BSD is dying

Robert Watson rwatson at
Thu Jul 28 15:34:05 BST 2005

On Thu, 28 Jul 2005, Paul Richards wrote:

> There's a difference between being depressing and taking a realistic 
> view of what the state of play is.

So maybe the real issue is that while there was a bubble in OS interest as 
consumer and low-end hardware outpaced the OS vendors abilities to ship 
software that could make use of it, there has now been a market correction 
and the OS returns to being something that systems people care about, but 
not so end users?

I think the question you're asking is really "Can or should something be 
done, or is it Too Late?", and specifically, are people interested in BSD 
motivated to do what the Linux crowd has done -- swimming upstream and 
attempting to "sell" a product into a place where it wasn't really 
welcome.  I.e., will people print their own posters and turn up at trade 
conferences saying "Run BSD, it's better, don't believe the hype".  I've 
not ever been convinced BSD ever did this well, and I always thought that 
the Linux people didn't have a leg to stand on, but given that they were 
quite effective, I suppose a leg to stand on isn't required, just 
enthusiasm.  Linux 2.6 is dramatically better than Linux 2.4, but the Hard 
Linux Sell really too place based on the 2.2 and 2.4 kernels, which had 
pretty terrible problems.

I'm willing to give it a try, but I've been putting my energy into the 
core parts of the OS rather than other parts because that's where the 
foundational work needed to take place to make FreeBSD 6.x a desirable 
place to be.  And I'm happy to tell people about it here, but since when I 
joined there was little noise, I didn't feel it was the place to talk.

Something I would like to see, and I think it speaks to your points about 
"sellable features" is more work in distributed management for headless 
systems.  FreeBSD has done very well in embedded, in ISP spaces, and so 
on.  We've done less well in clustering, and other systems have been 
"catching up" in ISP space as their feature sets and reliability have 
improved.  A massive selling point for users like Yahoo! and others has 
been our multi-host scalability: if you have ten, you can run one hundred, 
or one thousand.  I'd like us to improve our OS infrastructure to make 
this something we take for granted and can sell specifically with.  I.e., 
have the catch line "FreeBSD: 30 Systems -- Or 30,000".  This is an area 
where UNIX remains a strongly leader over systems like Windows, because 
offering a completely terminal-oriented management model has let it live 
in a distributed world much more comfortably.  Parts that would be needed 
would include:

- Taking PXE upgrades/installs from "possible but you have to know what
   you're doing" to "trivial".

- Significant work into remote management tools and services.  SNMP
   integration is getting better, but is probably not what we need.  Since
   I don't have much information in this area, I don't have a

- Work to allow bundling and re-bundling of update and version management
   components, as well as work on automated upgrade paths.

- Additional work to flesh out our directory service integration -- 5.x
   brought in NSS, OpenPAM, Kerberos5 by default, etc, but while the
   ingredients are there, the bundling and ease of use isn't.

- Integration of an advanced distributed file system.  If necessary,
   development of the necessary pieces to make it happen.  I've always been
   a big fan of AFS, but they've always had the same problem BSD has had:
   superior technology bundled in a hard-to-use interface, developed,
   managed, and promoted by people who are techies and kernel hackers at
   heart.  But maybe the NFSv4 bandwagon is the place to be.

- Some cleanup and retrofitting, replacement, or other activity of the
   package management system.

- The Management Tool.  No, not a web management interface, or SNMP. :-)

Robert N M Watson

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