.2-RELEASE. This is the third release from the 7-STABLE branch which improves on the functionality of FreeBSD 7.1 and introduces some new features. Some of the highlights:

  • support for fully transparent use of superpages for application memory
  • support for multiple IPv4 and IPv6 addresses for jails
  • csup(1) now supports CVSMode to fetch a complete CVS repository
  • Gnome updated to 2.26, KDE updated to 4.2.2
  • sparc64 now supports UltraSparc-III processors

For a complete list of new features and known problems, please see the online release notes and errata list, available at:

For more information about FreeBSD release engineering activities, please see

The BSD DaemonI downloaded the FreeBSD 7.2 DVD image from Internode's mirror because our internet connection here is capped (yuck), but uploads aren't capped so I'll be setting up the torrent from the FreeBSD Bittorrent tracker so I can seed the heck out of it!

As I've said every time, I wish to thank all the people at the FreeBSD project for their tireless efforts. Combined, they continue to create and develop some of the most beautiful software in the world, and I consider it a honour that I'm allowed to use it. Congratulations everyone.

Using Herrie to listen to Whole Wheat Radio

Herrie tuned into Whole Wheat Radio on my Mac

Just finished polishing up the Herrie media player page on the Whole Wheat Radio wiki. Over time I've being going through each media player and adding instructions with screenshots so hopefully any new person who has never tuned in before can get up and running easily.

  1. Download a "Listen" playlist from the sidebar of the wiki
  2. Launch herrie in playlist mode: % herrie -x
  3. Navigate to the saved listen.pls file by using your arrow keys
  4. Add it to your playlist by pressing "A"
  5. Change focus to your playlist by pressing "Tab" then press "X" to start playing!
  6. When you’re done, press "Q" to quit

I think Jim really intended these pages to just be explanations for the players that appear on the Who's listening page, but I figure if at least one person found the information helpful it was worth it. Heck I owe the existence of this blog to that philosophy… right? ^_^

It’s FreeBSD’s documentation, stupid

GNUThe BSD Daemon

As you might remember a few months ago I switched from FreeBSD to Arch Linux on my 2002-era Compaq Armada M300 sub-notebook which I use for downloading torrents and as a coffee shop computer. Since then I might have figured out how to get my wireless card working on FreeBSD after all, but that's for another post.

One thing I have really noticed using the GNU Project's userland tools on Linux instead of FreeBSD's userland tools on FreeBSD is while the GNU tools generally have more features, the difference in the quality of the bundled documentation, specifically manual pages (Wikipedia) is huge. There's absolutely no comparison, FreeBSD's manual pages are more comprehensive, complete and better written.

As a FreeBSD user who has been spoilt silly and has come to expect this level of documentation, to use GNU/Linux has been somewhat of a shock. Often manual pages for the GNU userland tools contain a blunt dictionary style description of what the tool does, followed by a skeleton explanation of each of the options and a reference to a URL.

For example, check out the first screen of the manual page for the ls command for Linux and FreeBSD respectively, before the options are presented. Given Mac OS X's BSD underpinnings the man page for ls is the same too.


ls – list directory contents

ls [OPTION]…. [FILE]…

List information about the FILEs (the current directory by default). Sort entries alphabetically if one of the -cftuvSUX nor –sort.

Mandatory arguments to long options are mandatory for short options too.

FreeBSD (and Mac OS X)

ls — list directory contents

ls [-ABCFGHLPRSTW@abcdefghiklmnopqrstuwx1] [file …]

For each operand that names a file of a type other than directory, ls displays its name as well as any requested, associated information. For each operand that names a file of type directory, ls displays the names of files contained within that directory, as well as any requested, associated information.

If no operands are given, the contents of the current directory are displayed. If more than one operand is given, non-directory operands are displayed first; directory and non-directory operands are sorted separately and in lexicographical order.

The following options are available:

What I've since learned is the GNU project eschews manual pages for Texinfo pages which you access with a separate command. According to the Wikipedia page on the subject, Texinfo pages are designed as tutorials as well as general references, meaning they're more like books and less like traditional help files.

While I understand the merits of this approach, I still think this shunning of manpages or the lowering of their development priority is a bit short sighted. Even if the benefits of Texinfo pages are real, I don't see why one should be developed at the expense of the other.

I guess to be fair, this is something I'd get used to eventually if I switched to GNU/Linux as my primary OS.

