FreeBSD vows to compete with desktop Linux

Unix descendent to match Linux on features, with GNOME support expected this year, according to core developer.

Ingrid Marson
2 min read
Linux may soon have a stronger open-source competitor on the desktop if FreeBSD's plans come to fruition.

FreeBSD developer Scott Long told ZDNet UK on Thursday that the operating system, descended from the Unix derivative BSD, is "quickly approaching" feature parity with Linux.

"Lots of work is going on to make FreeBSD more friendly on the desktop," Long said. "Within the year, we expect to have, or be near, parity with Linux."

The main focus of developers is to integrate FreeBSD with the GNOME and KDE desktop environments, and to add plug-and-play hardware capabilities.

"Developers are doing work so you can plug in a USB stick and have it appear on the desktop and just work, without having to mess around with command prompts and work out arcane commands," Long said.

Joe Clarke, who leads the team of developers working on FreeBSD for the desktop, said in a recent interview that developers are primarily working on integrating FreeBSD with GNOME but hope to be able to add KDE support in the future, due to the work that is going on to create a set of common interfaces and tools for the environments.

One of the priorities for developers is to get GNOME's hardware abstraction layer--which handles hardware-specific code--working with FreeBSD, Clarke said in an interview with BSDTalk.

"Getting HAL, the hardware abstraction layer project, successfully working on FreeBSD would be a great win. It's not a silver bullet, it's not going to make us perfect by any means, but it'll go a long way to bringing in some much-needed cool desktop features to FreeBSD," Clarke said in the interview.

One problem that FreeBSD developers have faced is that GNOME developers tend to be focused on Linux rather than considering other desktop operating systems.

"The modules that they're starting to consider don't have FreeBSD (support), don't have Solaris (support)--they're very Linux-specific," Clarke said. "My opinion--and I don't have any evidence to back this up, but from the conversations I hear on the list--is that the majority of the core GNOME developers don't use anything but Linux as a primary GNOME development platform."

The FreeBSD team members are not the only developers working on getting the operating system working on desktops. The DesktopBSD and PC BSD projects are also working on a version of FreeBSD for desktops.

Earlier this week, the FreeBSD team released version 6.1 of the operating system. One of the main features in FreeBSD 6.1 is improved file system stability, which has been made more "solid, fast and sturdy," according to Long.

"The thing we worked hardest on for this release was file system stability," Long said Thursday. "We did stress tests, found some more bugs and fixed them. For users with high-load file servers, this is probably the best release yet for them."

More information on FreeBSD 6.1 can be found on the project Web site.

Ingrid Marson of ZDNet UK reported from London.