You'll come for the HOWTOs, but you'll stay to flame back at my rants!

My FreeBSD posting - Why Am I Doing This?

Date/Time Permalink: 10/05/07 12:29:24 pm
Category: Site News

The reactions - both here and all over the web - to my last post about installing FreeBSD have shown that some people seem to be unclear on my motives and methods. Perhaps it's time for a refresher course on my mission with this site.

First off: thank all of you who recommend PC-BSD. Yes, I've heard about it, and there is no doubt in my mind that it both would have been easier to install and a slicker environment. But that wasn't what I was looking for - this time.

Second off: Don't mistake this for a review. I'm not ready to write a review yet. When I get a desktop setup and installed packages and take screenshots, and have some time to use the system, I'll write the review then. What this was, was one person's story - so far.

Third off: For those of you who (and boy, is the irony thick here!) are barking "RTFM" at me: I'll cite you chapter and verse from several manuals, but none of the manuals addressed the problems I was experiencing. To summarize:

  1. The section on Creating Partitions Using Disklabel advises to hit "A" in DiskLabel to get a default partition scheme. True, it also says you might have to edit it, but for a first-timer I figured the FreeBSD disklabel setup knows best. Also, may I point out that the docs say that /var should only be 256MB, and /usr should be "the rest of the drive". Yet disklabel did this exactly backwards, and I guessed that disklabel would still have to be right. Even this section didn't make sense, because obviously /home/my_user_name/ is going to go on the / partition, so what if I collect more than 128MB of files?
  2. The section on Choose Distributions shows in figure Figure 2-25 that the dialog does not mention how much disk space within each partition would be needed for that install option. Remember, here, too, that I was going for a test-trial install, and figured the "canned" sets would do fine. F1 doesn't help, here.
  3. Upon setting forth, the system then partitions the drive and begins to install packages, ending with - usually - an error dialog saying "write failure on transfer (wrote -1 of XXXX bytes)". Note that this is worded so the problem could be almost anything. Had it been "this partition is full", I would have had more of a clue what the problem was.
  4. Try Googling for "FreeBSD write failure on transfer (wrote -1", without quotes. What do you get?
  5. My eventual solution of making just two partitions of swap and "everything else" (a) went contrary to all conventional wisdom in both the documentation and online, and (b) may yet prove to be a bad idea. But this is a test install on a box I don't care about, done just to get familiar with the system.

In fact, the concept of limiting system folders to so many MB in their own partition is kind of an impossible feat to get correct. We have /, which has /home and is a prime candidate for expansion, /var which will grow over time, and /usr which will expand depending on what you install in the next step. It might even make more sense to pick packages first, then partition, since both of these steps are held in memory before committing to the changes, and at least you could figure a number for what /usr is going to need after you've seen a list of what's going in it.

Now that I've shown all of you my stumbling points, let's clarify one more thing:

What is my purpose here? Is it to criticize FreeBSD? No, I even stated, "Note that I'm not complaining here. I wanted a challenge, and I got one." Is it to scream in frustration and give up? No, I persevered, and am now getting some time to quite like the system. Is it to tell people "This is too hard for you, you're better off getting PC-BSD?"

There is a very specific reason why I am careful to report my own mistakes. This is to show:

  • Even an Uber-Geek who can run Plan Nine From Bell Labs and wrangle with dc can have difficulties installing FreeBSD.
  • This tells people who are also having problems, "I am not alone".
  • But I can overcome obstacles and persevere, and I detail the steps I took to win.
  • This tells people, "A breakthrough is possible".

Also, I write this from the point of view of someone with years of Linux experience. I do this to show, "If you came from Linux, here's the things that will be different." I'll be doing a lot more of that. I also try to phrase things from the point-of-view of the average home user. So, never mind if an experienced sysadmin who's been using BSD since he graduated from Berkeley in the 80's would think FreeBSD is a piece of cake. I've been using Slackware for several versions now, I love it to the point of passion, but I still make no bones about how it is a more challenging Linux distro than, say, Ubuntu.

Several people have remarked their agreement with me - they found the FreeBSD install difficult as well. Now, they know that they aren't crazy or technical idiots, but that they have met a very challenging system. So when they make up their minds to try it again, they will be prepared to take it in little steps, backtrack, and experiment to get it right.

Lots of things are challenging in life; the things that are the most worth having are often the most work. My point is to show average home users how they, too, can improve their position, by using the example of my own faltering, fumbling path - hopefully avoiding the mistakes I made and picking up a helpful hint from the things I managed to do.

If everybody is done getting defensive for feeling that I'm attacking their distro, depressed because technology is so hard to do, defeated for not doing better, and demoralized by their flame-back reactions to the other flamers: can we now move forward, seeing these things in a positive light for a change, for the constructive opportunities for growth which they are?

Here we all are - being human!

The clueless newbs are human. The programmers who wrote the systems are human. The people who tell me to RTFM are human. The people who think I'm crazy for tackling such a difficult distro are human. And we all have these human reactions. That's what I do - technology from the human point of view. Doggone it, sometimes this stuff makes the straw stuffing in my head hurt, but I reck-skin we'se all gonna get it figgered out eventually, huh?

...yours, in our continued shared quest for enlightenment,

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