The FreeBSD 'zine

May 2000 : Editorial

FreeBSD Software
by Joel Sutton <[email protected]>

Well another month just seems to have flown by.

As Jim has mentioned in the news page, last month was my first attempt at doing the site solo. I hope everyone wasn't too disappointed :-) On a more serious note, I'd like to send a special thank you to Marc De Bruyn. Marc's help, after a hard days consulting where we installed a FreeBSD file server and setup 8 Win98 workstations, was absolutely essential in getting the last issue together.

Today I'd like to talk about FreeBSD Application software. To me, this is something that just never seems to get discussed.

At the VicFUG user group meetings (here in Melbourne, Australia) we often get into, sometimes, heated discussions about FreeBSD. How should we flog it to the masses? What's wrong with it? What are it's good points? How can it do XYZ better than ZYX operating system? But we don't ever seem to get anywhere when it comes to software.

As far as I know, FreeBSD software comes in 4 forms:

  • Contributed software in the OS distribution.
  • Multi-platform software which has been imported into the ports collection.
  • FreeBSD only software which has been imported into the ports collection.
  • Commercial software which has been ported to FreeBSD.

The FreeBSD distribution does come bundled with some really useful software. These packages include troff, Perl, cvs, gcc, doscmd, uucp, telnet, ftp, gzip, sendmail, ppp and dump. It's quite an impressive list when you think about it. It is possible to configure a dial-up gateway, firewall, mail server or NFS file server without installing anything else. This, along with a rock solid OS, is probably why a lot of ISP's like to use FreeBSD.

Ok, but most ISPs want to run web servers right? Perhaps do something tricky with PHP and MySQL? No problems. We've got a fantastic collection of software called the ports collection. This collection takes all of the heart ache out of compiling UNIX software which will generally run of many UNIX (or UNIX like) platforms.

That's just fine if you're on ISP. However, what if you're a user who wants to browse the web? That's easy! You need to find the ports collection and install the FreeBSD version of Netscape. The people at Netscape have been kind enough to port their browser to FreeBSD, even though they don't sell it anymore.

Lets take it one step further. This particular user find themselves needing to prepare reports by integrating Word and Excel 97 documents from various users around the office. That user can use Netscape to order a copy of ApplixWare Office (even though it's not the most recent version) from Walnut Creek and receive commercial support if they have trouble embedding the Excel files into the ApplixWord documents.

Hang on, you're really a software developer. This week you're looking at doing a proposal for a project which involves developing a web-based front end to an Oracle database which is currently running on an NT server with Visual Basic based clients. Being the FreeBSD addict that you are, you would like to be able to recommend that they move everything over to an OS that you know won't let them down.

Unfortunately you end up recommending Sun's Solaris because you can't buy the necessary software or support to get the Oracle client working on FreeBSD (which PHP needs this at compile time to talk to the Oracle server). Although you have to option of doing it in Java, you can't justify the difference in development time.

What does that all mean?

FreeBSD has a number of different avenues with which to find and use various pieces of software. A majority of this software comes from the open source community and will compile/run on a variety of different UNIX platforms.

FreeBSD could experience a significant increase in the "number of users" if more commercial organizations (such as Oracle or Sun) were to port their products to FreeBSD and officially support them.

To make this a reality, both users and software developers need to continue to support FreeBSD commercial software vendors, no matter how small they are. We can do this by buying commercial products (such as ApplixWare) and/or asking commercial organizations for FreeBSD versions of their software and purchasing them when they become available.

It's up to us if we want native, supported, commercial software. But if we just keep our wallets in our pockets whilst we wait for a version of XYZ's package which does everything, the authors may decide that FreeBSD wasn't worth while after all.

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. Issue #02 : March 2000
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