On this page you’ll find a short introduction into different operating systems based on FreeBSD (FBSD).
Please note, that the systems below are based on and tracking releases of FreeBSD, so you won’t find information with regards to operating systems that branched or forked off FreeBSD in the past, e.g. MAC OS X, MidnightBSD, DragonflyBSD etc.
FreeBSD (FBSD) is an advanced Unix-like operating system developed by the FreeBSD Project. FBSD is one of the most reliable, robust and secure operating systems in the world. It is free, open source and powers some of the internet’s largest web servers, including Yahoo’s and Sony’s (more companies). Rock-solid stability and the ability to perform extremely well under heavy workloads makes this operating system a popular choice among Internet Service Providers and Web hosting companies. A cohesive userland and kernel, the ports system and regular OS upgrades are the strengths of this OS. FreeBSD is a full operating system, and not just a kernel like Linux. Stability, flexibility and security are what one needs for a good operating system, and FreeBSD has them all, whether you use it on your desktop or as server. FreeBSD is derived from the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD), the version of UNIX developed at the University of California at Berkeley between 1975 and 1993. FreeBSD is not a UNIX clone. Legally, it may not be called UNIX, since UNIX is now a registered trade mark. FreeBSD runs on Intel processors as well as on DEC Alpha, Sun UltraSPARC processors, Itanium (IA-64) and AMD64 processors and soon on Suns Niagara servers (FreeBSD 7).
“Why FreeBSD” is an interesting article written by IBM giving some background information of FBSD.
FreeBSD is an operating system that is highly flexible and can therefore be used for various purposes:
- Servers (Web, Email, FTP, files etc etc)
- Desktop systems:
- Network Attached Storage:
- Live CD.DVD:
- Pocket Seize / Ultra light:
- Discontinued and unmaintained systems
2 Desktop systems
PC-BSD is a desktop-oriented operating system based on FreeBSD (PC-BSD is pure FreeBSD, not a fork) and has been designed with the “casual” computer user / Windows user in mind. PC-BSD is very easy to install by using a graphical installation program, and hardware such as video, sound, network and other devices are auto-detected and available at the first system startup. Home users will immediately feel comfortable with PC-BSD’s KDE desktop interface. What sets PC-BSD apart is its package management. PC-BSD’s package management system takes a different approach to installing software than many other Unix-like operating systems. Instead of utilizing FreeBSD’s ports or packages system (although these are still available), PC-BSD uses files with the .pbi filename extension which, when double-clicked, brings up an installation wizard program. PBIs are self-contained and self-installing packages that are reminiscent of .exe files. Regardless if you have the libraries installed or not, each PBI contains everything it needs to run. All PBIs are installed in their own self-contained directories in /Programs, decreasing confusion about where the binary programs reside and reducing the possibility of breaking a package if system libraries are upgraded or changed. The PC-BSD package manager also takes care of creating links in the KDE menu and on the KDE desktop.
- Website: http://www.pcbsd.org
- Core Team/Developer: Kris Moore, Tim McCormick, Gon Martinez, Gerard van Essen, Matt Olander
- Linux equivalents: Kanotix (Klick), Kubuntu with Autopackage
Tomahawk Desktop is a general purpose operating system for personal computers as well as for laptop computers based on BSD code with K Desktop Environment (KDE). Earlier versions of the Tomahawk Desktop was based on Linux for practical reasons. After evaluating various BSD offerings it was decided to use the FreeBSD as the foundation for Tomahawk Desktop kernel and for its key libraries.
One of the distinctive features of the Tomahawk Desktop is all user applications run in real-time as in Apple Mac OS X. Ability to run user processes in real-time is a fundamental requirement for professional audio and video production and playback. This is a modular operating system, most of the components are open source packages used as is or modified to suit our requirement, we also incorporate software developed by us and third-party proprietary software from other companies under license.
Tomahawk uses a radically different Package Management System. Packages are installed by normal users called package users rather than the superuser. It doesn’t maintain a database, therefore, there is nothing to corrupt.
Once a package is installed by a package user, all files installed by that package user are marked in the system as installed by that package user. This is one of the standard house keeping information kept by any Unix-based file system. Therefore, in Tomahawk Desktop, just by looking at a file, you can tell to which package it belongs to.
