What’s New in 3.9?
OpenBSD has followed a regular release schedule since the project’s creation. The next release, 3.9, is due on May 1, 2006.
To get an idea of what’s new in the 3.9 release, I asked some of the OpenBSD developers. Before getting on to the new features, I asked what originally drew them to OpenBSD. In the case of David Gwynne, it was the simplicity of the system:
"The things I’ve always really liked about OpenBSD are its hardware support, its installer, and its documentation. Our hardware support is awesome not because we have drivers for everything out there, but because if we do have a driver it Just Works. We also make a lot of effort to make it easy to use. For example, we have one tool to configure all our network interfaces called ifconfig, and it does basically everything there is to do with configuring an interface, no matter if it’s wireless, Ethernet, or virtualized. I don’t understand why I need to use several tools on other operating systems to configure an interface."
This simplicity of interface ties in well with one of the new features of 3.9: the sensors framework. The idea behind this is to unify the interface to motherboard sensors. Marco Peereboom explained the advantage of this:
"I am very excited about server management. OpenBSD now supports three major management interfaces in a single uniform way. All other OSes, including Windows, have vendor-specific methods to display, manipulate, and report sensor data. This is a giant mess across the board, however; OpenBSD has started to add some sanity to it. All sensors drivers provide the sensor readings via the sysctl(3) interface which in turn is interpreted and acted upon via the sensorsd(8) framework. It’s extremely simple and straightforward."
David summarizes the advantages, saying:
"It doesn’t matter what type of temperature sensor you have, or where it’s located. It all appears under sysctl hw.sensors in OpenBSD. On other platforms, you have different tools to query different classes of sensors, which really gets in the way of quickly finding out if your computer is too hot or not."
One new feature that caught my eye was support for Apple hardware with the PowerPC G5 series of CPUs. This is noteworthy because OpenBSD has gained this support before NetBSD, the BSD most noted for its portability.
As always, the driver support has improved since the last release. In particular, the NVIDIA Ethernet adaptor on nForce motherboards is now supported, in spite of a lack of documentation from the manufacturer. David points out the potential problem with this:
"Actually, I’m not sure if having the NVIDIA Ethernet driver is a good thing. We used to be able to claim that buying hardware from a vendor who wouldn’t provide documentation was bad for the user because their hardware wouldn’t work. Now their hardware works, but the vendor still hasn’t given us documentation. There’s no incentive there for the user to stop buying that vendor’s hardware and hurt them for their stupid policy with documentation."
He then adds:
"It’s still very cool that we support it with a real driver, though."