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Author Topic: PC-BSD / FreeBSD  (Read 1271 times)
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LeeCrites
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« on: November 24, 2011, 05:32:48 pm »

Okay, y'all;

I decided that if I was going to do a "fresh install," that I'd tinker about with some options.

As I have mentioned in other posts, I used to use FreeBSD exclusively. It was a workhorse that really did a good job for me. But the problem was installing it. Once it was installed and tuned, it worked so dang well that the root-canal-torture installation process seemed worth it.

Thinking about it, it's been around 10 years since the last time I did an install, and about 7 years since I last used fbsd. I was convinced to switch from SuSE to Ubuntu with 8.04. I liked it -- and, most importantly, all of my scripts and applications worked without a hitch. At this moment, all of my systems (and client systems) are using Ubuntu (10.04).

So what's the deal with FreeBSD? Well, I decided that if I was going to have to do a fresh install to fix some creeping errors that my Ubuntu install and upgrades are suffering from, I might as well check out some of the other distros to see how they are doing.

FreeBSD, while not a "linux" distro, was something I worked with, so I decided to try it out. And since I mentioned it here a couple of times, I figured that I'd document my attempt to get it working.

That's what this thread is all about. For those who are interested, please follow along to see how it works. For those with suggestions for how to get around a problem I'm having, I'd love the help!

Lee
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LeeCrites
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« Reply #1 on: November 24, 2011, 05:50:05 pm »

First point: It appears that FreeBSD has never upgraded their installation process. There is a claim that it will be different in 9.0, but the last stable release (8.2) is using the same process I suffered through a decade (and more) ago.

Second point: The default for fbsd is KDE, not GNOME. I'm not sure if GNOME is even part of the initial installation options. I never used anything but KDE, so I don't have historical references. But I liked KDE (the GNOME desktop took me some time to get used to), so this wasn't an issue for me, but for those who are KDE-challenged, this might be an issue for you.

So... there is a distro called PC-BSD that is, in theory, the latest-and-greatest FreeBSD, with a better installer, and a live test option, etc. So I downloaded the DVD images for both the 64-bit and 32-bit versions.

My first "test" was the "live version" of the 64-bit DVD.

I was surprised to discover that it could not mount and use my Ubuntu system. The drive has two partitions (one EXT4 formatted and the other is swap), but it couldn't mount it and use it.

I was also surprised to discover that there were no wireless drivers that supported my DELL Vostro system.

Since I am using the 32-bit drivers with my 32-bit Ubuntu, I will try the 32-bit version and test it out. I'll report on it in another post.

Basically, my bottom line comment is this: DO NOT USE THE NATIVE FREEBSD INSTALLATION!!!!!!!!!

Make dang sure you have the PC-BSD full DVD version, with the livefs option, and try that FIRST!
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LeeCrites
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« Reply #2 on: November 24, 2011, 07:13:40 pm »

Well, the 32-bit test isn't much different than the 64-bit one.

I noted one real difference: with the 64-bit version, the on/off switch for the wireless device did nothing, and the indicator light was off; with the 32-bit version, the on/off switch for the wireless device did nothing, but this time the indicator light was on.

That might sound subtle, but my impression is that with the 32-bit version, there is at least the HOPE that I'll be able to get the wireless interface working.

Neither of them can handle the EXT4 filesystem. Thinking about it, I'm not sure that Ubuntu would handle a FreeBSD one. I might try it out later.

This box only has 3gig of RAM, so I'm going to focus on the 32-bit versions. My thinking is that I would make a small(er) partition for FreeBSD, a 6gig swap, then another small(er) partition for whatever else I decide to toss into the soup, and then a large(r) partition for the data. But the task is to find a filesystem that both can handle at the same time. I'll have to answer that question after I get fbsd installed and working.




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LeeCrites
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« Reply #3 on: November 24, 2011, 09:00:15 pm »

To get past the issues with the wireless access will require installing software, building kernel modules, altering kernel parameters, etc.

I knew this was a potential deal -- remember, I used to do this all the time. At least I only have to build kernel modules; at one time you had to rebuild the kernel.

I am almost at the point that I want to chicken out. If I hadn't posted all of this, I might have...   Shocked

Like I said, installing FreeBSD is NOT for the faint of heart.
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LeeCrites
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« Reply #4 on: November 26, 2011, 02:16:59 am »

I might be just about to give up on this one.

After spending the whole day working on this, I am nowhere close to an installed system. In fact, everything I have tested has failed. The FreeBSD and PC-BSD forums contained lots of suggestions, but none of them worked (and darn few were up-to-date). The most recent version of the handbook had information that seemed good, but didn't work, either.

