What a FreeBSD guy uses NetBSD for


I’m a FreeBSD advocate, and user on most of my personal servers and workstations. But I do keep NetBSD around too for some specific tasks, and suffice to say I enjoy it far more than other OSs I have to use.

(I remember getting audible gasps from the Japanese NetBSD users in the audience at AsiaBSDCon this year when I included a slide of my Mai-HiME NetBSD fan background I made back in 2008. And I’m pretty sure I still have my flag badge from CafePress somewhere).

To get the obvious comparison out of the way, online guides—usually written on otherwise well-meaning Linux websites—state the same old summary that FreeBSD has the widest install base, NetBSD is for portability, and OpenBSD is for security. I’ve got a draft post that explores why these truisms are entirely unhelpful for making real world decisions, not least for the inescapable, misleading, and incorrect corollaries.

But while that post is in progress, I can speak to why I use NetBSD:

  • As well as being a great contemporary, general purpose OS, it’s the best Unix-like environment for resource-constrained computers. It runs beautifully on my Toshiba Libretto 70CT and my Pentium 1 tower, whereas they no longer meet stock FreeBSD memory requirements.

  • Related to above, it installs in such a tiny space it’s great for quick virtual machine tests and boot keys.

  • It was the first BSD OS I ever used, if you don’t count Darwin lurking under my PowerPC iBook G3’s Mac OS X install. I installed NetBSD over that machine in the early 2000s, and it Just Worked™. I keep using DOS for masochistic nostalgia, but NetBSD is a pleasure to use.

  • pkgsrc is an excellent cross-platform package manager, and obviously fits well into a NetBSD install.

  • This is a bit fluffy, but there’s something fun and interesting about using an adjacent OS, for want of a better phrase. I appreciate the camaraderie of my NetBSD colleagues at tech events, and smile each time I see a NetBSD developer’s email on a FreeBSD driver manpage. Ditto OpenBSD, who’s developers provide so many excellent tools we all use.

I’m the maintainer of both the NetBSD and FreeBSD templates on OrionVM, despite knowing the former’s install base is probably tiny. Just like its system requirements! I’m keen to see its continued use, and encourage people to try it out.

I reached out to Twitter earlier this week to ask what other people use it for. If you have any use cases and stories to share, I’d love to hear them.

Author bio and support


Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person in bios. Hi!

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