My belated review of VirtualBox for Mac

FreeBSD, MS-DOS and Windows 2000 in VirtualBox
FreeBSD 7.1 with Xfce, MS-DOS with XTreeGold and Windows 2000

In my quest to find the most useful virtualisation software for Mac I've so far used Parallels Desktop, VMware Fusion and in various capacities. Today I decided to take a closer look at VirtualBox, the free and open source virtualisation software by Sun Microsystems.

Firstly the good news: VirtualBox is fast. Because it can take advantage of VT-x in the Intel processors of modern Macs the performance is in an entirely different league to QEMU based applications and much closer in performance to expensive (at least in the eyes of a university student!) commercial products from VMware and Parallels.

Because of it's higher performance, VirtualBox can run all current flavours of BSD, Linux and Windows that I've thrown at it just beautifully. Creating machines is a snap, and the shortcut keys for commands such as hard reset (command-R) are the best of any Mac virtualisation product I've used.

The main VirtualBox graphical control window

Unfortunately for me there have been some problems. For starters, considering it's a Sun product I found it disheartening to find OpenSolaris 08.11 can't pass the initial boot stage to install without giving an error which is a shame. FreeBSD has difficulty using the emulated optical drive which in practical usage is fine but it means you need to initally install over a network, no easy install of an ISO is possible. And for my electronic nostalgia, VirtualBox crashes whenever I attempt to load either the EMM386 or UMBCPI upper memory managers in MS-DOS 6.22 or PC DOS 2000 despite exhaustive attempts to map the correct memory addresses.

As I said on my review, my first generation Core Duo MacBook Pro seems to be a very quirky machine for virtualisation: it seems to have troubles than most Apple people don't seem to have! Keeping this in mind I'm ready to chalk these problems up to my eccentric machine, but it's still a bit disheartening.

VirtualBox has the potential to be an amazing product, and certainly for Windows and Linux it does the job beautifully — especially for the price! Unfortunately for my own current needs though I'm going to have to give it a pass; while it does run Windows 2000 amazingly well I'd prefer not to have to use several higher end virtualisation products for different things.

My belated review of

Q running Windows NT 4.0, FreeDOS with OpenGEM and MS-DOS 6.02 with Windows 3.11
Q running retro Windows NT 4.0, FreeDOS with OpenGEM and MS-DOS 6.22 with Windows 3.11

Due to some silly distractions I had to postpone my reviews of Mac virtualisation software. Today's review is for, a free and open source native Mac port of the QEMU processor emulator. can be described in one word: svelte! In a download that weighs in at under 10MiB, this tiny application can create and run fully contained virtual machines; it's very impressive! It's also clear a lot of care and attention has been put into the interface: because it's a native Cocoa port the interface feels like a real Mac application and the guests you create are bundled into native OS X packages.

ASIDE: As a matter of disclosure, I am not affiliated with the project or QEMU, nor was I given a financial incentive to positively review their application, though now it’s after the fact I would be more than happy to accept such payments. Thank you. iconBecause uses QEMU it doesn't have the sophisticated performance or graphics of much heavier (and far more expensive) apps like VMware Fusion which I've previously blogged about, but apps that require those kinds of resources aren't the intended use of it anyway.

Provided you use more modest operating systems instead of trying to shoehorn Windows 7 or Ubuntu with Gnome into it, it's very usable. Windows 2000, the BSDs and lighter distributions of GNU/Linux run just fine. Windows 95 and DOS (including the latest FreeDOS) absolutely scream! As with any VM software, the key is finding the oldest OS that can run the software you need, unless you intend on using the Internet in it for security reasons.

Q running Windows 2000 and FreeBSD 7.1-R
Windows 2000 and FreeBSD 7.1-R also run just fine.

I have had some stability issues with Q on my first generation Core Duo MacBook Pro, and the Q drivers to enable a Samba share between my Windows 2000 guest and my Mac stubbornly refuse to work, but I'm willing to chalk both these problems up to a problem with the operator not necessarily the software! My iBook G3 was obviously slower, but didn't have either of these issues.

If you need to run a application written for another OS (or with caveats perhaps even another processor!) and you don't have time or inclination to register for and download a huge product like Fusion or Parallels, or if you're like me and just want to run a ton of older OSs for silly nostalgic reasons, you can't go wrong with The folks behind this app have done a great job.

Online monetisation is a misnomer at best

AdBlock Plus in Firefox
I didn't think ABP was necessary to make the web usable until I went to a machine that didn't have it!

