Trying out the PC-BSD 10.1.2 Virtual Appliance

VirtualBox allows me to play with multiple operating systems: the latest I'm trying out is PC-BSD. Evidently PC-BSD is essentially a nice interface and installer attached to FreeBSD, which is otherwise reported to be a bit tricky to set up initially. The folks at PC-BSD make a .OVA ("Open Virtual Appliance") file available, a virtual machine hard drive that's very easy to import into VirtualBox ("File" -> "Import Appliance ..." - that simple) and thus avoid doing your own install. It's not a small file though, weighing in at 2.8GB - and after a day's use but no software installs, the VDI file is 5.6G (not sure if that was the conversion process or just general usage: either way, be prepared).

While I'm talking about disk usage, it's worth noting that the appliance is very generous with itself: df -h in the image indicates that the HD is 45G, so the file could easily grow substantially.

First boot on the appliance brings up a series of common questions, like "what language?", change your root password, set up a default user, and would you like a different resolution?" This latter is interesting, as Linux gives you very little choice in this. I chose 1280x1024 (out of a list that must have included almost every resolution ever conceived by man) instead of the default 1024x768, which rewarded me with a "please wait, if it doesn't work we'll be back." In fact it didn't work, but it was a nice thought and in some ways better than Linux (which rarely offers you any options at all in this department, and usually doesn't fail this gracefully).

Interesting applications that are available:

  • KDE (default WM)
  • fluxbox (the only other WM)
  • tcsh (the default shell - seriously, people still use that?)
  • bash (zsh users say "seriously, you still use that?" - fair enough, but I like it)
  • zsh
  • vim (a very recent version)
  • git
  • konqueror (the web browser - no Firefox or Chromium, although they're available to be added)
  • apm but not acpi
  • Python 2.7.9 (like Debian and most Linuxes, clinging to pre-3.0 versions)
  • sound, which has been a problem with some Linux distros in VirtualBox, appears to work
  • Youtube doesn't work in Konqueror
  • VirtualBox Guest Additions appear to be fully supported (which also means my resolution problem is solved, as Fullscreen works)
  • neither tmux nor screen is installed by default in this massive system image ... tmux is available in v 2.0 (quite recent), but screen isn't available at all?
  • gimp is installed (v 2.8)
  • less is installed, but more is used for man

Updates appear to be automatic: without my doing anything, the VM came up and said "The system needs to be restarted to finish installing updates." And it nags: "you don't want to reboot now? I'll tell you again in half an hour."

Lousy command line interaction:

[giles@v-pcbsd-64] ~% tig

CORRECT> tip (y|n|e|a)? y
tip: unknown host v-pcbsd-64

So this is a service that corrects a command name you've typed? So not Unix: traditionally you should succeed on fail at the command line, and have to figure out for yourself that you mis-typed something or the command you want isn't installed yet. Initially, this is totally unexplained ("what is CORRECT?", "what is tip?", "what is y|n|e|a?") and I would rather a non-command fail cleanly. Figuring out how to turn it off didn't turn up in my first couple internet searches.

  • first user on a PC-BSD system is assigned the UID of 1001: as a Linux user hoping to use NFS, this is incredibly frustrating as the first assigned UID (and often the only one) on a Linux system is routinely 1000.
  • if you have a dangling reboot because of system updates, "AppCafe" (the desktop GUI for installing applications) refuses to run with a big warning about the needed reboot
  • shutdown and start-up are quite slow compared to most other virtual machines - that's leaving out the KDE start-up, which adds even more time
  • tig, as it turns out, doesn't appear to be available at all
  • I think I hate AppCafe - it's sluggish, ugly, and hard to find things in - I'll have to learn to use the command line utilities
  • Youtube works in Firefox - when I say "works ..." - the video seems to be going four frames per second, the audio seems to be fine (I'm not blaming PC-BSD for this: there's all sorts of configuration issues that could come into play)