Complete Workstation

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Installing FreeBSD

For this particular write-up, we'll be using FreeBSD 5.3 -- the 4.x series might be better for you if you've got old hardware, or if you're setting up a server, but for a workstation, we want the latest and greatest.

So, go get your FreeBSD CD -- ISO images available from -- login as anonymous and use your email address as your password and get the first disk's ISO, burn it and boot from it.

Not much will be different from the Installing_FreeBSD_-_Standard_Installation, but you want to be sure to:

give /usr/home a lot of space -- /home is really a link to /usr/home
install the ports collection
create a group for your user
create a user and place the account in wheel
install and configure X
test the mouse daemon

Choosing a desktop and booting into it

Here you've got some choices, you can use a heavy desktop like Gnome or KDE -- ideal if you want an environment that's closer to the Microsoft Windows or Apple Macintosh approach to graphical user interfaces, but they can be slower to load and use on slower PCs -- or user a lighter desktop environment like Windowmaker, xfce or blackbox, which are less user friendly but much more responsive on machines with limited resources.

Once installed, you can start the X Window System with startx. This will launch twm if no other graphical user interface is specified in your .xinitrc. To start your GUI through a graphical login manager such as xdm, gdm, or kdm, launch the one of your choice with root privileges. To make one of these login managers start when you first boot your system, modify this line in /etc/ttys:

ttyv8   "/usr/X11R6/bin/xdm -nodaemon"  xterm   off secure

Change "off" to "on" and change "/usr/X11R6/bin/xdm" to the path to the executable of the login manager you want to use.

Or you may use this line for start whithout entering password.

ttyv8   "/usr/bin/su - username -c '/usr/X11R6/bin/startx'" xterm   on secure

Installing common applications

If you have installed KDE or Gnome, chances are many common workstation applications have been pre-installed for you. If you don't prefer these pre-installed applications, or if you are not running a large desktop environment with many applications, these are some suggestions.

Internet -- browsers, ftp, etc. I like the Firefox browser; Opera's good and Mozilla isn't bad either, but they're both a bit heavy for my AMD Duron laptop. I don't need a whole lot of special stuff in it -- the only real customizations I add are my own bookmarks and some plugins, so I usually install via the pkg_add utility and I usually add the flash plugin while I'm at it:

pkg_add -r firefox flashplugin-firefox

Alternatively, you can use a text browser such as lynx, links_browser, elinks, w3m, etc. if your workstation does not have the X Window System installed, or if you want an alternative browser with good keyboard control and faster browsing speeds. I recommend elinks as a text browser because of its active development, support for CSS, Javascript, tabbed browsing, and other improvements over links.

Email Thunderbird is the GUI app of choice for me, or mutt if I want to check my mail from the CLI. If you really want something that's Outlook-esque, check Evolution out. /usr/ports/mail/gmail-notify/ has something that [gmail] users will want to check out (if you're also a Firefox user, you want to use "make -DWITH_MOZILLA=firefox install clean" to install it).

Productivity applications If all you need is some sort of word processing, consider using an app that does just that -- abiword. If you really will need the full Office-type suite, seems to be a bit better than KOffice, although if you're running KDE, KOffice's integration with KDE is not to be discounted. If you get a fair amount of MS Word documents, you may want to look into the antiword port -- it converts .doc files into ASCII text. Xpdf is my PDF reader of choice.

Audio I like XMMS, but amarok is pretty good too. Both are installable from ports. If you install amarok, you want to install via ports instead of pkg_add'ing it since there are some build-time customizations that you may want to look into. If you want to install the Real player, be sure and install it from /usr/ports/multimedia/linux-realplayer/ -- don't even bother trying to download it (BBC or otherwise).

Video Graphics




There are two distributions based on FreeBSD that offer a full desktop environment 'out-of-the-box' in a similar way Fedora, Mandriva or SuSE have done with the GNU/Linux system.

They are not 'forks' of the FreeBSD operating system but pre-packaged, fully configured and ready to install distributions. Both use KDE as the desktop environment but differ in their intended audiences. It could be said that they are competing products offering different features to attract a certain group of users to them.


DesktopBSD emerged before PC:BSD and the initial 1.0 version was based on FreeBSD 5.5 but the latest release candidate 1.6 version is based on FreeBSD 6.2.

The key feature of DesktopBSD is its method used to install software. It makes full use of the Ports system but with a custom interface in KDE created by the authors. This allows a user to search, download and compile programs from source by simply clicking a mouse. There is no need for a newbie user to learn how to use a terminal window and issue commands (the traditional Ports system is still available from within a terminal console window).

Key features of the upcoming 1.6 version:

  • Live boot system from the DVD (no installation to try it);
  • Improved setup process (for installation);
  • Advanced package management;
  • Vulnerability checking of installed packages (presumably portaudit based);
  • Package list updater (using portsnap, previously CVSup);
  • Improved hardware support and drivers (compared to previous release);
  • Boot loader based on GRUB with user-selectable splash screens;
  • Improved power management (useful for laptop based installations).

See DesktopBSD website.


PC:BSD is intended to be the easiest way for someone new to Unix, in particular FreeBSD, to get a desktop environment up and running in the simplest possible way.

The installation process is fully graphical and wizard driven. Anyone used to the graphical installation stage of recent Microsoft Windows releases (2000, XP, etc.) will be right at home with PC:BSD.

In contrast to DesktopBSD, which relies on the Ports system, PC:BSD uses a concept of .pbi files. These are pre-packaged application installers much like a setup.exe on Windows. The benefit of the .pbi system is that applications are compartmentalised to remove dependency problems typically associated with the Ports system. That said, the Ports system is still available through the console using a terminal window in the traditional FreeBSD way.

Key features of the current 1.4 version (patched to version

  • Based on FreeBSD 6.3 Stable;
  • KDE 3.5.7 and 7.2;
  • Compiz-Fusion 6.0 (offering 3D desktop using OpenGL drivers);
  • CUPS 1.3.3 printing server;
  • Better package updater;
  • Improved drivers (in particular enhanced printer and scanner support);
  • Improved user manager;
  • Enhanced interfaces for firewall, networking, PPPoE, wireless and X resolutions;
  • Native browser based Flash plug-in (for Mozilla Firefox, Opera and Konqueror);
  • Additional X screen savers;

The distribution was purchased by hardware and Unix systems integrator iXsystems around October 2006 (Server Watch coverage). The company continues to provide the distribution for free but offers both a box-set package of the operating system as well as paid-for support service that may make it attractive to businesses users. The box-sets are presently available from Fry's Electronics and MicroCenter stores.

See PC:BSD website and also PBI Directory, the source for pre-packaged PC:BSD applications.

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