Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

PC-BSD Day 11: What's the community like?

I began writing about Linux and open source software because I like what is happening in that part of the digital realm, I like playing around with software and operating systems and I enjoy writing. But -at times- it is a trying exercise. When I write a more critical piece about distro A I am accused of spreading FUD, not understanding a damn thing etc. Should I happen to produce a more favorable review about distro B I know I can expect some remarks like “but you should try out C. Much better”. Oh well, if they can’ t find anything else to comment on they can always make derogatory remarks about my beliefs. But, that is part and parcel of the world of Linux as I have come to know it and which -in my opinion- is more damaging to our quest to promote W2L migration than any campaign Microsoft can launch. Ubuntu did not just become one the most popular and widely used distributions because of it’s technological superiority, but because it has one of the friendliest Linux communities around. With that in mind I went on a tour in the digital realm and check out the PC-BSD and FreeBSD communities.

What? No flaming?

The PC-BSD community has its’ own channels for communicating with developers and users. The usual suspects like mailing lists, a forum and an IRC channel are available. There is reference about a wiki in the forum, but that link seems to go nowhere.
The various mailing lists are mostly low traffic with the exception of the one that ties the beta testers together. In the support mailing list i found the following message:

Doug Doug at NaTel.net
Mon Aug 6 11:42:43 PDT 2007
Next message: [PC-BSD Support] thank you
Messages sorted by: [ date ] [ thread ] [ subject ] [ author ]
Download ISO. Burned. Tried to install
overwriting XUbuntu. Said it had overwritten
partitions. Nope. On install, every single
command showed an error message. Went on
for about half an hour before I stopped it.

Ran DOS “fdisk /mbr” to kill all partitions.

Re-ran install. Networking wouldn’t config
automatically. Tried Manual. “/stand/sysinstall”
doesn’t work. “cd /usr/sbin; sysinstall” does.
PCBSD couldn’t find Ethernet port on Asus M2NPV-VM.
XUbuntu did. Windows did.

Oh well. Guess I’ll just reinstall Winblows.
Nice try anyway, guys.

Now, imagine what would have happened on an average Linux mailing list or in a Linux forum? Doug would have been ripped apart by the pack. Everyone would have sunk their teeth into the final sentence and have drawn conclusions about his manhood, his position in relation to humanity and offer suggestions about what do with his computer (no matter how anatomically impossible or painful that would be). The PC-BSD community remained quiet, didn’t waste a single stroke on the keyboard.

Maybe they missed it, you might say. Could be, but there is no missing similar posts in the PC-BSD forum. The forum is well-organized and it shouldn’t be too hard to find the right section to ask your questions or find the answers. The response to Doug-like posts is pretty relaxed. Again, no pack of bloodthirsty hounds, but cool answers and offers to help out. And that is the tone of the entire forum. If there is a discussion it is done with mutual respect and based on arguments. The only thing that could use improvement is a reduction in the number of zero reply threads.

The PC-BSD Knowledge base is good place to check before you start asking questions in the forum. It is a young section of the website and it is still growing. One item to keep your eye on is the project to create a PC-BSD handbook. It is designed to add to the already great FreeBSD handbook. The proposed structure is more catered to the needs and experience of novice desktop users. I can still see some blanks in authors with various topics, but the goal is to have a first copy of the book available when PC-BSD 1.4 reaches maturity.

The website also mentions the PC-BSD IRC-channel (irc.freenode.net #pcbsd). Maybe I was online on the wrong moments, but on the various occasions I monitored the channel there were a few dozen people lurking but no chatter whatsoever. It was a bit of a downer after my experiences with the Ubuntu and SabayonLinux channels.

FreeBSD and information sources

PC-BSD builds upon FreeBSD and highly respects its roots. The new PBI system is designed to be installed and managed completely parallel to the original FreeBSD setup. Novice users of PC-BSD with no prior experience in FreeBSD should therefore pay good attention to what the FreeBSD community has to offer.

The FreeBSD handbook has been mentioned a few times before and it should be compulsory reading for anyone even tipping a toe in the *BSD waters. And it should be considered as a standard for all who attempt to create documentation in the realm of Linux. When you are accustomed to using Google to find howto’s, suggestions and solutions scattered over dozens and dozens of websites and then sifting through the often conflicting information, it is amazing to find so much in just one location. For me, I thought I was missing a lot. When you start looking around, very often you are just referred back to the FreeBSD handbook.

Besides the handbook there are two other online resources that deserve your attention: the FreeBSD FAQ and the FreeBSD Porter’s handbook. The former has some more recent practical information and the latter is of more use to developers who want to create and maintain ports. Besides this there are the mailing lists (officially supported) and IRC channels, newsgroups and various local communities (all without official support).

Casting a wider net: where is all the discussion?

Ever tried to keep up with the discussions in the Slashdot Linux section? Or any other online resource dedicated to Linux? Then you know how busy people can get with all kinds of non-essential remotely associated issues. Keeping track on all of them is a Herculean task.

The world of *BSD is a lot more relaxed, maybe even a bit boring if you are used to the flame wars that light up everyday in the world of Linux. The BSD Portal brings together a few dozen newsfeeds from various parts of *BSD, both from a technological and from an advocacy perspective. BSDFreak, Daemonnews and BSD Newsletter have some more information sources, but mostly they are overlapping.

One site for the bookmarks is the OnLamp BSD Devcenter. You can find a lot of solid content there and links to various other BSD related website.

But where is the discussion, where is the argument, the infighting or biting Windows, Linux and other *BSD’s? It is there, but it requires some more digging. Slashdot has it’s share of articles, but the editors appear less enthused about *BSD than about Linux. OpenBSD’s Theo de Raadt is quite busy now, blaming some Linux developers for disrespecting the original BSD license on the Atheros driver and slapping the GPL on it. He is not alone, he is just the most vocal one.

One final resource where you can find a bit of discussion is Dru Lavigne’s blog. She has a sharp eye, a smooth pen and writes some good and critical pieces. But, in the end she’s still representative of the *BSD world, a bunch of friendly, decent and mature people. I kind of like that.

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3 thoughts on “PC-BSD Day 11: What's the community like?

  1. AllAroundGuy on said:

    A lot of this corresponds with my own experiences with the various linux distros and *BSD’s, regarding flaming and such (and the glorious handbook =) ), but I believe that since less people uses *BSD, and at least a lot less “noobs”, this could partly be the reason behind less flaming in *BSD communities.

  2. Granted, sheer numbers do play a part plus the fact that most people who try out *BSD are the more experienced users. But I do appreciate the lack of infighting 😉

  3. I don’t know if this site is what you were referring to when you said “Portal” but this is the site I use for FreeBSD questions when the PC-BSD forums are not enough or not appropriate:

    http://www.bsdforums.org/forums/

    -Ben

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