FuryBSD 12.0FuryBSD is the most recent addition to the DistroWatch database and provides a live desktop operating system based on FreeBSD. FuryBSD is not entirely different in its goals from NomadBSD, which we discussed recently. I wanted to take this FreeBSD-based project for a test drive and see how it compares to NomadBSD and other desktop-oriented projects in the FreeBSD family.
FuryBSD supplies hybrid ISO/USB images which can be used to run a live desktop. There are two desktop editions currently, both for 64-bit (x86_64) machines: Xfce and KDE Plasma. The Xfce edition is 1.4GB in size and is the flavour I downloaded. The KDE Plasma edition is about 3.0GB in size.
Booting from the live media brings up the Xfce 4.14 desktop environment. Along the bottom of the screen is a panel which holds the application menu, task switcher and system tray. Icons on the desktop open the Thunar file manager, launch the system installer, and provide quick access to a Getting Started document. There are two more icons for accessing X.Org configuration options and showing system information. The Getting Started document is a quick reference text file containing command line instructions for setting up networking and installing video drivers. The System Information icon opens the Firefox web browser and displays a locally generated page which contains general information about our computer and its resource usage.
FuryBSD 12.0 -- The live Xfce desktop (full image size: 1.2MB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
Launching the system installer opens a window that displays a series of text-based menus and prompts. The first screen asks us to make up a hostname for our computer. We are then shown a series of ZFS options. We can choose which disk to take over for the filesystem, along with RAID options, whether to enabling encryption, and we can set the size of swap space. This screen is not at all beginner friendly and is likely to confuse anyone not accustomed to working with ZFS, but the options all seem to work as I would hope. The installer asks if we are sure we want to wipe and take over the disks we selected and then copies its files to the hard drive.
Once the files have copied we are asked to make up a password for the root account. We can then add a new user account. We are advised to add at least one user to the wheel group. This recommendation is not explained, but it is so our user can perform administration actions. We are then asked to pick our time zone from a menu and then the system restarts.
While the installer worked well enough, something that gave me a little trouble was the screensaver came on while the operating system was being set up and locked the desktop. I did not know what the password was and it took a little trial-and-error before I came up with "furybsd" as the password. I later found the default passwords are on the project's GitHub page for the live media.
My fresh install of FuryBSD booted to a graphical login screen. From there I could sign into my account, which brings up the Xfce desktop. The installed version of Xfce is the same as the live version, with a few minor changes. Most of the desktop icons have been removed with just the file manager launchers remaining. The Getting Started and System Information icons have been removed. Otherwise the experience is virtually identical to the live media.
FuryBSD uses a theme that is mostly grey and white with creamy yellow folder icons. The application menu launchers tend to have neutral icons, neither particularly bright and detailed or minimal.
FuryBSD 12.0 -- The Xfce application menu (full image size: 924kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
I tried running FuryBSD on my laptop and in a VirtualBox machine. In both test environments, the operating system ran quickly and the Xfce desktop performed smoothly. When running in VirtualBox, at first FuryBSD could not integrate the mouse pointer or use my system's full screen resolution. Once VirtualBox guest modules had been installed from the FreeBSD package repositories mouse integration worked, but I still could not get the desktop to use a higher screen resolution.
When running on my laptop, FuryBSD was able to make use of my wired network connection, but could not detect my wireless card. I used the Getting Started tips file, but the listed tools did not help. I also found applications were unable to play sound in either test environment. I will touch on this again later, but FuryBSD was entirely silent during my trial, regardless of how I adjusted the volume controls.
The operating system is fairly lean for a desktop system and requires just 2GB of disk space. Memory usage was about average, with the operating system consuming 330MB of Active memory and 290MB of Wired memory.
FuryBSD requires a smaller than normal amount of disk space because it ships with few desktop applications. We are given Firefox, the Thunar file manager, the Xfce terminal, the Xfce settings panel, and a bulk file renaming tool. The application menu contains a launcher for an e-mail client, but no e-mail application is installed. Behind the scenes we find the FreeBSD 12.0 userland tools, manual pages, and the Clang compiler.
For anything else we will need to turn to the package manager. FuryBSD does not ship with a graphical software manager, instead we can use the pkg command line package manager to install, upgrade, and remove software. We could also use FreeBSD's collection of ports if we wish to compile source packages and add customizations.
FuryBSD 12.0 -- Information on using the package manager (full image size: 489kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
The Firefox browser worked well for the most part. I had no trouble visiting most websites. However, I could not get YouTube videos to play. Videos would load, but refuse to start. I also had trouble with local multimedia. I installed the VLC and mpv players. Both media players would show video, but were unable to produce sound, for either video or audio files.
Both the sudo and doas privilege escalation tools are installed. I found sudo is not configured and needs to be set up manually. The doas tool is set up to grant root access (with a password) to anyone in the wheel group. Some specific commands can also be run by wheel members without a password, such as the service command for managing background services and the ifconfig utility for managing network connections.
I don't feel as though I have a lot to say about FuryBSD as the operating system is quite minimal for a desktop system. The project mostly does what it sets out to do - providing a way to run a live desktop version of FreeBSD and make it possible to quickly install a FreeBSD-based operating system. On the positive side of things, it mostly works well, has some quick-reference documentation, uses FreeBSD's solid core as its base, and has a pretty vanilla, yet functional, version of Xfce.
I did have a few complaints. FuryBSD is very minimal, meaning beyond testing hardware and browsing the web, there is not a lot we can do with the live environment. The installer, while functional, is likely to scare away anyone besides people already comfortable with FreeBSD and ZFS. I also found sound was not working on my test systems.
While FuryBSD basically succeeds in fulfilling its mission, I was less enthusiastic about using it than I was when I tried NomadBSD last month. NomadBSD has a more polished desktop, more included applications, sound worked out of the box, the desktop resolution could be adjusted in VirtualBox, and it used less RAM. These two projects have a lot of overlap and, while they approach some things differently, I feel NomadBSD is currently the stronger choice for most users while FuryBSD will probably mostly appeal to people who want a more minimal default collection of software.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a de-branded HP laptop with the followingspecifications:
Processor: Intel i3 2.5GHz CPU
Display: Intel integrated video
Storage: Western Digital 700GB hard drive
Memory: 6GB of RAM
Wired network device: Realtek RTL8101E/RTL8102E PCI Express Fast