Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

DesktopBSD day 12 – What are the DesktopBSD Tools?

There are a few things the average Windows or Linux user takes for granted. Of course your system boots into a graphical interface and when you plugin your USB stick, it appears on your desktop. Both under Linux and *BSD the graphical interface is a matter of choice and preference, something to be changed by entering a few instructions on the command line. Last time I checked – and to be honest, that was some time ago – FreeBSD booted into the command line and I had to start the X-server manually. No big thing, but daunting enough I you expect a graphical work environment.

Compared to most Linux desktops DesktopBSD appears to be just another open source desktop. But when you are used to the text-based install of FreeBSD and the command line as the default interface, the difference is striking. We have already seen the graphical installer of DesktopBSD and today we will have a closer look at the various specific tools that were designed to make for a better user experience.

Package Manager

There are two preferred methods for installing software under FreeBSD: packages and ports. Packages are binary packages and it is quite simple to install them via the command line (# pkg_add -r packagename). In some cases software can’t be distributed in binary form due to license restrictions, you might simply desire the latest available version of the software or set specific compile time options. The ports collection is your gateway to installing software from source. You can browse through the /usr/ports directory or check online (http://www.freebsd.org/ports/) to find the software you want. From the command line you cd to the right folder and then run the instructions # make, # make install and # make clean. It’s quite time-consuming to install in this way, but if you prefer or need it….

In essence this is simple enough, but we can’t consider it user-friendly for the novice *BSD user. Most Windows and Linux users would prefer a graphical tool to do this. DesktopBSD provides this tool: Package Manager. The term “Package Manager” is well chosen for novice users who wouldn’t understand the difference between packages and ports anyway, but we shouldn’t forget it’s a graphical front-end for both systems.

desktopbsd-day12-packagemanager.png

Some nifty tools

DesktopBSD also created some smaller tools that you hardly notice when they are there, but which you would miss once they are gone. For instance, it is very useful for a laptop user to see what the status of your battery life is. You wouldn’t want your laptop to go down without a warning. Same thing for providing information about the network you are attached to. It’s one of the things I enable on any Windows desktop I have to work with. I want to see a network icon in my taskbar. Double-clicking the network icon in the panel launches the network manager. Through the network manager you can set up your local network, your wireless connections and your DSL connection.

desktopbsd-day12-networkcontrol.png

Two other tools are meant to make life easy for external drives and sticks: Hardware Notifications and Tray Mounter/ Mount Control. The first tool simply reports whether new hardware is attached or detached.

desktopbsd-mountcontrol-2.png

The second tool makes it possible to mount or unmount partitions and devices. With Mount Control it becomes a matter of clicking on the right partition entry. When it isn’t mounted it will get mounted and vice versa. It’s so simple you almost forget to appreciate it, but it is much simpler and easier to use than similar tools under Windows and Linux.

desktopbsd-mountcontrol.png

Disk Partitioning

DesktopBSD also added it’s own partition manager to the desktop. You can use this tool to create and delete partitions. It supports UFS2 partitions (used by FreeBSD) and FAT partitions. This makes it somewhat limited in use compared to similar tools under Windows or Linux, but most of those wouldn’t support FreeBSD type partitions also. It can be found under Settings (2) -> Peripherals -> Partition which doesn’t feel like a logical location. With peripherals I think about printers, keyboards etc. and not hardware that is actually in my computer.

Once you have you launched the partition manager you can select the drive you want to change. When it is still mounted it warns you about it and in the next step you can not alter the current partitions. Safe enough.

desktopbsd-day12-partition-1.png desktopbsd-day12-partition-2.png

User management

Adding, removing and locking users isn’t something most of us do every day. Still, it is nice to have a graphical tool at hand that does the job. With Settings (2) -> Security & Privacy -> User Management you can launch the DesktopBSD specific tool. With a few clicks new users are added. Permissions have been kept simple with only three groups: system administrator, extended device access and user.

desktopbsd-day12-usermanagement.png

Conclusions

The DesktopBSD tools collection might not appear earth-shakingly innovative, but it contains the tools to simplify some key areas of software and systems management. The Package Manager is the most visible tool, but the smaller applets in the panel make day-to-day working with the system easy. They make the difference between a powerful, solid platform and an easy to use open source desktop.

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