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What is FreeBSD?

FreeBSD is a Unix-like operating system based on the Berkeley Software Distribution, and is the most popular of all 386BSD and 4.4BSD-Lite derivatives. Unlike NetBSD, which runs on a wide variety of platforms, FreeBSD focuses on the IA-32 (i386) and AMD64 PC architectures. Intended as an general purpose operating system, it is the most serious competitor to Linux in the realm of desktop computers.

Comparison with other BSDs

Since it has the greatest number of users and programmers, FreeBSD has also the largest Ports Collection. However, this might change in the future with the growing popularity of NetBSD's pkgsrc, which now provides a package management system that is operating system independent.

In some ways, FreeBSD is also closer to DOS partitioning logic than any other, perhaps because it was designed from the beginning for the Intel i386 platform. FreeBSD is able to read the DOS extended partition table and mount logical DOS partitions directly. On OpenBSD and NetBSD, to mount other partitions outside of the area covered by the disklabel, you would have to edit the disklabel first. I'll get to that later.

The FreeBSD installation program, sysinstall is also a powerful system configuration tool. OpenBSD and NetBSD setups are smaller, simpler and let you install the complete system within minutes, but FreeBSD's sysinstall is certainly the most handy for Unix novices.

Is FreeBSD for you?

If you have never installed Unix before, never heard the words disklabel and slices, and want to start right away without having to read too much documentation, I recommand you start with FreeBSD. FreeBSD won't give you any bad habits, and switching to NetBSD, OpenBSD or DragonFlyBSD later should be easy. With a little bit of Unix experience, you might find the other BSD systems superior, more attractive, more secure (OpenBSD) or a better fit for your needs.