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What is FreeBSD?

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Brian Tiemann

What Is FreeBSD?

What server operating system do all the really major Internet services use? It's UNIX. But what kind of UNIX? It all depends on how much money you're willing to spend; and depending on which flavor of UNIX you choose, when all is said and done, your bill might run well into the six-digit range.

So perhaps you've heard of this Open Source thing--free server software and operating systems where everybody has complete access to all the source code. Perhaps you've heard of Linux. While it sounds great not to have to pay anything for your software, you might be put off by the politics of a platform that defines itself by rebellion against Microsoft and the status quo. Which distribution is right for you? What about the attitude of the users that you've heard about? Isn't it more trouble than it's worth?

Fortunately, there's another Open Source alternative: FreeBSD. It's every bit as advanced as Linux, but it's without the political baggage or the multitude of distributions to deal with. FreeBSD is a true UNIX, descended from the same source code as the Berkeley Software Design platform that is the gold standard for UNIX applications and TCP/IP implementations all over the world. (Linux is a UNIX "workalike," not a true UNIX.) High-profile companies like Yahoo! and Sony use FreeBSD to run their Web servers, and many more are adapting FreeBSD for use in real-time operating system (RTOS) platforms and as graphics workstations for filmmaking.

Windows servers corral you into having to install software through direct physical access to the computer, and to apply an endless series of security patches as the world's hackers continue to uncover new exploits to level at any Windows servers they can find. Meanwhile, Linux--the main alternative contender--pulls you into a community where the "activist" mentality can do more harm than good--namely, a business environment. Who wants to get involved in a platform holy war when there's work to be done?

Running FreeBSD means having the peace of mind that comes from running a rock-solid UNIX platform without having to spend the piles of money that it takes to develop a commercial UNIX installation. It means freedom from software license constraints and from much of the politics surrounding Open Source advocacy. It means doing all of your system administration remotely, and having complete access to the system's sources from the kernel on down to the lowliest user utilities. It means security from popular security exploits that only affect Linux or Windows. It means easy tracking of installed software versions through the Ports Collection. It means all the benefits of UNIX without the usual drawbacks.

Whether you want to run a hobbyist server or a high-load data-center node, FreeBSD is up to the task. Let it off the leash and see what it can do for you.

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