- Website: http://www.tomahawkcomputer.com
- Developers: Tomahawk Computers
- Linux equivalents: Kanotix (Klick), Kubuntu with Autopackage
m0n0wall is a project aimed at creating a complete, embedded firewall software package that, when used together with an embedded PC, provides all the important features of commercial firewall boxes (including ease of use) at a fraction of the price (free software). m0n0wall is based on a bare-bones version of FreeBSD, along with a web server, PHP web GUI and a few other utilities. The entire system configuration is stored in one single XML text file to keep things transparent. m0n0wall is probably the first UNIX system that has its boot-time configuration done with PHP, rather than the usual shell scripts, and that has the entire system configuration stored in XML format. M0n0wall provides a small image which can be put on Compact Flash cards as well as on CD-ROMs and hard disks. It runs on a number of embedded platforms and generic PCs. The PC version can be run with just a Live CD and a floppy disk to store configuration data, or on a single Compact Flash card (with an IDE adapter). This eliminates the need for a hard drive, reducing noise and heat levels and also increasing reliability because the possibility of a physical hard drive crash is eliminated.
- Website: http://m0n0.ch/wall/
- Screencasts: http://m0n0.ch/wall/screencasts.php
- Core Team/Developer: Manuel Kasper
- Linux equivalent: Leaf, DD-WRT, Open-WRT, etc
There are 2 derivatives that are based on m0n0wall
- pfSense – Builds off of m0n0wall and adds plugins such as ntop, nmap, pure-ftpd, and more.
- FreeNAS – Network-attached storage OS using FreeBSD 6 and the m0n0wall web GUI.
pfSense is an open source firewall operating system derived from m0n0wall, which, as the name implies, uses the PF packet filter from OpenBSD. Its goals differ from those of m0n0wall in that pfSense attempts to provide a heavy, feature rich routing platform. pfSense comes with an integrated package management system for extending the environment with new features. Some of the extra features that pfSense has over m0n0wall are PPPoE Server, ALTQ Traffic Shaping, CARP, multi-WAN, load-balancing, FTP-Proxy, ALIAS-system, etc.
- Website: www.pfsense.com
- Core Team/Developers: Scott Ullrich, Chris Buechler, Bill Marquette
- Linux Equivalents: Leaf, DD-WRT, Open-WRT, etc
4 NAS Server
FreeNAS is a free NAS server (Network Attached Storage), supporting CIFS (samba), FTP, NFS (Network File Protocol), RSYNC protocols, local user authentication, Software RAID (0,1,5) with a full Web configuration interface. FreeNAS takes less than 64MB once installed on Compact Flash, hard drive or USB key. FreeNAS is currently distributed as an ISO image and in source form. It is possible to run FreeNAS from a Live CD, with the configuration files stored on an MS-DOS-formatted floppy disk. There is also a VMWare disk image available. The minimal FreeBSD distribution, Web interface, PHP scripts and documentation are based on M0n0wall.
- Website: www.freenas.org
- FreeNAS demo: http://demo.freenas.org/
- Core Team/Developer: Olivier Cochard-Labbé, Volker Theile
- Linux equivalent: NASLite, OpenFiler
5 Live CDs
FreeSBIE is a Live CD based on the FreeBSD operating system, or even easier, a FreeBSD-based operating system that works directly from a CD, without touching your hard drive. Currently, FreeSBIE uses Xfce and Fluxbox as window manager. The goal of the FreeSBIE project is to develop a suite of programs to be used to create one’s own CD, with all the personalizations one likes.
- Website: www.freesbie.org
- Core Team/Developer: Davide D’Amico, Dario Freni, Matteo Riondato, Timothy Redaelli
- Linux equivalent: Xubuntu
HamFreeSBIE is a live CD based on FreeSBIE and contains utilities specifically tailored to fit the needs of amateur radio operators. HamFreeSBIE is developed and maintained since February 2007 by Diane Bruce, a well-known FreeBSD developer.
Diane has created a presentation that gives a great introduction into the various available ham utilities (incl screenshots & descriptions). She has also assisted in the creation of the Hamradio ports category and has become the maintainer of over 20 of the hamradio ports.
