Enterprise Unix Roundup: PC-BSD May Be the Next Linux

By Brian Proffitt (Send Email)
Posted Oct 25, 2006


Brian Proffitt
Linux is the current up-and-comer voted most likely to kick Microsoft's butt. But in the longer term, one unique BSD distribution may be fated to be the next big thing.

With all of the BSD variants available for download, it's easy to incorrectly assume all of them are pure, incompatible forks from each other. Actually, there are more shades of BSD out in the world than just separate forks. One in particular made the news a couple of weeks ago when it was commercially acquired.

The BSD in question is PC-BSD. The company that bought it (for the ubiquitous "undisclosed" terms) is iXsystems, a systems deployment and integrator firm out of San Jose that has pretty strong experience implementing *BSD, Unix and Linux systems for its customer base. So, why, pray tell, did the company up and buy PC-BSD?

The answer may lie in the type of operating system PC-BSD is. Unlike other, incompatible, BSD variants, PC-BSD is completely compatible with its antecedent FreeBSD. It is, for all intents and purposes, a FreeBSD distribution, in much the same way Red Hat or SUSE are Linux distributions. In fact, the similarity runs a bit deeper than that, since PC-BSD has long been designed with business users in mind. Its acquisition only solidifies that commonality.

Currently, PC-BSD is at release 1.2, and is based on FreeBSD 6. Unlike FreeBSD and other BSD variants, which rely on a packages and ports installation solution (similar in many ways to most Unix flavors, including Linux), PC-BSD uses something called PBI — an installation approach that contains everything an application needs to be run. Just click on it and off you go. The advantages for newer users are clear: PBIs mean no more dependency hell while trying to install the latest and greatest on your server or workstation.

The other key difference between PC-BSD and its FreeBSD parent is the desktop extensions that enable users to run a KDE desktop interface.

In all other respects — and this is key — PC-BSD is compatible with FreeBSD, to the degree that you can go into power-user mode and use FreeBSD's ports and packages management system on PC-BSD.

What iXsystems likes about the PC-BSD distribution is that it really is a pretty functional Unix environment with an integrated desktop and an installation system that will not confuse the heck out of Windows users coming over to the operating system for the first time. And with such an operating system in their repertoire, it's pretty clear iXsystems will be able to get PC-BSD—and FreeBSD—deployed into more and more commercial environments.

The plan, according to iXsystems, is to start offering commercial-level support for PC-BSD for their customers, which as we all know removes a big potential hurdle for anyone thinking about migrating away from their current supported system, whether it be Windows, Solaris or Linux. And, remember that key point about compatibility: What's good for PC-BSD support will no doubt be good for FreeBSD.

The obvious question is, will this plan work? Early indicators say yes, as long as iXsystems doesn't try to overdo it and try to become the next Red Hat overnight. The PC-BSD development team claims about 100,000 known users, which is a decent-sized user base. FreeBSD's base is likely significantly larger. If iXsystems develops a focused strategy for commercial markets, there's no reason it can't pick up more market share at a steady clip.

Which means Microsoft may just have one more competitor to worry about.

Brian Proffitt is managing editor of JupiterWeb's Linux/Open Source channel, which includes Linux Today, LinuxPlanet, and AllLinuxDevices.

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