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Beginning with NetBSD

Posted 05-02-2007 at 07:01 PM by mowestusa

New adventures can be scary, but there is always an element of excitement. This week began a new adventure. I'm diving into the world of NetBSD. Honesty demands that I reveal that this is not my first time in the NetBSD world. Actually about eight months ago I tried this path once before. At the time I hoped to install NetBSD onto an old DEC Alpha server I received. This hope never materialized because of the lack of a usable hard drive. I did succeed in doing an install on a Celeron 500MHz with 64megs of ram. I had hoped to try out different system administration tasks on the i386 and then repeat those actions on the Alpha system. After meeting the wall of not having a usable hard drive, my interest in NetBSD started to wain. I wiped the hard drive of the Celeron 500 and did a net install of Debian, which was a first for me. In the end that project has fallen by the wayside as well.

I still feel like such a newbie user of Linux, so for me, NetBSD took me into scary places where I did not feel comfortable. NetBSD is so spartan, and lacks the hand holding you get with modern Linux distros like Ubuntu. Yet, whenever I found an answer or got direction from the NetBSD community I really felt like I had learned something new. So for a few months I have felt as if I really never gave NetBSD a chance. I had gone running back to Ubuntu on all of my main Unix boxes, and I went back to having my hand held during every major configuration.

If you read the other few entries into this blog you will find that I have chased after the CLI programs, and found an expanded world of possibilities and productivity. I have explored the depths of a few minimalist window managers, and ion has become a daily companion. Slowly, my knowledge of vim increases, as well as my writing as I tear myself away from the distractions of word processors with their squiggly red and green lines, and their multitude of formatting options.

So what caused me to begin again as a newbie NetBSD user? Sometimes NetBSD just fits a need. One of the things I hoped to have is a UNIX laptop. I have a Windows laptop for work, that actually gets used less and less. It gets turned on for Presentations which I still have tied to MSPowerpoint. It gets used at conferences and for meetings. It is still my primary system for Bible study because there is no equal in the UNIX world for the the original language study which I engage in each week in preparation for my sermons. One thing is certain, I did not want to spend money on a new laptop just so I could have a mobile UNIX system to take to LUG meetings, and to just use as a writing workstation.

Then last week, I got a gift. For free a Toshiba Satellite Pro 465CDX was given to me. It had run Win95 originally. DSL had been installed on it, but now a GRUB error kept it from loading. So now I had a laptop, and it could run Linux, so what should I install to put it into active service again? Hand holding Ubuntu would not be the best option. After all this old laptop had its limits. It is a Pentium 166 with 32megs of ram, and a 2.1gig hard drive. It came with a CDROM, and from eBay I got a floppy drive that plugs into it through an external enclosure. It does have a USB port as well, but the lack of a battery will keep me close to outlets.

I did not expect this computer to give me everything that I have on my 2.8ghz 1gig ram, 40gig hard drive computer that sits at home, but I did want to have a CLI rich environment. I wanted tools for writing, and tools for coding HTML and maybe even learn php on it. I also have no way to hook it up to my high speed network and Internet connection. So I needed to find a UNIX that could easily install software from CD-ROMS and USB flash disks.

I'm going to wrap up this entry by saying, NetBSD fit the bill perfectly. It was an easy install with just one hiccup which was easily overcome. Because of the binary package CD ISO which is built for the i386 platform, I was able to install a number of programs that I wanted with pkg_add and the PKG PATH set to the CDROM directory. I have also installed a number of other packages from the USB flash disk which was easy to find all the dependencies thanks to the Readme.html pages which describe each package, lists links to all dependencies, and also has the download links for the binaries on the NetBSD ftp site. Thankfully, for the i386 NetBSD provided binaries for all of the CLI tools I wanted the most. Those packages were also some of the latest and greatest, with the best being asciidoc which I use for my personal website was 8.1.0 which is the latest and far fresher than the Debian unstable package.

I will probably continue with a thread of entries about my NetBSD experiences. I have only had it installed for 5 days on the laptop, but already I have met some difficulties. However, this blog entry is being written on the laptop and NetBSD is working like a champ.
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