Updated: April 3, 2014
Turn around bright geeks, every now and then I get a little bit curious and take a UNIX system for a spin. Without trying too many unfunny Bonnie Tyler would-be quotes, the scapegoat for today's test is PC-BSD 10.0 Joule, the latest of its kind.
The last time I fiddled with PC-BSD, despite my rather nostalgic like toward it, the experience ended in a total fiasco. The live DVD booted fine, but then the network was borked, and I stopped right there. Hardly a fitting outing for 2012, and now two years forward, perhaps things will be a little better. I hope. Let's see.
Looking around, I could only find the full install DVD and no live edition. This meant I could not test the system on my standard set of laptops, because PC-BSD is greedy, and it would destroy the disks and the partition table with its own scheme and data. Instead, I opted for a more vanilla kind of review using VirtualBox. Sure, it's not the same thing like real hardware, but still.
The installer wizard is both simple and complicated. Simple in that you don't need too much to install the system, complicated, because you might not really be sure about all the little options and customization. Disk partitioning and the filesystem are the bits and pieces you should heed carefully, and make sure you don't lose any data if you go for physical installations.
There are several installation options. You can choose the desktop or server software selection. The former will give you the full KDE software package. However, the installer may also complain if you have less than 50GB of space available. It will tell you that the setup could fail, although you can easily get by with 20GB for the default selection. Either way, 50GB is ridiculous.
Disk selection, filesystem, and off you go. I did not fiddle too much, because ZFS demands respect, so if you're not ready for the task, you'd better not. The installation was relatively slow, at about 30 minutes.
Exploring all that energy
PC-BSD Joule comes with a standard KDE desktop, with a nice rounded theme. You also have the first use guide, which explains the concepts of the system, network connectivity and package management. Of course, this is less of an issue with a virtual system, so I can't really say what happens with Wireless cards here and there.
Networking & Samba
The standard Wired worked fine, and so did Samba to Windows shares, with only an occasional timeout hiccup. It was fairly good, but then, remember, I avoided the Wireless fiasco from the last time, so it's not a good comparison.
Installing new software in UNIX systems can be a pain. However, PC-BSD 10.0 makes it an easy and enjoyable experience with its AppCafe. There's a proper package manager for you in every sense. Grab a program you want, install it. Add shortcuts and whatnot. However, counting the available list, it comes down to 802 components. Is that a lot? No. Is it useful and relevant? Perhaps. Does anyone need the 30,000 apps in a typical Linux distro repo? That's a good question, too. But I will leave all the answers to you, because you will need to figure out if the system cuts it.
Not all was golden. For example, I installed Firefox only to have it fail to launch due to a profile problem. It wasn't creating one, and trying to delete things or use an existing profile from a different host did not really work. No matter what I tried, Firefox would simply not start.
The second part of the package management is updates. Here, I had a bunch show up, and the system installed the needed patches just fine. I did not dabble with the underlying functionality, because that's not the point if we're trying to discuss an operating system from the humane perspective.
The default repertoire is rich, although not without fault. On the bright side, you do get a handful of good, useful software, but you will need to use AppCafe quite often. You do have a lot of native KDE programs, plus some odd choices. There's Konqueror, as the default browser, but it didn't do any good. It can't resolve searches directly in the URL field, and you will get annoying unhandled protocol errors. The search itself is also rather wonky, and the actual support is bad. Youtube was unusable, for instance, and I had to go for a second browser just to demonstrate Flash. Hence, my fiasco with Firefox, and then a third browser, Chromium, just to make it happen.
You also get Kmail, KOrganizer, Blogillo, GIMP, MPlayer, VirtualBox, which makes for an inception-style choice when testing inside a virtual machine, and more. No LibreOffice or alike. There were problems, too. For example, Marble crashed every single time. Some of the extra software did not work as expected. See Firefox just above.
Managing the system
On top of what we've discussed earlier, you have a full proper control center that lets you navigate the mysterious waters of BSD and manage your box. It feels alien, modern and outdated at the same time.
Music worked fine and without any issues. Flash was a tough one, mostly because the default browser was giving me the stink eye, and I was not able to run Firefox. Eventually, it was all there.
Samba printing did not really work, as in the Browse button was grayed out. I was able to reach the relevant devices, albeit manually, but then, the printer didn't do much, even after I configured it. The spool light would blink whenever there was a print job dispatched to the device, but the total count of pages printed was zero. Notice the ugly theming. The print icon is also missing.
System resources & performance
I allocated 4GB and two cores to my virtual machine, plus the virtual hard disk is located on a separate device, and even so, the performance was not so stellar. It was distinctively slower than most Linux distributions. Memory usage was also rather high, almost 1GB. Moreover, PC-BSD 10 does not have an option to suspend or hibernate the system.
I would like to be able to say, this UNIX-like system rocks. But more and more, I find it difficult to do that. Once, I had such high hopes for Solaris, BSD and friends, but simply put, they have no place in the modern desktop world anymore. PC-BSD 10.0 Joule is a prime example. An aggressive disk-eater installer, a history of hardware compatibility issues and a lack of live edition that prevented me from testing on a real system, a huge disk space requirement, applications woes and crashes, printing problems, sub-stellar performance. Overall, just an average offering, with none of the Linux familiarity.
You may argue super-advanced features under the hood, but for the common user, there's really no point. Why would anyone bother with all these obstacles and shortcomings, when they can have a simple Linux distro, and forget all about it. Anyhow, PC-BSD Joule is a new and modern system haunted by its past. Not flexible enough for 2014, go for Linux, you'll be better off in the long run. Grade: 6/10.