08 June, 2009

BSD - Reliability, Fast Speed, No Cost, Open Source. Yup.

Oh dear. It blew a gasket

Yeah. So much for FreeBSD 7.2 being super-robust, or so I thought. It seems that FreeBSD doesn’t like holes (bad blocks) in file systems any more than other operating systems do, and there’s no way of telling FreeBSD's UFS2 filesystem to include a list of bad blocks that it finds when it builds the filesystem, though in way earlier releases, there used to be just such a utility, called bad144.

I had put FreeBSD on to the 20 Gb drive after I had moved Linux data off it to another drive. After I installed FreeBSD, it worked really well. Right up until I had to turn off the power on it one day, as it had locked up fairly solid. When I brought it back up, the inevitable fsck happened, as most operating systems do when a partition hasn’t been cleanly unmounted. It got stuck when it couldn’t read a particular block, and wouldn’t go any further, even when I ran fsck manually. Needless to say, I then backed up the data to another drive, and will figure out what else I need to do—perhaps I can migrate the DOS drive to the end of the hard disk so that I can restore FreeBSD into a space without any “holes” in it.

So where to from here? Any other issues?

I have to say that that has been the only issue I’ve struck with FreeBSD 7.2 so far. Yes, the issue’s a biggie, but no real reason to pan the whole OS just because of hardware fallibility. And frankly I like the idea of the whole of the source of the OS (that’s not just the kernel, but also the base applications) being available in one place, as opposed to the normal Linux behaviour of the kernel being downloaded from kernel.org, and the applications (whichever applications the distribution decides upon) being provided from other sources, such as the Free Software Foundation’s GNU suite of applications

FreeBSD shares this model of supplying a complete operating environment with the other variants of BSD (Dragonfly, NetBSD, OpenBSD and others), and has offered models for other operating systems to do the same—FreeDOS is one example, Plan 9 is another.

Oh yeah, another thing—FreeBSD doesn’t seem to much like my SATA controller (a SiI 3112 with added USB/Firewire interfaces) and won’t actually read any data from the drive connected to it. Strange, but again, not a reason to pan the OS. It just seems strange that Linux has no appreciable problems both booting off the drive, and running off the drive, yet FreeBSD has issues. Driver code, perhaps?

And now, a bit of history

The origins to the free versions of the BSD operating system reach all the way back into the late seventies when UCB and others were providing patches to the then king of operating systems - AT&T UNIX. All an institution needed was a valid UNIX licence, and to be able to pay the (relatively for software) minimal cost for the tapes and postage, and they could have the BSD additions to UNIX for a song.

Of course, this still didn’t bring BSD into the realm of the average C64/Amiga 500 computer user of the day, but it came close. Generally if you were earning enough money, you could buy it yourself (along with the expensive AT&T UNIX) and install it on your own hardware—probably also very expensive at the time. It wasn’t until the mid eighties that an attempt was made to reduce the cost to practically zero, and remove the requirement of having an AT&T licence. It wasn’t until the late eighties that Bill Jolitz and others decided to port BSD to the then-popular Intel i386 processor to produce the 386BSD OS, that people at home finally had a UNIX-like system they could afford the cost of. The story of the initial release of 386BSD was published in Dr Dobb’s journal over several issues starting in early 1991. While 386BSD was not a success, eventually foundering for technical and community reasons, others took up the charge and furthered some of the concepts at least, if not the core of 386BSD - and merged it with some work done to produce 4.4BSD-lite, and then produced FreeBSD from that merger. Further history is mentioned in the BSD wiki entry and is probably more accurate than I have just been. Other exceptionally informative articles live at Lynne's Blog. And yes, that's Lynne Jolitz, wife of William Jolitz, one of the architects of 2.8BSD and 2.9BSD, among other things.

And now? Anything else to report?

Oh yes. You want to know where to from here? Well, now that I've installed FreeBSD, I've found that I'm having slight issues in GUI mode, as things only seem to kick off when I move the mouse. Hm. Not terribly useful to me, but it’s something I can handle. I’ll have to deal with all that once I actually get the FreeBSD data reinstalled into a slightly safer place - somehow, I suspect a hole in a DOS drive isn’t going to have quite the same problems as a hole in a BSD filesystem.

That will at least mean I can keep playing with FreeBSD.