Review: PC-BSD 1.5
I've never used any form of BSD before but I've been pointed towards it countless times; in my never ending quest for the "most usable" free operating system it seems logical to review the recent PC-BSD 1.5 release.
"I may have a massive personal preference towards KDE but I somehow think that PC-BSD has an excellent combination of intuitive elements that make it easy for me to recommend."
PC-BSD is a free operating system based on Free-BSD with ease of use in mind. The PC-BSD website claims "Like any modern system, you can listen to your favorite music, watch your movies, work with office documents and install your favorite applications with a setup wizard at a click." and that's a big claim to make.
Who PC-BSD is aimed at
It has been designed with the "casual" user in mind; so the focus is going to be on an intuitive experience and out-of-the-box functionality. The ultimate question is, is it easy to use? Let's have a look
You seldom get to see an installation process as intuitive as this; it feels enough like Windows to be comforting to the Microsoft faithful yet has that distinct Linux feel (once you're asked about setting root passwords). It may not be the prettiest installer in the world but it's very functional and easy to use - top marks!
It's even nice to be asked what system components you want added (as default applications). Rather than be loaded with 101 things you're not likely to use it asks you - a nice touch I've not seen in any other OS.
When PC-BSD is installing it's all very civilised yet the critic in my can't help but notice the slightly low-res images used to advertise the system you're installing... To be fair it installed quite quickly and offered me the option of installing extra languages and software from a second CD, which I declined.
It's KDE through and through but don't expect any immediate visual delights. That's not to say it's an ugly release out of the box - it looks acceptable. However it does have excellent support for graphics cards and the presence of Compiz-Fusion means that visual glory is just a few clicks away.
Help for new users
There's a helpful "quick start" guide provided upon your first login to the system as well as a "quick guide" ever present on the desktop - these are a nice addition to help fresh users become more comfortable in the environment.
As usual I can't comment on wireless support but the connectivity seemed excellent otherwise; my home network was picked up immediately and I could happily navigate the Samba shares. The presence of Konqueror always bothers me (I consider it tiresome, slow and generally outdated but that's just me). I can't fault the networking but the story might be different had I not been using a wired connection.
Taking a media file from a Samba share (such as an episode of South Park) and trying to play it often highlights how much 'out of the box' functionality the release has. In this case opting to play the file results in instant playback (albeit in Kaffeine, my least favourite media player). I tried a few other files too and all of them played so the PC-BSD guys are serious about offering a decent yet immediate user experience. It may not be rare in the current free-OS climate but it's still desirable.
PC-BSD comes with the usual KDE Control Center (exactly the same as I found in Linux Mint 4.0 Daryna). It's a solid configuration utility and the usability level is pretty high - I especially like the use of natural language (as I said in my Mint review). No concerns over config - most users should be comfortable with this.
PC-BSD comes with an absolute boat-load of software installed by default (even with my liberal additions during the install). They've pretty much covered every single software niche by default so you shouldn't really need to install anything unless you have very specific needs (or dislike the default offerings).
Installing new software
This is an interesting notion and unfortunately Mint already stole PC-BSD's thunder for me; you see I spent many minutes scrolling through the installed software and control panel menus looking for something that resembled Synaptic. However what I should have been looking for was on the desktop all along: "Download PBI's" is a link to an online catalogue of software (much like last week's review of Mint).
You download a "PBI" file that acts like an .exe or .msi file under Windows. I was expecting PBI to be a different visual extension to Synaptic (apt, basically) but that's not what it did at all... Maybe it was because I chose to download MSN Messenger 7 but it acted and installed exactly like I would expect under Windows...
So I decided that I'd get Wine from the same online repository but again, it installed like a Windows based installer.
Good work to the PC-BSD guys, I didn't once see the word "package" or "repository" when installing a selection of applications. While that may not seem like a compliment to those of us who actually use Linux on a frequent basis, for someone who only used Windows in their lifetime the means of installing software under BSD is refreshingly similar. It's easy, it's obvious and more importantly anyone could do it.
I can't understand why I've never used BSD before; it's fabulous. I may have a massive personal preference towards KDE but I somehow think that PC-BSD has an excellent combination of intuitive elements that make it easy for me to recommend. Sure there are prettier releases out there and yes there are probably ones more suited to those of us who love Synaptic. But for flat-out ease of use? This is pretty top notch. I recommend you check out PC-BSD.
Enjoy this article? Why not subscribe to the full RSS feed?