RealTime IT News

Return of The BSDs

The clocks have fallen back, the leaves are hitting the ground and new BSD releases are on the Net.

Among all the noise and buzz created by Linux, it's important to remember that it's not the only open source variant of Unix. OpenBSD, NetBSD and FreeBSD are all still very much alive and kicking and have recently been released from their respective projects.

OpenBSD 3.8 includes improved hardware support, such as a new X.org video driver for the Intel i810 graphics chipset among others. The latest version of the OpenBSD-sponsored OpenSSH project version 4.2 is also part of the release.

The release theme for OpenBSD 3.8 is "hackers of the lost raid," which OpenBSD developer Bob Beck explained comes from the addition of bioctl(8), a raid-card-independent RAID management interface, and some great management features for ami(4) cards.

Beck also noted other important additions in OpenBSD 3.8, including hostapd(8) for wireless access points, ipsecctl to simplify IPsec management, sasyncd to synchronize IPsec SAs for failover purposes, network interface aggregation with trunk(4) and DVD filesystem support.

In Beck's opinion, OpenBSD does security better than anyone else with a particular strength in "firewalling" and routing. Stable functional features are what sets OpenBSD apart from other operating systems.

"OpenBSD doesn't chase features at the expense of stability and security," Beck told internetnews.com.

Not to be overshadowed, NetBSD is also sporting a new release this week. NetBSD 2.1 includes kernel subsystem updates, networking, file system, security, system administration and user tools improvements.

Version 3.0 is expected at the end of November.

The FreeBSD Project is also gearing up for its next major release, version 6, which is expected in the coming weeks.

FreeBSD is one of the earliest open source operating system projects and is a direct descendant of the original open source BSD work performed at the University of California, Berkeley.

FreeBSD 6 will include a number of important improvements that will build on the strong foundation of the FreeBSD 5.x series originally released in 2003.

Scott Long, FreeBSD release engineer, explained that developers spent a lot of time in the FreeBSD 5.x cycle developing new technologies to carry the OS forward.

"Much of that time was bumpy due to the nature and the depth of the work that was happening," Long told internetnews.com. "But, it was all very important in order to build a good foundation for the future.

"With 6.0 we're taking that foundation and making it shine."

New performance improvements in FreeBSD 6 will take advantage of the new SMP architecture. It will also have the ability to scale to eight, 12, and 14 processors. The filesystem is now multithreaded, which, according to Long, will allow for much better performance of mail servers and database servers.

"Future 6.x releases will continue to focus on taking advantage of the new architectures to improve performance," Long said.

Long said each BSD has something that they do really well compared to the others in the family. In FreeBSD's case, it's the focus on SMP performance now.

According to Long, "this is vitally important now that the industry is turning towards putting multiple processors into desktops and laptops, and increasing the CPU density in servers."

The FreeBSD approach to SMP is a better one than that taken by Linux in Long's opinion.

"Linux took an approach that was fairly easy and non-disruptive, but ultimately has limitations that we feel will limit its scalability for general computing," he explained. "FreeBSD took a much more difficult approach to the problem, and with 6.0 the benefits are starting to be seen.

"There are reports of FreeBSD starting to benchmark much faster than Linux for certain filesystem tasks on SMP systems."

OpenBSD developer Bob Beck said it's hard to get quality code out of the Linux development model where features are added from a random bunch of maintainers doing stuff on their own.

OpenBSD development is a whole operating system with both kernel and userland utilities built together and maintained together, according to Beck.

"BSDs in general are also much more corporate friendly than Linux, which, if used in a product by a company, puts some serious restrictions on what the company can do and still comply with the GPL."

FreeBSD's Long also sees continued adoption among enterprises of BSD.

"Companies continue to choose FreeBSD for their embedded products and their corporate infrastructure because they understand the reliability and efficiency that it brings," Long said. "And I'd like to see that continue to grow."