First off, let me just say that I love FreeBSD for what it is, my complaints stem from what it isn’t (but that I think it could and should be) versus what I need, especially now. I’ve been using some flavor of Linux, FreeBSd, and Windows since 1995 and I’m fairly comfortable with each – when I have a use for it. However, this post stems mostly from my last foray into the world of Unix and Linux and why I’ll never return as a steady user.
I returned to the Internet on a regular basis around 2009-ish, and FreeBSD as my choice in operating system due to disillusionment with the supposed ease and compatibility of Ubuntu (I jumped on that ship around version 10.04) followed shortly thereafter. My main attraction is the low cost of entry, as at the time I still refused to pay what I still call the Microsoft Tax. Every Window’s computer I’ve had, I’ve bought it pre-loaded with Windows or managed to get my hand on a copy of a legit install CD to keep via legal means (thrift stores and yard sales). Windows has never worked well enough for me to justify paying the exorbitant amounts of money they wanted for their operating system and – for a time – I was quite happy with tooling around in Linux and Unix land, learning just enough to be dangerous to myself (oh the stories I could tell of epic failures and some really ingenious bits of code) and keep things useful enough to use on a daily basis.
Eventually I wound up with FreeBSD 9.1 (after having tossed around FreeBSD 8.1 some years earlier and moving on to other projects dealing with Linux) on what I thought was a nice laptop (64-bit, 2.1GHz AMD Sempron, 4GB RAM, sub-HD graphics). What better way to enjoy a nice, stable, secure outing on the Internet then with the creme-dela-creme of modern Unix computing? I choose FreeBSD because I like customizing everything I possibly can. I think it’s an OCD thing, and I definitely take it to irrational lengths at times, but hey. I could do it, and I did do it. The laptop I installed it on originally is now back to running it as I work on a more modern release of the brand and model laptop I have FreeBSD on.
Unfortunately I quickly found some things just wouldn’t work, and I’m not talking about the software. FreeBSD 9.0 installed smoothly and slowly, building source code from the base system on up. Even with the hardware issues I had (and will probably have forever more due to a combination of the hardware vendor refusing to release even a binary package and no one willing to build an unofficial but stable kernel module to take care of the problem), I was enjoying my use of FreeBSD. Though I will admit that even I was starting to get bogged down by my own choices. I literally spent a month testing various login managers to see which one I liked the most, then another month making it work mostly flawlessly.
There was also a few pieces of software I desperately wanted to use on FreeBSD (which worked on Ubuntu), but alas, the company in charge of that still to this day, as far as I know, hasn’t released a native package for FreeBSD and probably never will. Such is the life of a Unix admin, eh?
Of course, that brings me to why I finally switched to Windows 8.1. Aside from my best friend absolutely loving it on his phone and new laptop, aside from the cool ‘Metro’ interface, aside from its ridiculously low price (compared to previous Windows versions on new releases) for the Home version, what did it for me were constant reports of stability and usefulness. It’s slick integration with the Cloud, Microsoft Office 365, and the availability of all of the apps I will ever find useful in my current endeavor as a man of Yah and of business, and the fact all my hardware works, flawlessly, without having to spend several months digging for answers and trying arcane solutions (that still didn’t work). I still don’t like Microsoft, and it was definitely a move of desperation to actually buy a copy of Windows (though through Tiger Direct) and a new harddrive (remember, I still have FreeBSD running, though it hadn’t for almost a year).
Why do I keep FreeBSD around? Because there are some things you cannot learn from Windows, which does almost everything for you. I still also like being able to choose my environment from the picture you see during boot to login manager to desktop environment (or windowing manager if that is your cup of tea, I use WindowMaker myself). I can find software I need to run most applications on FreeBSD, but the more I needed cloud collaboration tools, the less I found FreeBSD useful. I’m sure there were some other flavors of BSD that I could have chosen from, but none of them really suit me. Heck, I still find myself frustrated I cannot even change my boot picture on Windows, but I live with it because the rest of the experience is just fine. I can deal with not having control over my windowing manager, login screen, and the like if it means I can collaborate with my best friend on a book via OneNote (and I can use OneNote on my android tablet, which is a bonus), or sync files via LiveDrive, Dropbox, and Google Drive with one copy and three pastes. I can deal with not using open source software if it means my office documents are accessible 24/7 no matter where I am or from what machine I access them from. I can justify the Microsoft tax if it means I can focus on getting work done instead of having to spend hours to find a solution when a good one already exists.
I keep LibreOffice around because I like it’s database editing/creation interface. I keep The GIMP around because even though I do not like the new workflow (yes, it sucks), it is still the best image editor in the world, hands down. There is nothing inherently wrong with open source/copyleft/copyfree software. It’s just that my own needs have dramatically changed from what they were even 3 years ago. In the end, personal computing is about meeting my needs, not the needs or goals of others. I still advocate for open source/copyfree software (and other forms of information) and see a place for them in the ever evolving computing landscape. Even though I have a strong distaste for Ubuntu, what they showed Linux could do if enough people put in a concerted effort was amazing. Easy to install, fairly easy to maintain, my biggest complaint in the end was the quickly growing bloat in the system. It was worse than Windows by the time I stopped using it, and the abandoning of hardware platforms even as young as 5 years old really ticked me off. The draw for Linux has traditionally been it’s low barriers to entry (running on low-end machines as well as high-end hardware) and Ubuntu abandoned that in favor of eye candy and money. Such is their right, I imagine, but as a user it wasn’t in my best interests to continue down that path.
The same is true for FreeBSD. Even with a mid-2000s, low-end machine it felt like I was back in the 90s. Which in some respects is okay. It is stable, secure, and frequently updated. That’s more than can be said for Windows 8.2 (I seem to recall a Department of Homeland Security bulletin warning people away from the latest incarnation of Internet Explorer), however, I have never willingly used IE so it’s not really a concern for me. I sit at home, typing this via Google Chrome.
That, my friends, is why I switched from FreeBSD 9.1 as my primary operating system to Windows 8.1 (now 8.2 if I’m not mistaken) and that is why I most likely will never return to a Linux or Unix platform as my primary. It will always have a place in my home for a file, web, storage, and media server, but as my day-to-day computer use requires more and more collaboration in the cloud and actually using what others are using for compatibility reasons, Windows has found a lasting home on my computer(s).