It's another case of someone else saying exactly what I've been thinking for a very long time, but because they're not Ruben Schade they're able to articulate what they mean in a few words instead of a bloated paragraph such as the one you're reading now. In fact this whole paragraph could have been condensed into one simple line: "look at what this person said on Twitter".

“monetization” is an evil, ugly word that has infested the internet with hollow promises and broken dreams


The way I see it, when people start thinking they need to monitise their weblog, their podcast, their time-shifted programming (I agree Jim, it's a silly name), their cat, the cold water tap on their kitchen sink and so on, except in a few select cases they inevitably cause more damage and in the long run hurt their chances of making money.

You know what most people appreciate online? Being treated line an adult, and being treated with respect. Huge flashy banner advertisements to me are a glowing sign that states they're more interested in making a quick buck than respecting you.

Mourning the death of common sense
Common sense, we hardly knew thee…

Obviously if a site isn't interesting people won't go to it, so the chances for them to make money is reduced. Therefore even if we're just talking about the narrow view of making money, it's in their interest (I love pointless puns) to make their sites engaging and… not irritating!

I'd be interested to see the before and stats on sites that have put up splash screen advertisements you need to click before going to the rest of the site (I hate those!) and sites that have replaced discreet Google AdWords or something similar with huge banner ads. I'd hedge (another horrible financial pun) my bet that they've done themselves a disservice.
Proudly powered by FreeBSD: The Power To Serve
The extent of the advertising on my own site

As a real world example, since last year my site has had a silly "Buy Ruben a Cup of Coffee" button on the side for those to contribute to if they like something they've read here or if they've found something useful. I've had more than a dozen cups bought for me, which is far more money than I made from having text advertisements on my pages for a couple of years. The former is far less intrusive, and I like to think it means I treats my visitors like adults rather than just drones to market stuff to.

I also display a couple of banners gratis at the bottom of my page here for and for FreeBSD, but that's because I appreciate their causes and want to help. Given the search queries people enter into Google to get here a large percentage of my readers would be interested in them anyway.

In a round about way, what I'm saying is: people like honesty. I guess despite my age group being one of the the "target demographics" I'm old fashioned in that regard.

Moving to Linux from FreeBSD on my Armada M300

My Armada M300 FreeBSD notebook, circa 2008
I really got attached to my FreeBSD Xfce desktop environment, think I should be able to recreate it in Linux… if I end up settling on a distribution!

UPDATE: My inner control freak was scared by Xubuntu, so I’m installing Arch Linux after all! I’m also giving serious consideration to Gentoo after reading Scott O’Brien’s comments. To tell the truth I haven’t used it since 2004! Will keep you informed!

As much as I love FreeBSD and praised it’s performance on my Armada M300 in the past, unfortunately I’ve come to realise that it’s simply not workable when it comes to using it as a portable machine. It boots faster than any other operating system I’ve installed on it, and it’s clean file system and ports collection made it a snap to install drivers and software, but there have been too many glitches with the wireless cards I’ve tried, and a few other tiny but nagging issues I haven’t been able to resolve.

For this reason, I’ve decided to make an important decision: I will use FreeBSD on desktop computers and servers, and GNU/Linux distributions on my non-Apple notebooks. Currently I have only one working non-Apple notebook… so a distribution will be going on it!

Tux!The question then becomes… which one? If I had more time to tweak and play around with it, I would install Slackware with pkgsrc, Arch Linux or Draco Linux in a heartbeat on it, but given my time is tight right now for studies I’d prefer to have something I can install and run right away.

Debian GNU/Linux frustratingly continues to elude me; on every system I’ve ever tried to install it on it hasn’t found one critical piece of hardware, and this Armada M300 has been no exception. Despite repeatedly telling it to use the Intel Pro 100 Ethernet card driver in the installation wizard, it refused to detect it. Given FreeBSD and Arch Linux in the past were able to automatically detect this device without any input from me whatsoever, I decided to pass on Debian.

I’m currently downloading Xubuntu because it has my favourite desktop environment installed with it out of the box. Given it has a 120GB hard drive in it, I’m going to partition the drive in half and leave 60GB unformatted so I can try other distributions without affecting the one I may be using for lectures and so forth.

As far as earth changing events go, choosing a Linux distribution after relinquishing FreeBSD’s control over a computer you own is HUGE! I will be informing you all of my progress.

Heck, I may learn something along the way.

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