Saturday, February 27, 2016

One Week with NetBSD 7.0: A belated post-mortem

Excuses, excuses...

I know my week-long adventure with NetBSD 7.0 ended more than a week ago, and I certainly intended some sort of wrap-up well before now. However, life got in the way and threw my plans off-kilter. For the first two or three days after said week ended, it was a case of my responsibilities as a father of two young boys conspiring with the resulting end-of-day brain melt that goes with such a role to trigger a monumental case of procrastination as far as blog-related matters go.

After those two or three days, however, my good intentions to nail the lid on this NetBSD experiment was again derailed, this time by an illness, which going by previous experience I believe was a nasty bout of food poisoning. The first day felt like death without dying. (I won't go into any detail here, except to say that I couldn't even keep Gravol down.)

As the days wore on, and as I gradually came back to life, I had a SunOS relapse, this time in the form of OpenIndiana Hipster (the October 2015 iso patched up to that day's build), which this time around seemed a heckuva lot more unstable than my previous fling. Don't think for a moment I'm intending this as a negative - Hipster is OI's fast-moving 'test' branch, and so I went into it expecting some breakage, and even ended up submitting two bug reports, which in itself was part of the itch I was scratching.

Craving a bit more stability, I then reinstalled Oracle Solaris 11.3 and was able to get in a few days of using my laptop for actual productivity purposes. However, it didn't take long before I was missing the stripped-down sensibility that is NetBSD, and so earlier this evening I decided to take another plunge back into the pool, and followed the directions I had noted in earlier posts to get myself back to where I was before. (I'm too frugal to spend money on sticky notes, so instead I leave notes to myself on my blog. So if you see a post resembling a shopping list or a reminder to return a library book, you'll know I'm just being practical.)

And so now I'll be working to cross the remaining goals off my original list, which consists of conquering wireless connectivity as well as getting Audacity up and running. (I did pkgin install audacity, but when I go to start it I get a message saying Shared object "libportaudio.so.2" not found. I'm hoping a quick Google search or two will lead me to the promised land.)

As for  SD card readability and digital video playability, that can wait because I need to buy a new SD card USB adapter. (The little card slots on the adapter got caked with chocolate. Don't ask.)

And so the curtain falls

That's the road ahead for now, and so although my One Week with NetBSD 7.0 blog series is now concluded, I am not done with NetBSD 7.0 itself, and plan to write more about it whenever I have anything worthwhile to share or simply feel like gushing about this worthwhile system.

As for closing thoughts, I think much of the attraction (for me) to a system like NetBSD (or its siblings, OpenBSD and FreeBSD), aside from coming with console Tetris out-of-the-box, is that it makes no assumptions about what you're going to do with it, which would explain why a fresh install consists simply of the base system, Xorg and a Reagan-era window manager (twm). Where you go with it from there is completely up to you.

That's the lure of the big three BSD-based operating systems for a fella like me, as they embody what I consider the ultimate computing experience, in that the user is trusted and respected enough by the system's developers that they are free to explore, study and modify the system in any way they see fit. Compare that to Windows or Mac OSX, where the user is confined to a walled garden controlled by the vendor. (Yes, OSX is BSD-derived, but it is not the freeform experience of any traditional BSD or UNIX system. While Apple has a healthy respect for great design principles, its products lead the proverbial horse to water and then force it to drink.)

In short, systems like Windows, OSX and Ubuntu, not to mention Android and other tablet/smartphone operating systems, are built to serve corporate vanity and profits, full stop, and thus do not trust the user to modify as they see fit. (Oracle Solaris is somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, as it allows for much customizing for those who know what they're doing, but is nevertheless a closed-source system with certain limitations on use, particularly for those using it at home for free.)

With the traditional BSD systems, you are limited only by your own skills, knowledge and sensibilities. NetBSD is as good a standard-bearer as any for this level of versatility. After all, it can run a toaster or provide TCP support for satellite networks.

Also, if you have a sincere love for Unix and/or want to learn it from the ground up, then I don't think you could possibly go wrong with NetBSD. And while I don't think any "Unix" operating system (even ones that are legally-entitled to market themselves as "UNIX(TM)") can claim to have enough code purity to be the one true descendant of AT&T Unix, the BSD's can all trace their lineage directly to the original system, and all three provide as traditional a Unix experience as possible (second only to booting Version 7 Unix in simh), while also providing access to most of the graphical applications one would need or want in this Windows-based world.

So while NetBSD may not be able to call itself UNIX(TM), it is certainly Unix to the nth degree in more ways than one, and possibly to a greater extent than some of the systems that are officially certified by The Open Group, the organization that owns and polices the UNIX trademark.

And finally, NetBSD will not hold your hand but it will give you an opportunity to learn that's simply not provided by more GUI-based systems. If you keep at it and give yourself permission to make mistakes, figure out solutions, and simply forge onward, you may find yourself able to do more with your hands than you previously thought possible.

As for myself, I still have some learning to do, so I'll be keeping NetBSD around for awhile.