PC-BSD 1.5 - the FOSSwire review

PC-BSD logo

When it comes to free software desktop solutions, Linux tends to get most of the coverage. Now Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE etc. are all well and good, but it's all too easy to forget that there are other operating systems out there too that can do th e job.

BSD-based operating systems have been around for a very long time, but traditionally, the big BSD distros like FreeBSD focus on the server and high-end workstation scenarios.

PC-BSD is a desktop-oriented BSD distribution which ships with a full KDE desktop and many of the packages you might be already used to from desktop Linux.

I thought I would review the new 1.5 release of PC-BSD, so, let's dive in!


It's a standard iso image to download, with an optional second CD with some other applications like Firefox and OpenOffice.org. I downloaded both CDs, and booted from the first. After an initial text-based boot menu, the graphical installer comes up impressively quickly. It's not particularly pretty, but it is perfectly usable and reasonably understandable too.

PC-BSD Installation screenshot

To begin with, you have basic system questions about regional settings to answer and the licence agreements to agree to.

Next, you move on to setting up the root password and creating the other users on the system. Interestingly, passwords have to be alphanumeric only (no symbols). I presume this is a side effect of using a different encryption system to most Linux distros. It shouldn't really be a problem, as it's easy enough to pick a different password, but it is a slightly puzzling limitation nonetheless.

Partitioning is often always the most challenging step of any operating system installation, especially in a dual boot environment. Curiously, PC-BSD doesn't support installation onto logical drives inside of extended partitions; you are stuck to using primary partitions only. This could prove to be a significant barrier in environments where it is intended to be run alongside Windows.

For me, this partitioning restriction isn't an issue, as I installed PC-BSD inside a virtual machine. So for the purposes of this review, I just hit Use entire disk and gave it free rein over the hard disk image.

If you downloaded CD 2, you have the option of installing certain packages from it in addition to the base operating system and KDE packages. I chose to install Firefox, OpenOffice.org and a few of the KDE extras that come with the second disc.

PC-BSD install file copy screenshot

The file copying process is fairly plain and gets the job done. File copying took about half an hour inside my VM, but real results are likely to vary.

First impressions

Once the copying completes, you simply reboot. A similar boot loader comes up at startup, and then you are launched into booting the operating system.

It's slightly disappointing that there's no pretty graphical boot screen, but once the graphical environment comes up things look a bit better. Initially, you are invited to set up your resolution and other settings.

PC-BSD Display Settings screenshot

After login, you are greeted with a fairly standard looking KDE 3.5.8 desktop. There are a few links to relevant PC-BSD websites placed on the desktop, along with a HTML 'Quick Guide' and access to important locations like the Home folder. If you've ever used KDE before, you should be right at home.

PC-BSD desktop screenshot

One of the benefits (or not, depending on your viewpoint) of PC-BSD, is that they are a lot more relaxed about free software and non-free software.

A real-world example of this is that if you opted to install Firefox from CD2, you will find that Flash Player 7 is included. Granted, it's not the latest version and therefore might have trouble with some sites, but it's enough to go on YouTube and run a fair few Flash-based applications. The majority of Linux distros don't include software such as Flash Player out of the box for licensing and ideological reasons, making it necessary for most users to go and install that software manually, which usually isn't fun.

Software management

The really interesting difference between PC-BSD and its competitors is in the area of software management.

Software management is a very important part of any modern operating system, and PC-BSD comes with a custom-built solution that works a little differently to the traditional FreeBSD ports system. There is a central repository for downloadable packages, called pbiDIR.

To explain how it works, I'll walk through a typical installation. First of all, there's no application for installing software, it's all handled through the website. So you visit the site in your browser, drill through the categories until you find the software package you want. Then you download it, as a file in your browser. As the name of the site suggests, this file will have a .pbi extension.

Once the file is downloaded, it automatically launches the relevant installer. It looks just like a Windows installation wizard, and feels just like a Windows installation wizard, right down to the typical Next, Back and Cancel buttons. You just Next through, and click Finish at the end. The application you just installed launches right away (if you ask it to, of course).

Installing Yakuake in PC-BSD screenshot

This slightly quirky (for Unix systems anyway) software management paradigm is interesting. For people with no experience of Linux or BSD, it makes the process, well - understandable.

It works in a similar way to Windows does, you download a file, double-click it and click Next a few times. As much as I don't necessarily like this way of doing things, it undeniably lowers the bar and makes it usable for people who have never touched anything but Windows before. Thumbs up.

