[NetBehaviour] Why FreeBSD - quick tour of the BSD alternative

marc marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Mon Jul 25 13:39:57 CEST 2005

*Why FreeBSD

A quick tour of the BSD alternative*
Level: Introductory

Frank Pohlmann (frank at linuxuser.co.uk), U.K. Technical Editor, Linuxuser 
and Developer

19 Jul 2005

The FreeBSD operating system is the unknown giant among free operating 
systems. Starting out from the 386BSD project, it is an extremely fast 
UNIX?-like operating system mostly for the Intel? chip and its clones. 
In many ways, FreeBSD has always been the operating system that 
GNU/Linux?-based operating systems should have been. It runs on 
out-of-date Intel machines and 64-bit AMD chips, and it serves terabytes 
of files a day on some of the largest file servers on earth.

The Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) family of operating systems can 
be traced back to the BSD UNIX operating system created and maintained 
at the University of California, Berkeley, since the late 1970s. Today, 
the BSD family consists of five main branches, and even Linux activists, 
comfortable with a plethora of distributions, find themselves bemused by 
the number of BSD flavors appearing in ever-greater numbers. Since 2001, 
when the last major branch -- DragonFly BSD -- was launched, FreeBSD, 
OpenBSD, NetBSD, and Mac OS X represent a new creative surge in the UNIX 
world. All of them are POSIX-compliant. All present similar command-line 
interfaces to their users. All use kernels and system libraries that 
make similar programming models and application usage characteristics 

For legal reasons, BSD cannot be called a UNIX system, but it is widely 
accepted that the BSD flavors represent open source UNIX. Amazingly, in 
the late 1980s and early 1990s, no free operating system worth the name 
running on the PC or Mac was available. UNIX lived on mainframes and the 
Scalable Processor Architecture (SPARC). Proprietary UNIX companies had 
balkanized the commercial UNIX scene.

In the beginning, there was 386BSD

In 1993, two events occurred that were to change the UNIX scene 
permanently: The NetBSD group was founded, and the 386BSD patch kit was 
revived. Ten years before, BSD UNIX developers had been recruited from 
the ranks of U.C. Berkeley staff and Ph.D. students; the money had 
largely come from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), 
but the funding was coming to an end. The 386BSD project came into being 
in 1985 as an attempt to get BSD UNIX to run on an Intel chip. The first 
release did not occur before 1989, and for various reasons, the project 
ended up becoming a reference operating system publicized by Dr. Dobb's 
Journal in July 1992. Known as 386BSD 0.1, it experienced 250,000 downloads.

The 386BSD was mainly based on Bill and Lynne Jolitz's ideas to improve 
the very concepts on which UNIX was based. It was meant to be free, but 
supporting a complete operating system virtually on their own proved to 
be beyond the Jolitzes. The system lost out to the armada of programmers 
joining an almost unknown Finnish student help build Linux.


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