A year of using a FreeBSD laptop without a GUI


A year ago I tried an experiment:

This feels very strange, but I’m writing this post from my on-call FreeBSD laptop, without X! I have everything I need here to remotely troubleshoot stuff and write, all without needing a GUI. It’s been oddly fun getting back into all this stuff, so I thought I’d share it.

I explained that once I’d assembled the VPNs and basic tooling I needed, I realised none of it required a graphical environment at all. I uninstalled Xorg, and since then have been using tmux as my “window manager”.

I’ll admit, I left out that I’d eschewed (gesundheit) a desktop environment for my old friend fluxbox first, but even that seemed redundant given I was only using it to spawn a single terminal window with tabs. Removing xorg entirely was the logical next step.

The Panasonic Let's Note CF-RZ6

I’m still using it in this configuration, and it works great! I can add a new Wi-Fi hotspot to wpa_supplicant.conf and restart netif. I put it on standby with zzz. I can edit posts in vim, do a quick web search in links, read email in Alpine, play some nbsdgames sudoku, and quickly test a stack by cloning an ZFS dataset and firing up a jail. The machine is lighter than my iPad, and is in some ways its polar opposite.

But it did something else for me, in what I’m dubbing The Robin Effect after Robin shared a machine they used for focus. It sounds so obvious in retrospect, but not having a wall of distractions in front of your face is fantastic for writing. I’ve made so much more progress in my various silly sci-fi novels, technical writing, and many of the posts I’ve since published here.

Sitting at a coffee shop on a Saturday morning with just an empty console window and a blinking cursor is wonderful.

Author bio and support


Ruben Schade is a technical writer and IaaS engineer in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person in bios. Wait, not BIOS… my brain should be EFI by now.

The site is powered by Hugo, FreeBSD, and OpenZFS on OrionVM, everyone’s favourite cloud infrastructure provider.

You can leave me a comment by contacting me, and I might publish your thoughts. Please read the FAQs first though.

If you found this post helpful or entertaining, you can shout me a coffee or buy some silly merch. Thanks!