Uninstalling software is done through a simple interface which lists the installed PBI packages, and allows you to remove them with one click. Literally.

Having the opportunity to take a fresh look at software management has allowed the PC-BSD developers to get it right. Experienced Linux and BSD users might moan and groan about the Windows-ness of it, but it really is slick.

I don't really have much of an opportunity to try out the software updates system, as the version I'm reviewing was released on the day I'm writing this review, meaning there aren't yet any updates available - at all!


PC-BSD is a very capable general purpose desktop operating system. It is certainly as capable as any of the major Linux distributions out there. The particular thing that makes it stand out is its novel approach to software management, which makes it easier for the newbie to use.

The major issue I see is lack of support. PC-BSD is very niche and that is likely to cause some issues when it comes to support. There is an active forum-based community, which I am sure is very helpful, but the level of support simply can't compete with the communities built around other operating systems, such as Ubuntu.

Apart from that, I really am struggling to find criticism for PC-BSD, aside from the minor quirks and some of the rather irritating installation restrictions.

Sure, it might be an unusual choice, but for the standard web/productivity tasks it does as good a job as anything else that's out there. And isn't that what really matters?

PC-BSD 1.5 has been released today, and can be downloaded from the official site (BitTorrent downloads also available from the same location).

What experiences have you had with BSD distributions? Should more attention be given to the non-Linux free OSes out there? Sound off in the comments.

Avatar for peter Peter Upfold - http://peter.upfold.org.uk/

Peter Upfold is a technology enthusiast from the UK. Peter’s interest in Linux stems back to 2003, when curiosity got the better of him and he began using SUSE 9.0. Now he runs Linux Mint 9 on the desktop, runs a CentOS-based web server from home for his personal website and dabbles in all sorts of technology things across the Windows, Mac and open source worlds.

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Discussion: PC-BSD 1.5 - the FOSSwire review

  1. # Posted on 13 March 2008 at 09:57 AM

    [...] FossWire] Share this post: Share this post with the [...]

  2. netromo (guest)

    # Posted on 13 March 2008 at 11:27 AM

    Nice Review. Agree with you on all points. The only thing not working for me out of the box was the soundcard. I'm working on it right now. You can download Firefox (Windows version) with Flash9 and Wine in one package from PBI. Works like a charm.

  3. venper (guest)

    # Posted on 13 March 2008 at 01:24 PM

    I have/had one big problem with PCBSD. I'm using it since 1.4 and I am a newbie when it comes to BSD. The most annoying part is that I can't mount USB HDD automatically. After manual mounting, which took me some afford to figure out, I can't copy my files to USD HDD. I think the developers should fix this problem first.

  4. Jabbal (guest)

    # Posted on 13 March 2008 at 02:19 PM

    Haven't used PC-BSD yet, but have been reading about it a bit.

    Venper, Is the USB HDD NTFS formatted? That would explain the write-lock... Does PC-BSD support ntfs-ng?

  5. venper (guest)

    # Posted on 13 March 2008 at 03:54 PM

    No, I use FAT32. I switch between Win XP, Linux and BSD. Depending on what kind of PC I can find in differrent places. Not everyone has discovered the wonderful world of Linux/BSD.

  6. Carl (guest)

    # Posted on 13 March 2008 at 04:59 PM

    I've just installed this on an old XP1600 with 256 meg of ram. It really looks very good. Hardware was all picked up and I've enabled Compiz and it runs without a lag - impressive.

  7. Mr. Bones (guest)

    # Posted on 13 March 2008 at 07:04 PM

    Well I had used PC-BSD for a short time at 1.3 It worked great, I think however the ports system needs to be better doccumented on PC-BSD since as far as I know Ports still can work.

    Once that as well as some USB quarks (Ive had the usb issue before, cant remember what i did to fix it:P) are straitened out I think it will be less of just a niche system and a more viable alternative to Linux and Windows.

  8. Josh (guest)

    # Posted on 13 March 2008 at 11:01 PM

    Maybe I just am not doing it right (however that may be), but I've never managed to get any sort of BSD to install correctly on a system of mine. I primarily run Dell hardware, and I've had friends tell me that my issue is BIOS related (they say that for some reason my BIOS causes hangs on boot, and just generally wreaks havoc when coupled with BSD).

