Low End BSD

Good-bye Slackware Linux, Hello OpenBSD

Dirk Pilat - 2002.05.24

Goody! (Short for "Good as Gold")

While still expanding my Otago/New Zealandian vocabulary, I had time to think abut the relationship between me and Linux, and after several seconds of intense thinking (short attention span...), I decided that Slackware and I had to part. I gave my CDs to a buddy of mine who understands these things, and I went back to square one to try to find a different OS that resembles *nix.

Fate had it that just on that day, while I was licking my cerebral wounds after hours of unsuccessful configuring of Slackware (which, btw, I still think is a great distro, but I am just too stupid to get it going), trusty old Slashdot announced the release of OpenBSD 3.1.

"OpenBSD, ay?" my Scottish language acquisition device piped, and before I could say "what the...", my Nucleus ventroposteriores medialis gave blowfishthe order to check it out (tricky little nerve bundle in our mid-brain), and I was confronted with a large blowfish, OpenBSD's icon.

Rather attracted by such an unusual mascot, I checked on the history of this *nix dialect, and it turns out that AT&T gave Berkeley Universities a source license in 1976 for their new Unix V6 to tinker around with. After couple of years, every piece of code was rewritten again and again, and Berkeley University decided to release that code under a rather generous license which really was a donation to the public domain.

In the mid-nineties Berkeley's Science Research Group released 4.4BSDlite and spawned the creation of FreeBSD and NetBSD. Theo de Raadt, one of the coders at NetBSD, got pissed off with his colleagues and buggered off to form his own, er, Boy Scout club. He certainly seems to be a person who doesn't mince his words (some people might even consider him a bit on the arrogant side and outright rude. I personally think he's just pretty straightforward and doesn't take any, um, am I allowed to say "shit"?).

After forming OpenBSD (which actually isn't open at all) he scrambled 80 hard core codes around him and started to release stable, secure versions of his OS that took extra emphasis on security and design. As this is all white noise to my non-Unix brain anyway, I thought, "what the heck" and downloaded one of the install images and created a single install floppy on Stinker.

Not expecting anything after two weeks of hopeless installing I was rather pleased to see an installation program that (a) seemed to work and (b) seemed to be geared to a hopeless idiot like me. After reading up on the install file on OpenBSD's website, I was able to breeze through the hard drive setup routine (Slackware was purged. Yes.) and ended up in the network setup routine.

And now comes the cool thing: It worked! The network setup of OpenBSD 3.1 recognised my network's DNS (something that Slackware always refused) and, with the iBook functioning as a gateway, it quickly downloaded the whole distro via FTP, installed it, iBook) without even running an IP-router on the iBook (don't ask me how).

As one of Stinker's main tasks was supposed to be streaming audio (I like BBC's radio 4), I installed an open source MPG player on it (amazingly easy with pkg_add - all you do is tell the OS the location of the file on the Internet/intranet, and the rest is done by the computer) not really expecting anything to happen, as the relationship between freenixes and sound cards is notoriously fickle. It didn't only recognise my weird Daewoo sound card and played my MP3s, it also played 128k audio streams from the Internet (with a P166 and 64 MB. OS X, eat your heart out).

In other words, OpenBSD achieved a degree of functionality in 30 minutes that I was unable to achieve with Slackware after three weeks. Even my Alcatel USB modem seems to work (no compiling of the kernel necessary) on Stinker, so I am now starting to relocate all the unnecessary tasks that the iBook had to endure (audio streaming, file serving, mail serving, etc.) to Stinker and finally freeing the iBook from all its USB hubs and cables. From now on there will just be a little ethernet cable hooking up Stinker to the iBook, giving it the freedom it deserves (and if everything goes to plan, Stinker will even get a WiFi Card, thus freeing the iBook from all cables!).

We have renamed this column "Low End BSD" to reflect the switch from Linux to OpenBSD. From now on we will focus on running this delightful OS on PCs, old Macs, and other hardware.

I am genuinely looking forward to it! LEPC

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