Why FreeBSD 8 Won't Rewrite the Book
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A major release of an operating system typically brings significant changes that require users to learn new skills.
But backers of the open source FreeBSD 8 operating system say that's not necessarily going to be the case with its next major version.
FreeBSD 8 is currently in its beta release cycle with a final release targeted for August. The new release will be the first major release since FreeBSD 7 in February 2008, with the most recent point update being the 7.2 release in May of this year.
While the jump to 8.0 might seem a big step, FreeBSD contributor and Absolute FreeBSD author pointed out that most users have little to worry about.
"FreeBSD has a two-tier development process," Lucas told InternetNews.com. "This two-tear method lets our users be very conservative, using only well-tested and widely deployed code, while we can further improve the code and add new features."
"The newest version of FreeBSD, including the changes that were made just minutes ago, is called FreeBSD-current," he explained. "Any new features go into FreeBSD-current for community testing and further development. Every so often, we cut a major release from FreeBSD-current. This is a .0 release, such as 8.0."
Lucas added that once 8.0 is released, FreeBSD-current will continue receiving new features and further development. Once those features are tested and debugged, they might be backported to FreeBSD 8. As a result, the latest FreeBSD 7.2 release is based on an older version of FreeBSD-current, but includes bugfixes and additional features that have been tested on the development version of FreeBSD.
Another longstanding focus of FreeBSD is on simplifying the technical task of migrating to new releases.
Matt Olander, CTO at enterprise hardware systems vendor iXsystems, told InternetNews.com that his firm will be working to help his customers migrate from older versions of the OS to the new release when it's out.
But Olander, who also serves on the FreeBSD Project's marketing and public relations teams, described FreeBSD as "notoriously famous" for its easy migration across versions, with successful migrations to FreeBSD 7.x from far older editions like 4.x.
That makes it easy to recommend to customers, he added.
"We will install whatever platform the customer chooses, although we're certainly partial to BSDs and FreeBSD in particular," Olander said. "Usually my first question, if I'm brought into discussions for an opportunity and the customer is using another operating system, is 'Have you tried that on FreeBSD?'"
What's new in FreeBSD 8
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. According to Lucas, the FreeBSD Project is driven largely by volunteers with very few actually working as paid developers on the effort.
"While the FreeBSD team has excellent communication skills, many of our people have lives and careers outside of FreeBSD," Lucas said.
That certainly hasn't stunted the new capabilities baked into FreeBSD 8, however, with the OS -- often thought of as primarily a server-based operating system -- offering big improvements that may benefit desktop users, too.
"FreeBSD 8.0 includes many new features and abilities over the 7.x series," Kris Moore, founder of the PC-BSD project, told InternetNews.com. "On the desktop side of things, probably the most important feature will be the new USB stack, which greatly improves support for USB devices, and fixes lots of long-standing bugs. Improvements to drivers [and] speed improvements are also in the works."
PC-BSD is a desktop derivative of FreeBSD that is currently owned by iXsystems.
"So far, we've seen some major improvements from the newer FreeBSD base, such as the USB fixes, greatly improved Wi-Fi support, and a significant desktop responsiveness improvement," Moore said, adding that work on PC-BSD version 8, which will based on FreeBSD 8, has just begun.
Despite the improvements in FreeBSD 8, the project's supporters reaffirmed that the idea is to keep disruption to a minimum.
"The FreeBSD team works hard to minimize user surprises," Lucas said, adding that the fact makes his book still relevant, despite having been first published in 2002. "Absolute FreeBSD's usefulness will decrease over time, as with any tech book, but I expect it to be useful for a few years yet."