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FreeBSD 8.1 Provides Evolutionary Open Source Software Upgrade

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Putting out new releases of OS software isn’t always about adding major new features — sometimes it’s just about making existing features usable and stable. In the case of the open source software FreeBSD, that’s certainly the case with the newly hatched 8.1 release.

The next generation of the popular BSD operating system is now available, providing stability and performance gains for open source software users.

FreeBSD 8.1 is the latest version of the popular BSD server operating system, an update that provides some incremental improvements over the 8.0 release, which debuted in 2009. The FreeBSD 8.1 release might also spur users of older versions of FreeBSD to migrate to the new platform.

“FreeBSD 8.1 isn’t introducing many new features in FreeBSD 8.x,” FreeBSD developer Josh Paetzel told “A dot zero release provides a starting point for migrating existing production systems to a new branch, and as production systems are moved to the new branch problems are discovered, bugs unveiled, and fixes start to happen.”

Paetzel is also the director of IT for iXsystems, the sponsoring vendor behind the PC-BSD project, which is also being updated to version 8.1. PC-BSD 8.1 is a desktop version of FreeBSD 8.1.

Among the new innovations included in last year’s FreeBSD 8.0 release was a production ready version of the ZFS filesystem, technology originally developed by Sun Microsystems and now owned by Oracle. FreeBSD has had experimental support for ZFS since the FreeBSD 7.0 release in February 2008. Paetzel noted that as systems moved to the FreeBSD 8.0 release, bugs and issues in ZFS surfaced that have now been fixed in the FreeBSD 8.1 release.

Paetzel added that the FreeBSD 8.1 release also includes numerous driver updates and fixes for Intel NICs , LSI RAID and HBA controllers.

“In short 8.1 is evolutionary, not revolutionary,” Paetzel said.

While the FreeBSD 8.1 provides additional stability to the FreeBSD 8.x branch of the open source operating system, the migration of users from previous versions is still a work in progress.

“There are people on FreeBSD 6.x waiting for 8.x to settle a bit that will be moving to 8.1,” Paetzel said. “There are people on 7.x that still have another year on their current hardware that probably won’t move until 8.2 or 9.0, and you have early adopters like iXsystems that moved all of their production infrastructure to 8.0.”

Moving in step with hardware refresh cycles is also a likely reason for users to migrate to the latest FreeBSD release. Paetzel said that the 8.1 release provides users with production-ready ZFS as well as support for up to 16 process cores, while FreeBSD 7.x series supports only eight cores. In contrast, the FreeBSD 6.x release only provides support for up to four cores.

“I see a lot of desire for the feature set of 8.x, and a .1 release is attractive to the conservative user base of FreeBSD,” Paetzel said. “To a lot of users, 8.1 will provide a viable upgrade from what they are currently running. If it’s tempting enough for them to make the change — that’s always difficult to tell.”

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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