My FreeBSD years: 2000-2005

Frederic Cambus October 01, 2023 [FreeBSD]

In the introduction of my "Why OpenBSD?" post, I mentioned that I came to the BSD world through FreeBSD.

Rather than paraphrasing what I wrote back then, here is the relevant part:

I’ve been using FreeBSD from 2000 to 2005 as my sole operating system at the time (both on servers and workstations), from 4.1 to the end of the 4.x series. I have fond memories of that period, and that’s probably the main reason why I’ve been diving again into the BSDs during the last few years.

I started using FreeBSD in September 2000 coming from Slackware Linux, not knowing it would be the beginning of a more than 20-year journey.

At the time, I still didn't have broadband internet access so downloading ISOs over a dial-up connection was not an option. I'm not exactly sure how I got the FreeBSD 4.1 installation CD from, but I think I might have ordered it from Ikarios, a French distributor of Linux and BSD distribution CDs.

Having spent a large part of the nineties immersed in text mode on MS-DOS, mostly because of my involvement in the BBS and ANSI art scenes, it's only natural that I kept the habit of using text consoles on Linux. On the hardware I was using at the time, I was often hitting a random issue causing the machine to become unusable when switching between text consoles and the X server.

Switching back and forth between X and text consoles was such an important use case for me at the time, that I was willing to try everything in order to fix the problem. Luckily, FreeBSD didn't exhibit the issue, and as an added benefit, the FreeBSD console could display ANSI art with cat(1) in full glory out of the box. One could connect to telnet BBSes using the system telnet client, and enjoy an MS-DOS like experience.

FreeBSD provided many other benefits, but most importantly a clean and well integrated system. The quality of the documentation made things a lot easier than in the Linux world. Configuring IPFW was a breeze compared to what was available on Linux at the time. Being able to tweak and compile kernels using a single text configuration file was also a powerful thing, and I remember spending an unhealthy amount of time compiling the smallest possible working kernels in order to save RAM and compile time.

FreeBSD also offered a great platform for C development, with quality manual pages documenting the C library.

It thus won't come as a surprise that I learned a lot about UNIX systems during that period. I also started contributing to the ports collection (babytrans, dtc, gsfv, huc, multimail, tetradraw), and even doing some evangelization on LinuxFR, a community driven social news site for the releases of FreeBSD 4.11 and 6.0.

Ultimately by 2005 software was getting larger, especially browsers so compiling ports was not practical anymore and binary packages were still a bit of a hit and miss on FreeBSD at this time. The FreeBSD 5.x series was unfortunately plagued by unreliability issues, which prompted me to go explore other shores. My BSD story was to be continued a few years later anyway, little did I know at the time...

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