Updated: April 30, 2010
I first heard about GNOBSD, a new fledgling, little known operating system, while reading a rather tragic story aptly named GNOBSD - killed by GUI-is-for-wimps hacker culture over at DistroWatch.com. Hacker culture, that sounds almost like haute couture. To cut the long story short, it turns out GNOBSD was about to bring a big change into the murky waters of UNIX and then, it hit the spiky wall of resistance and resentment of hardcore BSD fans. The developer was so dismayed that he removed the ISO file from his website, but then, after much popular demand, put it back. It's alive and kicking now.
Why you ask, all that resentment? Well, GNOBSD is an OpenBSD-based operating system with a rather unique feature little seen in the UNIX world - a bootable live DVD with automatic hardware detection, very much akin to Linux distributions. And turns out some veteran users really despised this, to the point of turning personal. But I was intrigued and decided to see what GNOBSD can do.
Since, I've not only downloaded the operating system, I'm also sharing it via P2P, so that more people can grab it and have a go at this revolutionary concept. Well, let's do a review.
I thought this article was a good opportunity to shed light on the effort and give it some exposure and encourage brave and innovative people worldwide to believe in their passions and never let naysayers crush their dreams. I'm taking a very underdog attitude here, but in this case, there are no evil empires and draconian corporations dabbling, just one man with a great idea against a handful of CLI ninjas.
GNOBSD, what can it do
Bear in mind that GNOBSD is, at the time being, just a proof of concept. It is a very young operating system and will take time maturing. It's far from being ready for the masses and even in its limited, experimental form, it still has many things to do before it can be fully usable even for geeks.
For the time being, Bluetooth, Webcam, NTFS support, or even a graphical package manager are still not available. You will have a basic system, furnished with the Gnome desktop.
The boot is very simple and unassuming, if a little long, the reason being GNOBSD uses an uncompressed image, which takes quite a bit of time reading. After a while, you will reach an ASCII-decorated menu, which lets you choose what you want to do with the system, whether to start a shell, boot into a live session, install the system, or quit.
If you choose the Live-CD, you'll soon see a lovely Gnome desktop. It's fairly simple and uncluttered, similar to any typical Gnome you have seen so far. The theme revolves around steel gray-bluish colors, giving the system an airy, open, uncluttered and fresh feeling. It somewhat reminds me of Open Solaris.
I tried GNOBSD both on my T42 laptop, with 1.5GB RAM and a virtual machine. On the former, the system had no problem using the 1440x900 screen resolution. The Wireless network was not detected, though. Similarly, when I plugged in an external FAT32-formatted USB drive, it was not automatically mounted. The wired network worked just fine. Again, due to the uncompressed image, initial startup of applications and utilities took quite a bit of time, but once loaded into memory, things moved just fine. Overall, GNOBSD was stable and worked well, considering it's a work in progress. Still, there's lots of work left to do, including fancy services and peripherals of modern desktop usage.
In the virtual machine, things worked equally well, even with modest 768MB RAM. I was able to play with the system settings, including changing the resolution to just about any supported value. Likewise, you get the whole range of preferences available in any Gnome desktop. Working with GNOBSD does not feel any different than a typical Linux.
For the time being, GNOBSD offers a spartan choice of programs, with Firefox, Evolution and MPlayer being the heavy weights, and a handful of Gnome utilities, including a basic image viewer, a dictionary, and a sound mixer. For more, you will have to use the classic BSD command-line package management. This could be quite an issue for less familiar users.
The installer can be invoked from the desktop and is fairly simple to use. The menus are arranged with style and grace and do not overwhelm with unnecessary detail. The BSD security is evident in the enforcement of an eight-character password for both the regular user and the root, without which you will not be able to continue in the installation wizard.
Well, that's about it for now.
GNOBSD is not a complete system yet. But it's a beginning, a great beginning. Alongside its already graphical brethren from the UNIX world, PC-BSD and Open Solaris, GNOBSD could bring a breath of change into computing market. It will sure not shatter the foundations of Redmond and Cupertino just yet or dislodge the highly popular Linux distributions from their throne, but it does not have to be about total annihilation. This could be a benevolent, smart effort to allow UNIX fans a real competitive edge in the fluid, modern, gadget-oriented market. It's never been about technology, but integration into the human society.
I love the concept and I hope it will flourish into a fully usable system that desktop users can enjoy as a viable alternative to other available operating system, with the comfort of security and stability of BSD.
Well, I will definitely keep an eye on it and see how things evolve.
Which reminds me, I ought to merge the UNIX section as a sub-category under Linux. Will do that soon.