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Introduction to Linux - A Hands on Guide
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quick an easy full-featured live CD implementation of FreeBSD
no Office suite, and FreeBSD doesn't work on some hardware
- it wouldn't boot on my Toshiba Satellite M70 laptop.
You might get an idea of whether it will go on your laptop by visiting the FreeBSD laptop compatibility list:
However, it booted from the CD on my work laptop, a HP Compaq nx6125. It's a pretty standard machine, AMD Turion64 1.8GHz machine with 512Mb RAM (including shared graphics memory), 60Gb HDD (NTFS formatted), built-in wireless, DVD writer, firewire port, 3 USB2 ports, 2 PCMCIA ports and a multi-card reader on the front. It currently has Windows XP Pro SP2 loaded. It must be noted that Windows Vista would run horribly on a machine like this - very slow and with most of its features disabled. The DesktopBSD live CD worked beautifully on this machine.
You go through several options on boot: graphics configuration, keyboard layout, whether to install or run the Live CD. It advised me that running the Live CD was for demonstration purposes only and that some features would not be available. After that, It gave me some pretty pictures that clearly showed me what was going on, but required no further action from me. Granted, it took nearly 10 minutes to load, but that's not surprising given it's loading and extracting a lot of information from the CD.
Familiar and friendly
The full-featured KDE interface runs very snappily even on the P3 with 256Mb RAM I also tried it on. Kicker is populated with "start button" (the DesktopBSD logo), show desktop, home/personal files, konqueror and help. The notification tray shows battery, network interfaces, klipper, a storage media browser (this is where your hard drive will show up), and KOrganizer. To the right of that is a nice big digital clock, and in the right-hand corner is a desktop switcher.
The desktop has a pretty custom picture on it, an icon labelled "trash" and a Desktop BSD logo labelled "install now". All the icons are large and friendly looking, all brighten when I put the mouse cursor over them and if I keep the mouse cursor over them a nice animated popup appears explaining what they are and any status messages if any. I found it generally worked faster and more smoothly than XP does. The mouse cursor looks just like a windows one, except it's smooth instead of blocky and pixelated - and partially transparent! The interface looks smoother, nicer and more professional than Windows.
Included on the CD: Loads of Development tools, a language translation tool, a bunch of graphics viewers for viewing and editing all manner of graphics including DVIs, Faxes and PDFs, instant messaging and chat clients, web browsers, news readers, mail clients and a dial up tool, CD and DVD burning, ripping and playing, plus office tools and more. Clearly this is an OS that is more fully featured than Windows is out of the box, and it's all immediately available just by sticking the CD and rebooting. I'm starting to get interested in what other features I get if I install it!
What can it do?
So I have access to my work files, lets see what I can do with them. I have a collection of PDFs, text documents, MS Word and Excel documents, and various graphics in jpg, png, gif and bitmap format. Browsing here brings up thumbnail previews of all the files. Double-click on a file in any graphics format and it opens within the file browser window to view. Right-click on a graphics file and you get the option to open in a seperate viewer "KView" (which allows you to rotate pictures and resave them with the new orentation but nothing more), or edit in KolourPaint, which appears to be the KDE answer to MSPaint. It's not bad either, allowing you to scribble, erase, add text, make shapes and colours, adjust brightness/contrast/colour/gamma, change colour modes, resize, rotate, add filters and so on, and save in a range of formats - PNG, PCX, BMP, JPG, TIF - but not GIF for some reason. Still, a nice reasonably full-featured editor. For most users this would be sufficient although some would miss the Gimp, which is not included. PDFs are handled just fine and as mentioned, the thumbnail preview works great for these.
Zip files appear to be no problem, it's built in to the operating system as in XP, with the additional feature of being able to right-click on folders or files and compress to what I believe are the standard Linux formats: tar, gz, bz2 or various combinations thereof.
I have a couple of dozen MP3s and had no trouble playing these either. The default player is Noatun. It's a fairly plain player but it has all the essentials. There isn't much that WinAmp does that Noatun can't do.
The one thing DesktopBSD is missing is a decent office suite. KOffice or OpenOffice would do, but they aren't on this live CD.
The other curious problem I had was that it refused to mount any of the collection of Kingston Datatraveller 1Gb USB flash drives we have here. It recognised the device OK, but then advised me the partition was incompatible or corrupt. A cheapo "Mako" flash drive was mounted and read from without a problem, ditto the 1Gb microSD card in my phone (via USB cable plugged into my phone), and my 60Gb 2.5" portable USB drive (NTFS formatted) also mounted fine.
On the Pentium 3 machine I tried, DesktopBSD had no trouble mounting the same Kingston USB drives. Go figure.
All in all if you want to try FreeBSD as a desktop OS, I would highly recommend this one. The only limitations are a lack of an Office Suite, and the problems it inherits from FreeBSD in compatibility with some laptops. FreeBSD is meant to be more of a server OS I think, a role which it fits very well.