- Website: http://www.db.net/hamfreesbie/HamFreeSBIE.html
- Core Team/Developer: Diane Bruce
- Linux equivalent: digipup
RoFreeSBIE (Romanian Free System Burned in Economy) is a Live DVD/CD installable on hark disk. Its goal is not to create another operating system, but to promote FreeBSD and make it an educational tool and a mobile desktop too. Initially, RoFreeSBIE 1.0 was made using FreeSBIE’s scripts, but version 1.1 and higher were released with RoFreeSBIE’s own scripts. When running the Live CD all configurations and settings can be saved on a floppy, USB memory stick or email account.
- Website: www.rofreesbie.org
- Core Team/Developer: Angelescu Ovidiu
- Linux equivalent: Debian, Kubuntu, etc
TrueBSD is a LiveDVD operating system based on FreeBSD with many useful applications. All open programs will keep working even when you eject LiveDVD in order to get some data from your own CDs. Just don’t forget to insert the LiveDVD again before starting any other programs.
- Website: www.truebsd.org
- Core Team/Developers: Alexey Sokolov
- Linux Equivalents:
GhostBSD is a Gnome based FreeBSD liveCD. The project started in November 2009; so far there’s only a beta with very little information about the project, it’s members, goals etc.
- Website: http://www.ghostbsd.org
- Developers: Unknown
- Linux equivalents: Ubuntu
6 “Pocket seized”
FreeBSD was developed with server use in mind. It’s rock solid and ultra stable, and therefore perfectly suited to be used where reliability is required. Since FreeBSD is a flexible operating system, it can be easily adapted for other uses as well; one of which is the use on embedded systems or systems requiring a stable but small-footprint OS.
There are three such small bare-bones versions of FreeBSD (as far as i’m aware): TinyBSD, NanoBSD and miniBSD.
TinyBSD is a set of tools and shell scripts, part of the FreeBSD base system (/usr/src/tools/tools), designed to make the development of embedded systems based on FreeBSD as easy as possible. The TinyBSD script can be used on FreeBSD 5.x, 6.x and 7.x and 8-CURRENT to created a mini FreeBSD version.
The installed FreeBSD generates an embedded system image which is about 20MB in size and is a very generic approach. It comes with support for a number of wired NIC support and also the most popular wireless support, divert, bridge, dummynet, firewall, etc; and CPU_ELAN (for soekris devices). If the “generic” system gets tightened up the final result can be as low as an 8MB embedded system.
The process (though not graphical) can in a way be compared to nLite, a freeware application that lets users customise and remove components from their Windows installation CD and create a new customised, slimmed down ISO.
- Developers: Jean Milanez Melo and Patrick Tracanelli
- Website: http://www.tinybsd.org
NanoBSD is a tool that creates a fully working FreeBSD system image for embedded applications, suitable for use on a Compact Flash card (or other mass storage media). The objective is to get a FreeBSD-like environment running on a CF-card with no extras by stripping down and customising FreeBSD.
NanoBSD is created by compiling it from the FreeBSD source tree (/usr/src/tools/tools/nanobsd) and it works with FreeBSD 6.x, 7.x and 8.0-CURRENT releases.
NanoBSD can be used to build specialised install images, designed for easy installation and maintenance of systems commonly called “computer appliances”. Computer appliances, e.g. routers and firewalls, have their hardware and software bundled in the product, which means all applications are pre-installed. The appliance is plugged into an existing network and can begin working (almost) immediately.
One of the advantages of NanoBSD is that it’s part of the FreeBSD base system and it is easy to create, customise and use.
The features of NanoBSD include:
- Ports and packages work as in FreeBSD. Every single application can be installed and used in a NanoBSD image, the same way as in FreeBSD.
- No missing functionality. If it is possible to do something with FreeBSD, it is possible to do the same thing with NanoBSD, unless the specific feature or features were explicitly removed from the NanoBSD image when it was created.
- Everything is read-only at run-time
- Easy to build and customise. Making use of just one shell script and one configuration file it is possible to build reduced and customized images satisfying any arbitrary set of requirements.
- Developer: Poul-Henning Kamp
- Backround information: PDF presentation
- Website: http://www.freebsd.org/doc/en_US.ISO8859-1/articles/nanobsd/article.html
miniBSD is a project developping a set of scripts that shrinks a running FreeBSD system to a small sized distribution suited for mass storage media, such as USB memory sticks and CF cards.
