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Which *BSD as desktop: OpenBSD or FreeBSD?

Most people who think of trying a BSD would probably go for FreeBSD, but OpenBSD is also a possibility. and is what I prefer. Here I offer my assessment of the differences.

Both are easy to install, OpenBSD slightly more so. But the difference isn't important.

On OpenBSD very little needs to be done. In particular, X works out of the box. Both systems have very good packaging systems, but FreeBSD doesn't always install all the dependencies you might need. For example, I had a lot of difficulty getting LyX Beamer to work on FreeBSD because of unsatisfied dependencies that took quite a time to figure out. FreeBSD has more packages than does OpenBSD but so far I've missed only two that I needed on OpenBSD: qsf and sitecopy, both of which I compiled myself without difficulty

Sometimes things that you would think would be easy need a lot of work in FreeBSD. For example, getting xsane to work as user took me hours in FreeBSD whereas it worked out of the box with OpenBSD. The same applied to printing with CUPS. And FreeBSD gave me a blank black screen when I closed X; there is a solution to this but why did I have to spend time finding it? Suspend to ram worked automatically in OpenBSD but needed research in FreeBSD, and after a minor upgrade from 10.1 to 10.2 it stopped working again (and locked up the computer when I tried to do it).

Both OSs can work well as desktops but FreeBSD needs a lot more work to achieve this than does OpenBSD. For that reason I'd say that OpenBSD is the better choice. I have a lot more information about both OSs; please use the BSD tag below or on the right.


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John Doe on :

OpenBSD as desktop if and only if the user does NOT want to browse the web. Otherwise, surfing the Internet of the "21st century", i.e. HTML5/JavaScript-based frameworks, will become nightmare.

Browsers such as Firefox/Seamonkey, Chromium/Iridium and others are ill-programmed freaks, which consume hundreds of MBs of memory. They are not optimised to run in OpenBSD. As a result, performance of youtube, mixcloud, soundcloud etc. is sluggish, the sound is choppy and video lags all the time.

On the other hand, OpenBSD as a server or router is a completely different story...

Anthony Campbell on :

This isn't my experience. All these browsers work well for me with Youtube and BBC iPlayer (now that BBC provides this with HTML5). I don't know about mixcloud or soundcloud because I don't use them.

Which flavour of OpenBSD are you using? I'm using -current. In the past Youtube was choppy with Firefox and I used smplayer or smtube for this but Firefox (47.0.1) is fine. Incidentally I have had choppy video with Linux in the past.

More generally, there has been criticism of ALL browsers recently on misc@, mainly on security grounds, but I don't think their shortcomings are peculiar to OpenBSD.

meh on :

I have to agree with John Doe - surfing the web with OpenBSD with a modern browser is a slow grind that chews up large amounts of ram and cpu, best attempted only with recent and powerful hardware. On older hardware it's much worse that linux, in my experience.

Of course, it still runs nicely on my old single-core serving files. But my modest Thinkpad runs far better on a linux OS.

If your experience is different do you have some thoughts on optimization?

Anthony Campbell on :

Well, I'm no expert so I don't know why it's working here. I can see BBC iPlayer and Youtube without problems on my desktop (Acer Veriton m460 - 4GB ram) and several different Thinkpads, both amd64 and i386, with either 3GB or 2GB ram.

Looking on the net I found other people with similar experience to yours. On the other hand, it does seem that later versions (-current) work better. Another suggestion is to use simple window managers. I don't have any desktop manager and my window manager is spectrwm, which is light.

I came across this on


OpenBSD has some performance problems playing videos in Firefox. This is due to the excessive use in Firefox of some slow syscalls (which are fast in Linux). Firefox developers didn't test the code on OpenBSD, so they didn't detect the problem.

Use OpenBSD 5.9 or -current. Both include a temporary workaround for this problem.

If I find any more information I'll post it here.

meh on :

Thanks. The link was helpful and led me to the Ted Unangst explanation. Sounds like they're working on it, for Firefox anyway.

Maybe I'll give -current a try again, as you suggest.

Wb7ody Fred on :

XFCE, KDE3, KDE4, GNOME, Desktop-Installer Scripts for FreeBSD

Desktop-installer is a post-install script that contains all the necessary knowledge to build a typical desktop system. It automates the process of configuring FreeBSD as a desktop or laptop computer.

The desktop-installer script installs necessary ports/packages, configures the graphical desktop of your choice (e.g. Gnome, KDE, XFCE, ...), and configures services such as printing and remote login.

Using desktop-installer, a typical desktop system on modern hardware can be fully configured and ready to use in an hour or two. Without desktop-installer, this process could take days or weeks of searching the WEB for information on what software to install and how to edit the system files required to make it all work together.

Hope this helps make a nice desktop experience for you with FreeBSD!! :>) I wonder if someone has made a desktop-installer script for Mate or Cinnamon desktop. or Maybe TrueOS (former PCBSD) Lumina desktop.

Comments welcome here, on your desktop-installer script experience? Me? I am posting from Ghost BSD with MATE desktop interface.URL:

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