Slawomir Wojciech Wojtczak (vermaden) runs FreeBSD

My first devices/computers/consoles (not at the same time) that I remember were Atari 2600 and Pegasus console which was hardware clone of the Nintendo NES.

Back then I did not even knew that it was Atari 2600 as I referred to it as Video Computer System … and I did not even knew any English by then. It took me about two decades to get to know (by accident) that this Video Computer System was Atari 2600. :)

This equipment was used for playing computer games only.

Then I got Amiga 600 computer (or should I say my parents bought it for me) which served both for playing computer games and also other activities for the first time. Amiga is the computer that had the greatest influence on me, as it was the first time I studied the books about Amiga Workbench operating system and learned commands from Amiga Shell terminal. I loved the idea of RAM Disk icon/directory on the desktop that allowed me to transparently put any things in system memory. I still miss that concept on today’s desktop systems … and I still remember how dismal I was when I watched Amiga Deathbed Vigil movie.

At the end of 1998 I got my first PC that of course came with Windows and that computer served both as gaming machine and as well as a typical tool. One time I dig into the internals with Windows Registry (which left me disgusted by its concepts and implementation) and its limited command line interface provided by CMD.EXE executable. I remember that the heart of this box was not the CPU or the motherboard but the graphics accelerator—the legendary 3Dfx Voodoo card. This 3Dfx company—their attitude and philosophy—also left solid fingerprint on my way. Like Amiga did.

Some games was even released as special edition with the only feature being support for the 3Dfx Glide driver like Need for Speed II: Special Edition.

After “migration” from Amiga to PC it never again “felt right”. The games were cool, but the Windows system was horrible. Time has passed and different Windows versions and hardware modifications took place. Windows XP felt really heavy at that time, not to mention Windows 2000, for example, with even bigger hardware requirements. I also don’t understand all the hate about Windows ME. It crashed with the same frequency as Windows 98 (or later Windows 98 Second Edition), but maybe my hardware was different. :)

I don’t have any of mine screenshots from that period as I lost all my 40 GB (huge then) drive of data when I moved/resized the partition with Partition Magic to get some more space from the less filled C: drive. That day I learned hard that “there are people who do backups and people who will do backups”. I never lost data again as I had multiple copies of my data, but the same as Netheril fall the lost data was gone forever.

I always followed various alternatives which led me to try Linux in 2003, after reading about various distributions philosophies I decided to run Slackware Linux with KDE 3. My buddy used Aurox Linux by then (one of the few Linux distributions from Poland) and encouraged me to do the same—especially in the context of fixing possible problems as he already knew it and also as he recently dumped Windows system. But Slackware sounded like a better idea so I took that path instead. At first, I dual booted between Windows XP and Slackware Linux, because I had everything worked out on the Windows world while I often felt helpless in the Linux world, so I would reboot into Windows to play some games or find a solution for Linux problem if that was required. I remember how strange the concept of dual clipboards (PRIMARY and SECONDARY) was for me by then. I was amazed why “so much better” system as Linux (at least marketed that way) needs a system tray program to literally manage the clipboard. On Windows it was obvious, you do CTRL+C to copy and CTRL+V to paste things, but on Linux there (no I know its X11 feature) there were two clipboards that were synchronized by this little system tray program from KDE 3. It was also unthinkable for me that I will “lost” contents of last/recent CTRL+C operation if I close the application from which the copy was made. I settled down a little on Slackware, but not for long. I really did not liked manual dependency management for packages, for example. Also KDE 3 was really ugly and despite trying all possible options I was not able to tweak it into something nice looking.

After half a year on Slackware I checked other Linux distributions again and decided to try Gentoo Linux.

Of course, I went with the most hardcore version with self building Stage 1 (compiler and toolchain) which was horrible idea at that time because compilation on slow single core machine took forever … but after many hours I got Gentoo installed. I now have to decide which desktop environment to use. I have read a lot of good news about Fluxbox at that time so this is what I tried. It was very weird experience (to create everything in GUI from scratch), but very pleasant one. That recalled me the times of Amiga… but Linux came in the way too much often. The more I dig into Gentoo Linux the more I read that lots of Gentoo features are based on FreeBSD solutions. Gentoo Portage is a clone of FreeBSD Ports. That “central” /etc/rc.conf system configuration file concept was taken from FreeBSD as well. So I started to gather information about FreeBSD. The FreeBSD website (back then) and FreeBSD Ports site (still) felt little outdated to say the least, but that did not discouraged me.

Somewhere in 2005 I installed FreeBSD 5.4 on my computer. The beginning was hard, like the earlier step with Gentoo, but similarly like Gentoo the FreeBSD project came with a lot of great documentation. While Gentoo documentation is concentrated within various Gentoo Wiki sites the FreeBSD project comes with “official” documentation in the form of Handbook and FAQ. I remember my first questions at the now nonexistent site—for example, one of the first ones—how to scroll the terminal output in the plain console. I now know that I had to push Scroll Lock key, but it was something totally new for me.

Why FreeBSD and not OpenBSD or NetBSD? Probably because Gentoo based most their concepts on the FreeBSD solutions, so that led me to FreeBSD instead of the other BSD operating systems. Currently I still use FreeBSD, but I keep an steady eye on the OpenBSD, HardenedBSD, and DragonFly BSD solutions and improvements.