The size of the distribution is generally about 12-15Mb and contains everything one needs to run a FreeBSD system comfortably.
The scripts collect the necessary binaries, libraries, configuration files on a running FreeBSD system (4.x, 5.x and 6.x) and creates a disk image that can be saved on a CF card or USB memory stick.
The project started with the goal to create a FreeBSD system that could be fitted on a small compact flash without loosing too much of a full FreeBSD system. miniBSD is in a way half way between TinyBSD and NanoBSD.
Being small and fully featured makes miniBSD an optimal choice to develop routers, bridges, firewalls and vpn gateways.
- Core Team: Gianmarco Giovannelli, Paolo Pisati, Davide D’Amico, Riccardo Torrini
- Website: http://www.minibsd.org or https://neon1.net/misc/minibsd.html
Evoke is a small (50mb or less) FreeBSD live-CD desktop environment geared toward developers and system administrators, but there are also applications included that the average user may find useful. Evoke comes with everything you need in a basic desktop environment. Included are the fluxbox window manager, firefox, xmms, tools to help you get work done, such as an ssh server, a mini httpd, xvncviewer, and many more applications. The project’s goal is to be able to run on older hardware with little memory, as well as modern machines, while providing a responsive desktop. Both SMP and uniprocessor machines are supported. More architectures may come in the future.
- Website: Evoke
- Core Team/Developer: Dylan Cochran
- Linux equivalent: DSL Linux
- nanoBSD has replaced picoBSD, which is out of date and hasn’t been updated for a long time.
- A new embedded version of FreeBSD was being worked on, ShinyBSD, but development has ceased and the developer now recommends TinyBSD.
Wikipedia: Comparison of BSD operating systems
7 Discontinued and Unmaintained Projects
DesktopBSD is a desktop-oriented operating system based on FreeBSD. DesktopBSD is essentially a customized installation of FreeBSD and is not a fork. DesktopBSD’s goal is to combine the stability of FreeBSD, the ease-of-use and functionality of KDE (the default desktop interface) and specially developed tools to provide a system geared toward desktop use that’s easy to use and install. Instead of the user having to go through a difficult process of setting up FreeBSD with KDE and editing configuration files manually, the DesktopBSD developers have done this already.DesktopBSD is available for the IA-32 and AMD64 platforms. DesktopBSD’s main feature, apart from being a pre-customised version of FreeBSD, is the DesktopBSD Package Manager, a graphical tool for managing, installing and updating software using the FreeBSD ports system.
- Website: www.desktopbsd.net
- Core Team/Developer: Peter Hofer, Daniel Seuffert, Oliver Harold
- Linux equivalents: Kubuntu, Debian, etc
Reason for discontinuation: lack of time. Peter Hofer writes:
This is the last and final release of the DesktopBSD project. I find myself having less and less time to spare lately and no longer desire to keep developing and maintaining this project. However, because DesktopBSD is based entirely on FreeBSD, further support for the operating system and availability of up-to-date software for DesktopBSD 1.7 is ensured.
Frenzy is a “portable system administrator toolkit” Live CD based on FreeBSD. It generally contains software for hardware tests, file system check, security check and network setup and analysis. Currently development is frozen until FreeBSD 7.0 has been released, on which the new release will be based. Unfortuately, the development of Frenzy has stopped.
- Website: http://frenzy.org.ua/eng/
- Core Team/Developer: Sergei Mozhaisky
- Linux equivalents: Knoppix Linux, FaunOS, etc
Reason for discontinuation: Sergei created it to make his jobs at work easier. Frenzy is not required anymore.
AskoziaPBX aims to make the power of Asterisk available to the average user in a slimmed down, embedded PC friendly form. (PBX is short for private branch exchange, a private telephone network used within an enterprise). AskoziaPBX uses Asterisk and is based on the m0n0wall development framework, making managing telephone networks easy (SIP, ISDN, Conferencing, Voicemail, call groups, call parking etc). Though this is still a relatively new project, is it a very polished system. AskoziaPBX is not a Live CD but rather an image that must initially be written to a disk (a dedicated machine is required), after which the entire system is upgradeable through the web GUI.
- Website: www.askozia.com/pbx
- Core Team/Developer: Michael Iedema
- Linux equivalent: Astlinux
Reason for discontinuation: AskoziaPBX has move to a Linux base to make development easier.