I am testing with a livefs version of PC-BSD 8.2. I can make changes to the standing system, but I cannot do a reboot -- obviously.

When I attempt to load Ubuntu on this same laptop, I have the same issue -- it doesn't automagically recognize my wireless connection. It doesn't on most of the laptops or desktops that had to use the wireless internet connection. But there was something built-in (either the "use windoze drivers" or some other fairly-well-documented workaround.

In the time I have spend on PC-BSD today, I have loaded Ubuntu 10.04 on all of the computers in a doctor's office, done the updates (twice), installed and configured their databases, software, printers, scanners, network, etc, and gone home and congratulated myself on a good day's work.

I guess I could just give up and trash FreeBSD, or I could take my computer to some place that has an ethernet connection (which seems to be the only option that works). If I go that route, then I have to hope that when I get everything installed, that the most up-to-date instructions will actually get the wireless connection working.

And the instructions include installing/converting kernel modules, changing kernel configurations, and then hoping when you reboot the system that the new configurations work.

A program like Ubuntu Tweak on FreeBSD would be a killer deal -- but all through the documentation is, literally, instructions on changing kernel parameters, using vi at the command line.

I guess I can't complain too much. I knew going into this that the install was like getting a root canal. From what I have seen, it hasn't changed substantially since 1999.
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LeeCrites
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« Reply #5 on: November 26, 2011, 10:54:56 am »

I have reached this one inescapable conclusion: If you need wireless networking, FreeBSD and it's derivatives is not a valid option. I guess much of this was a journey of nostalgia for me: I remembered how nice it was back when it was working; I wished it did this time; it didn't.

You cannot install FreeBSD with a wireless network and you cannot guarantee that once it is fully installed via ethernet, your wireless network will work.

This is important to me because I have a wireless hotspot, not a router with ethernet connections. So to make this install work, I will have to turn one of my other computers into a gateway (with wireless connection to internet and ethernet to router) and then try to get the laptop to connect to the internet that way.

Let me ask this (obvious and baggage laden) question: If Ubuntu required this much to install it, do you think any of us would have ever heard of it?Huh

...I didn't think so.
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LeeCrites
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« Reply #6 on: November 26, 2011, 02:16:59 pm »

And Example of What I Consider and Acceptable Workaround

I tried to install Linux Mint on the same laptop. It didn't recognize the wireless network, either. Here is what I had to do to get it working:

  • Download latest-and-greatest install DVD, burn it, and boot laptop with it. It went into "live mode," so I could tinker about with it.
  • It did not indicate my wireless network was active (the light was not on), and, sure enough, there was no wireless network listed.
  • I went into menu / control center / hardware / additional drivers.

    It identified that the broadcom sta wireless was needed. When I clicked on the activate button, it tried, but failed -- there was no internet connection. But when it failed, it gave the exact URL I needed to download the .deb package it was looking for.

    I went to another system that had internet access, and downloaded that file, saving it to a flash drive. I plugged the flash drive into the laptop, double clicked the .deb file, and got an error of a missing prerequisite, which included (again) the full URL I needed to download that file. I downloaded it as before, and when I plugged the flash drive in, I double clicked this second one -- which loaded without a hitch. I then double clicked the first one, which also loaded, no problem.

    I went back into the additional drivers window, which now indicated the packages were installed, but no active connection was found. I clicked on the remove button, which did as it was told, and tried to activate it again, which failed -- it couldn't find the .deb files.
  • So I went into Synaptic, and added the flash drive as a target (via settings / repositories / other software). I could not add it, so I replaced one of the others with: Type: Binary, URI: file:///media/ical/, Distribution: binary/ -- which meant I had to move the two .deb files into a subdirectory called binary. This was important, but I didn't know why. It worked, so I was happy.

    I then went back to the additional drivers window, clicked on the activate button, this time it could find them because they were in a listed repository.

    Voila, the wireless network light came on, and within seconds, the network icon started to spin, and it was asking me for which wireless network to use.

THIS is what I consider to be an acceptable workaround!

I can't demand that the install CD/DVD contain every possible combination of packages, but I CAN demand it have the ability to let me work around the issues!

Oh, BTW, total time figuring out the workaround: 13 minutes. That is from the time the laptop was booted into the live system and I noted it did not have the option for the wireless internet until I was actually on the internet.

And BTW #2, it was intuitive enough that I did not have to pour through PDFs of various handbooks and do countless internet searches in order to find the answers.