    Is there any validity on this? (the two major problem machines of mine are a 2005 Dell XPS M140 laptop and a Dell Inspiron 531).

    BTW, Awesome article.

  9. MacLone (guest)

    # Posted on 13 March 2008 at 11:58 PM

    Grub error 22...well...i couldn't even test it

  10. # Posted on 14 March 2008 at 02:59 PM

    [...] has a nice write up about PC-BSD 1.5, with a 8 out of 10 mark. The installation is straight forward and installation of [...]

  11. manmath sahu (guest)

    # Posted on 14 March 2008 at 05:33 PM

    I also found pcbsd to be very much homely and usable. My only disappointment with is it comes in 2 cds. In my opinion it would be slimmed down to 1 cd or fattened to to 1 dvd, and not in multiple disks.

    Besides, on more disappointment is there is not as much and as great applications you will find from a linux distro like debian or mandriva.

    hope the things will improve soon.

  12. Michael (guest)

    # Posted on 15 March 2008 at 04:47 AM

    I'm using a Dell E310 and E521. these box's don't have a PS2 port and will not install PC-BSD. All I get is GAINT LOCKED .... So the waiting for me has begain :)

  13. # Posted on 16 March 2008 at 12:50 PM

    [...] de escritorio de prop

  14. zoltan (guest)

    # Posted on 16 March 2008 at 02:11 PM

    Well, I have installed also, but I've got many problems with it. First, I dont think so, that the second CD is needed. Better to have drivers on it, or othe possibilities, but for just few apps, don't.

    In other hand, if Wifi is could not configured by default, and numlock is switched on - not every notebook user will be happy. Also a big problem, that all of my notebooks are - crying for proper acpi drivers, or detecting clocksource.

    However, PCBSD evolving in good rate, and I hope - I will use the next stable release.

  15. Mark (guest)

    # Posted on 18 March 2008 at 09:05 PM

    PCBSD 1.3 worked fine on my dell computers. PCBSD 1.4 and 1.5 do not work. The reason I believe is that PCBSD 1.4 and higher don't seem to work well with ATI video cards. Dell uses ATI on a lot of systems and so if you want to get it to work you will likely need to switch video cards to NVIDIA card which seems to have good support for BSD and Linux.

  16. Andrew Upfold (guest)

    # Posted on 25 March 2008 at 11:14 AM

    I've installed and ran PC-BSD on a few machines and have been really impressed with it on the desktop. The one thing that stops me from taking it too far is simply that I have the best BSD based operating system on my other computers (OS X) and so never really get past the curiosity stage with it.

    That said I would definitely be dual booting it with Windows if that was my primary OS. PC-BSD seems so slick even compared to Linux distros like Ubuntu and Open SuSE.

  17. # Posted on 30 March 2008 at 04:58 PM

    [...] A peek at PC-BSD Filed under: BSD — 0ddn1x @ 2008-03-30 16:58:25 +0000 http://fosswire.com/2008/03/12/pcbsd-15/ [...]

  18. mato (guest)

    # Posted on 31 March 2008 at 12:41 PM

    PC-BSD is great BUT there are a few things that hold it back:

    • ntfs access is read-only (although there is ntfs-3g ported for FreeBSD it is not integrated with HAL)

    • some partitions are not visible (I've seen couple of PCs with partitions like 1. NTFS (Win) 2. FAT32/NTFS 3. UFS (BSD) and PC-BSD failed to show the 2nd partition which is even more painful as these partitions were for data storing and transfers between 2 dual-booting systems)

    • removing USB storage media without unmounting them first will immediately crash the system (this is an issue with FreeBSD itself)

    These issues are rather serious for majority of users, therefore I doubt PC-BSD will become more used until such issues are addressed.

  19. JW (guest)

    # Posted on 02 December 2008 at 03:59 AM

    I have just downloaded the ISO files for pc-bsd. I will be installing it in a couple of days, but I like what I hear. I read where someone was not sure about using ports and I think it would be good to know about this also. I am looking forward to becoming a unix user. I look forward to a virtually uncrashable OS. I am fed up with Microsoft(not just Windows). They have messed me over more than once and I am gone. Hope I have found a new home with PC-BSD. Will let you know how install goes, but from I have already read elsewhere, I will have some problems because I have USB adapter for connecting to internet. It is a Netgear WG 111 v2 and I guess it does not work on Unix. I have Roadrunner lite. Does anyone know if there is another USB adapter that will work with Netgear wireless router?

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