NetBSD 4: A Force to Be Reckoned With?

NetBSD 4 is finally out, boasting a long list of feature and speed improvements in the open source operating system. The NetBSD 4.0 comes nearly two years after NetBSD 3.0 was released. As with earlier versions, NetBSD 4 continues to
competitively position its BSD variant against its BSD, Linux and Unix peers.

“It’s hard to point out a single aspect — there have been so many
improvements,” NetBSD developer Geert Hendrickx told

Among the improvements in NetBSD 4 is a switch to the latest GCC
which is faster and more efficient than its predecessors.

From a user point of view Hendrickx noted that NetBSD 4 now supports the
Xen3 open source virtualization hypervisor. He also noted that there is a
lot more support for recent consumer hardware including ACPI
improvements, a native driver for SATA disks and Bluetooth support.

Pointing to other improvements Hendrickx noted the latest version features a new, very efficient memory filesystem.
“Untarring a pkgsrc tree has never been so quick!” he said.

NetBSD is a derivative of the UC Berkeley’s 386BSD Unix with the first
NetBSD release appearing back in April of 1993. It competes in the BSD
variant space with FreeBSD and
and is also considered to be a competitive alternative to Linux
as well.

“It’s mean, it’s clean, secure and minimal,” Hendrickx said of NetBSD. “I’ve
used Linux on my systems in the past, and I’m still using it intensively at
work but it’s such a terrible mess. I really dislike some of the bloated
userland tools, and most of all the chaotic package management systems. ”

NetBSD user Andy Ball echoed Hendrickx’s comments about why he uses NetBSD.

“I was originally attracted to it because of the stated goals: correct
design, portability and so on,” Ball told “I’ve
stuck with it because it has proven rock solid for me as a server operating
system and because the developer/user community is exceptional. I’ve asked
a question in #netbsd and had a new kernel in my hands very shortly
afterwards. You don’t get that with proprietary commercial software, and
probably not even with other open source operating systems.”

Commercial vendors are also using NetBSD to their advantage. Among the most
prominent is networking vendor Force10
which uses NetBSD as the underlying operating system that
powers FTOS (the Force10 Operating System). Force10 also made a donation to
the NetBSD Foundation this year to help further research and the open
development community.

Greg Hankins, technical marketing engineer at Force10 Networks explained to that from the perspective of developing a reliable
operating system for Force10 switches and routers, there are three unique
advantages that NetBSD provides.

“First, it has a high degree of protocol and feature maturity and stability
derived from its roots in BSD Unix,” Hankins commented. “Second, the modern
kernel architecture features the process modularization and memory
protection that are necessary to build a fault tolerant operating system.
Third, NetBSD is designed to simplify portability across multiple hardware

In fact for the NetBSD 4.0 release, developers claim that the OS will run on
54 different system architectures.

Though the NetBSD 4.0 release is the latest and greatest, Force10 isn’t
planning on migrating, yet.

“We’re not planning to change NetBSD versions right now, so we have not
really looked at the differences between the new release and existing
releases,” Hankins said.

NetBSD user Ball also plans on waiting a bit before going to the 4.x
release. He noted that he plans to stick with 3.x until 4.1 comes out as
part of the philosophy of never upgrade to a .0 release. If history is any
kind of indicator, the wait may be awhile. The 3.0.1 release came out nearly 7 months
after 3.0.

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