I'll admit that most of the "intuitive" part of this is due to me using Ubuntu for several years, and knowing what Synaptic was, that that this was where I could add a repository. So I'd say for someone completely new to the Ubuntu family, it might have taken an hour, give or take.[/font][/font]
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LeeCrites
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« Reply #7 on: November 27, 2011, 04:49:28 pm »

Okay, so I gave up. I went to a client site (Sat evening) with a router that I could connect to via ethernet and got it installed. There truly is no workaround for the wireless internet.

Right now my laptop has LinuxMint (v12) in the first partition, and PC-BSD in the 3rd (2nd is the linux swap, and 4th is the fbsd swap -- for some reason fbsd will not share swap with linux, but that's another issue for another day). But GRUB won't recognize it (yet). That's my next task.

Lee
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« Reply #8 on: November 28, 2011, 02:08:40 pm »

Yep, sounds like good ol' Free BSD. I used to run it back in the day when doing everything manually by hand was the norm on both BSD and Linux. I preferred BSD back then. I still run BSD firewalls (pfsense) but I much prefer Linux for the desktop / laptop environment.
I almost always install the OS with ethernet plugged in, and then install the necessary firmware to get the wireless working after install. But I do have easy access to my network via ethernet. I think Linux Mint & Ubuntu's saving grace is the little "Hardware Manager" program that comes up and recommends drivers or firmware for your equipment. If Free BSD (or any BSD) would implement a similar feature, they would become a LOT more user friendly.
Lee, you can always swing by my place and borrow a wired lan connection for a bit!
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LeeCrites
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« Reply #9 on: December 02, 2011, 11:23:45 pm »

I got PC-BSD loaded, but it would never really boot up cleanly. My box was unstable the whole time, and each boot was an adventure in what-in-the-world-will-happen-next...

That is until I did a fresh install of LinuxMint 12 as the only OS. Now my laptop is back up and working perfectly, just as expected, each and every time!

My assessment: PC-BSD is a TON better than plain FreeBSD when it comes to the installation, but it lags so far behind the likes of Ubuntu/LinuxMint that it is just not worth the effort.

And, BTW, I never once got wireless communications working. It worked with I was plugged into an ethernet connection, but never, no matter what tips-and-tricks I tried, no matter how often I installed/reinstalled/rebuilt, did it ever even acknowledge that I had a wireless option.

My assessment: FreeBSD's install gets a D, it's usability is a D-; PC-BSD's install gets a C, it's usability is a D. Now if I was never going to need wireless access, I might be more generous, and give PC-BSD a C+ for usability. But as ubiquitous as wireless access is today, that is an unthinkable shortcoming.

BTW, just by dumb luck, when I went to download LinuxMint, v12 had been released for less than 6 hours. So I snagged it. Since I had the two deb packages needed to get my wireless working, the "live" system was on-line, with the installation running, in under 15 minutes. I thought the straight Ubuntu installation was sweet, but Mint was noticeably better.

Lee
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LeeCrites
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« Reply #10 on: December 02, 2011, 11:38:29 pm »

Yep, sounds like good ol' Free BSD. I used to run it back in the day when doing everything manually by hand was the norm on both BSD and Linux. I preferred BSD back then. I still run BSD firewalls (pfsense) but I much prefer Linux for the desktop / laptop environment.

...

Lee, you can always swing by my place and borrow a wired lan connection for a bit!

Thanks for the offer.

As for the ethernet, I used to do the same -- but since I moved to the CLEAR hotspot, I haven't needed one.

Here is another wonderful thing about the LinuxMint 12 installation -- it actually recognised the CLEAR hotspot plugged into a USB port! When I attached to the wireless, it was using both connections. Now that was just a theoretical advantage since both went thru the same physical hotspot unit, it was kind of cool. I never could get FreeBSD to recognise the wireless OR the USB connection, no matter what I attempted. And yet LinuxMint found and used the USB connection instantly, and within minutes was using both...

The BSD folks need to wake up.

Lee
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« Reply #11 on: February 10, 2012, 10:35:47 am »

PC-BSD 9 review Ė to FreeBSD what Ubuntu is to Debian

Quote
PC-BSD offers you a fully functional desktop environment based on rock solid FreeBSD technology, which makes it the perfect operating system for your first steps with BSD...

Verdict: 4/5
If you love 3D games and donít have an Nvidia graphics card, PC-BSD obviously isnít the choice for you, but if you want to try out a BSD system instead of a Linux distribution, PC-BSD is definitely the way to go. It offers a nice graphical installer and a fully functional desktop environment, with powerful FreeBSD technology under the hood, not to mention the the ZFS filesystem.

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