Enterprise Unix Roundup: NetBSD Goes Virtual

By Brian Proffitt (Send Email)
Posted Nov 22, 2006

Brian Proffitt
Linux! Solaris! Windows! Lots of news; all of it interesting. But at the end of the day, the quiet and sure NetBSD also seems to be getting the big jobs done.

While the chess players in Redmond and Antarctica move their pieces around, positioning themselves for another match, it is useful to point out that there are, indeed, other operating systems out there, and life does go on.

One Unix player receiving little attention of late is the venerable NetBSD, which is a bit of a shame, since it has managed to acquire many of the same features as Linux, albeit without the fanfare. Earlier this month, while the IT world was still reeling from the Novell-Microsoft announcement, NetBSD 3.1 was quietly released. The key enhancement in the release is support for virtualization platform Xen 3.0.

This makes NetBSD the only operating system outside of Linux that supports Xen. In the virtual scheme of things, that's a pretty big deal.

NetBSD has much moxie on its own right: According to the project itself, NetBSD "runs on 54 different system architectures featuring 17 machine architectures across 17 distinct CPU families, all from a single source tree." This is mostly due to the initial focus of the NetBSD team, which was to create a version of Unix that was very centralized and thus very portable. With Xen support, NetBSD can now run on a virtual machine platform as well.

NetBSD is one of the Unix forks that came from a desire to make Unix development more open. A little younger than Linux, Chris Demetrious, Theo de Raadt, Adam Glass, and Charles Hannum, created NetBSD in March 1993. They wanted a more open development than the 386BSD code they were using. Eventually, de Raadt, who is somewhat notorious for his direct approach to interpersonal interactions, resigned from the NetBSD project and formed OpenBSD.

Because of the steady approach of its development team, most people do not consider NetBSD a controversial BSD. It's safe, like dating your best friend's sister. It doesn't have a personality cult, or anyone talking trash to stir up trouble. It does what you need it to do, and it does it well.

This is not to say it is problem-free. This weekend, the NetBSD development team was informed that the netbsd-4 development branch had to be re-branched from the mainline development tree. What happened, apparently, was that right after the netbsd-4 branch was first created, several improvements were made to the netbsd-current branch from which the -4 branch came.

The changes were major enough to force the development team to do one of two things, either ramp up the -4 branch to get it up to speed with the -current trunk, or — even easier — re-branch the -4 development line. For the sake of expediency, they chose the latter.

No controversy, no hullabaloo, just a simple, stated change.

Dependable, reliable, and maybe just a bit forgettable. In a world where every move Linux makes is greeted with a hundred headlines, NetBSD doesn't seem very exciting. But IT managers aren't always interested in exciting, and while Linux, Solaris, and Microsoft duke it out, it is little wonder that more people are turning (or returning) to NetBSD.

And after all, a little peace and quiet is something for which to be thankful.

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

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