As the migration path from Linux to FreeBSD is a lot easier—all configuration files from /home can be just copied—the migration was quite fast easy. I again had the Fluxbox configuration which I used on the Gentoo. Now—on FreeBSD—it started to fell even more like Amiga times. Everything is/has been well thought and had its place and reason. The documentation was good and the FreeBSD Community was second to none.

I even decided to upgrade the hardware to something more exotic. I got Gigabyte-GA-7DPXDW server motherboard with dual CPU sockets—and as Athlon XP (desktop) processors were very easily modified to “be” Athlon MP (server) ones I got also the second one along with 1 GB of ECC RAM.

This dual CPU setup—quite unusual at these times—server me very well. I switched from Nvidia binary blob driver to software, because Nvidia would break my uptime every several days. :)

I accumulated 30 days of uptime on that desktop box, not bad for a system without any emergency UPS. :)

This was also the last time I used ECC RAM on FreeBSD (at least on my boxes) while ZFS did not even existed on FreeBSD. :) But as time flied I started to feel the need for something faster. As I also got interested in Intel graphics card I got the new motherboard with fastest Intel graphics card available then—as silly as it sounds—the Asus P5B-V with Intel X3000 GMA… and that was a terrible idea, because FreeBSD graphics stack supported all the Intel graphics cards instead of that one. At the beginning I used software VESA driver, but the problem was not the performance of the driver (as I also had quad core Intel Q6600 CPU), but the screen resolution. As I got 1280x1024 screen by then using limited 1024x768 was real PITA. I decided that I will try something else then FreeBSD with Intel X3000 support finally arrives. I needed to do something fast as I also needed to write my Masters Thesis at that time.

That was in the middle of 2007. I wanted to try the other end of the Linux distributions spectrum. Ubuntu. I could not go more ‘desktop’ way. :) It, of course, installed gently with GNOME 2 environment and pulseaudio already unfortunately existed. As I preferred to run my computer all the time back then (I hadn’t been paying the electricity bills myself) there were several things that annoyed my very much. For example, the mentioned pulseaudio—the sound freezed after one-two days of using the computer (even if I did not played any music or videos) and it stayed that way. I could restart pulseaudio or reload the ALSA modules, but it stayed in this SUSFU state (situation unchanged still fucked up) until reboot. As I needed to finish my Masters Thesis I did not have time to reinstall into something else as pulseaudio will be probably similarly broken on other Linux distributions and FreeBSD was still lacking the Intel X3000 GMA support. Generally GNOME 2 experience was not bad but I really missed all my custom settings, keyboard shortcuts, and customized behavior. I remained in pain on the Ubuntu for two months—to the time I have finished my Masters Thesis about Operating Systems’ Virtualization which you can download and read, but it’s in Polish so use a translator, if needed. :)

I also had ‘side’ journey to the Mac wonderland as I got opportunity to use MacBook Pro with Mac OS X Leopard for a year. That allowed me to get real ‘feel’ of the Mac ecosystem and their hardware (and philosophy) so I will not repeat same stereotypes over and over again like a lot of anti-Apple people. But after I switched back to FreeBSD system at work it just felt better. I used on Mac a lot, but the xterm(1) on FreeBSD just felt more natural.

What makes me laugh now that I created Mac styled Fluxbox themes years till I got to run Mac and I still like Mac OS X look from the Leopard times.

There was time on which I also played with Solaris (and later OpenSolaris). I must admit that there was time when Solaris so called Java Desktop based on GNOME 2 was really looking good. It was so good that only Mac OS X could only rival it for the best looking os by then.

I really liked Solaris concepts and solutions like Zones and ZFS, also Crossbow, Comstar or IPS (FreeBSD did not had PNGng by then). But I always got problem with ‘desktop’ software. While I had everything in the FreeBSD Ports—almost the same amount of applications that is available on Linux—there was always some applications lacking in the Solaris world.

The Solaris ‘journey’ also left print on my soul so my Fluxbox themes went into Solaris style. :)

After the Ubuntu fiasco I got other motherboard as FreeBSD still did not supported Intel GMA X3000 card and settled in the FreeBSD land again. What a relief it was after this pulseaudio nonsense. In the meantime as I read a lot of good experiences about Openbox I decided to try it out instead of Fluxbox. It was strange feeling to mess with XML configuration files at the beginning but as I got used to it and ordered the rc.xml and menu.xml configuration files properly it was not a problem. Since then I used FreeBSD on different machines including physical servers, virtual machines, and laptops. I learned that adequately supported hardware is the most important factor in FreeBSD ecosystem.

I still use Openbox and still use FreeBSD today and my desktop looks like that one below.

After 15 years of using various Windows, UNIX (macOS/AIX/HP-UX/Solaris/OpenSolaris/Illumos/FreeBSD/OpenBSD/NetBSD) and Unix-like (Linux) systems I always come to conclusion that FreeBSD is the system that sucks least. And sucks least with each release and one day I will write why FreeBSD is such great operating system… if I already haven’t. :)

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8 Sep 2018

P.S. Check out the source of this story with more links and images.

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