Enterprise Unix Roundup: Daemon Worship

By Brian Proffitt (Send Email)
Posted Jan 23, 2008

Brian Proffitt
We look into the BSD goings on, with a focus on OpenBSD -- the BSD for security gurus.

With Solaris, HP-UX, and AIX hogging all of the server sales attention, you would think they were the only three Unix flavors left. You would be wrong, however, because you really can't count out the Berkeley Software Distributions (BSDs). They might not make as much noise, but the impact of the BSDs is still strongly felt.

There are various histories of BSD out there on the Web. For those unfamiliar with the lore of Unix, here is the quick two-cent version:

All of the BSDs are open source versions of the original AT&T Unix operating system, specifically the Unix developed at the University of California Berkeley. Hence, the name. The first version to be created from the proprietary Unix was 386BSD.

In 1993, 386BSD forked into two versions: NetBSD and FreeBSD. Security-oriented OpenBSD arrived in 1996. DragonFlyBSD, the latest of the flavors, is a fork of FreeBSD 4.8, which was created in 2003.

Darwin, a key component of OS X, is sometimes regarded as a BSD variant, depending on whom you ask. It came out of the BSD layer of the NextStep OS. There's quite a bit of FreeBSD code in there, too, but the whole thing is so modified that there's some dispute as to whether you can even call it a BSD.

Like I said, it's the two-cent version.

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The walk down BSD memory lane was prompted by an article I found this week ("Demonology '08") that gives a great state-of-the-daemon update for the start of 2008. The BSDs continue to used in enterprises throughout the world, and yet they don't get much attention from the media.

This is a big mistake, one that I hope to rectify here on Enterprise Unix Roundup.

One piece of news that has already flown under the radar: At the start of the year, OpenBSD was successfully ported over to an UltraSPARC T1 machine. Yes, hardly earth shattering, but it's just one more outcome of Sun's program to open source the T1 (a.k.a. Niagara) platform. And it is a big deal for the OpenBSD development team because porting to the sun4v architecture was no simple task, especially for the incredibly security-focused OpenBSD project.

OpenBSD has a prickly bit of history behind it, in part because of the nature of its creator, Theo de Raadt, who sometimes seems to take on the spiny nature of OpenBSD's mascot, Puffy the Pufferfish. de Raadt, who is considered to be brilliant in the ways of BSD and security (he also created the widely used OpenSSH program), nonetheless has a personality that doesn't suffer fools gladly. Actually, he doesn't suffer anyone too gladly, fool or otherwise. It's rumored that personality conflicts are what caused his departure from the NetBSD project and led him to start OpenBSD in the first place.

de Raadt's feelings about Linux, the other open source Unix relative, are not terribly positive. He's been at odds with the Linux development team before, most recently in the summer of 2007, when Linux developers attempted to change the license of a piece of code in the ath5k driver from a dual-GPL/BSD license to just GPL. de Raadt's blunt reply was to threaten legal action. Eventually, the Software Freedom Law Center suggested the solution of allowing a "changes licensed under" tag for code licenses in September. That has been the extent of the discussion thus far.

Regardless of how de Raadt gets along with the rest of the IT world, there's no denying that if security is your pressing need, OpenBSD is something to check into for your systems.

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

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