Review: GhostBSD 2.0

Main Screen
Recently, GhostBSD 2.0 was released. What is GhostBSD? It's a FreeBSD distribution that uses GNOME as its sole DE and aims to make FreeBSD more user-friendly, similar to what Ubuntu has done to Debian (and the Linux community as a whole) — that last part comes from the GhostBSD website. This puts GhostBSD in the position of being the GNOME counterpart to PC-BSD, which is a KDE-focused FreeBSD distribution, although that will gain GNOME and other DE variants as well with the upcoming release of version 9.0. Before version 2.0, GhostBSD was only a live DVD; now, however, it is installable to a disk, which, as you will see later, turned out to be a boon.
I tested the GhostBSD live DVD, installation, and post-install session in VirtualBox in Linux Mint 10 "Julia" GNOME with 1024 MB of RAM allocated to the guest OS and an available 10 GB virtual hard drive. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

I booted the live DVD in the virtual environment and chose the default boot option at the boot menu. After a bit of loading time, replete with a wall of scrolling text, I was taken to the GhostBSD desktop.

AbiWord + Nautilus
The desktop looks to be a standard 2-panel GNOME setup. There's not really a whole lot to report in that sense. The default icon theme is the same GNOME-Wise green icon theme used by Linux Mint GNOME 7-9, while the GTK+ and Metacity themes are reminiscent of the GNOME editions of Linux Mint and openSUSE. Overall, the desktop looks like a very pleasant place to be.

Mozilla Firefox at version 3.6 is the default web browser. Unfortunately, proprietary multimedia codecs like Adobe Flash are not included out-of-the-box. My first trip was to the package manager. Although this was a live session, the package manager required authentication to run, and I didn't know the root password for the live session. I searched on the GhostBSD forums and elsewhere online to find the live passwords for version 2.0 to no avail. Then, I saw a different GhostBSD forum post about how to install Adobe Flash 10 from the FreeBSD Ports in the terminal. The commands seemed simple enough, so I copied and pasted them, only to hit upon a weird error message; as it turns out, the Ports tree for Adobe Flash wasn't enabled, so I would have to add it myself, though I didn't know it at that time. I set aside the issue for later.

The rest of the application list is not very long at all. AbiWord and Gnumeric are present, along with other standard GNOME utilities as well as Mozilla Thunderbird. There aren't really many other extra programs included. If it wasn't for the presence of the installer, my time with GhostBSD would have ended here; thankfully, I was able to install GhostBSD onto the virtual hard drive.

The installer is a very basic CLI scrolling text-based program; it just asks a couple questions about hard drives to be used and user creation. Here I made a silly mistake: I forgot to type in a root password because I pressed ENTER a little too quickly. At least I was able to create a regular user and password. The installation took about 20 minutes, which is slightly longer than I'm used to but still not too bad. After that happened, I shut down the virtual machine, changed the boot order in VirtualBox, and restarted it.

After that, I was booted into the installed system, which looked just like the live session — no surprises there. I wanted to see if Adobe Flash (or any other not-already-installed program, for that matter) could be installed, and because I hadn't entered any root password during the installation process, I thought I could open the package manager and get away without typing any password. That's a reasonable expectation, I think. Well, not really — once again, the package manager shut me out with an authentication error. Just to be sure, I typed in the regular user's password; that didn't work either.
I checked out the FreeBSD documentation on how to change the root password and followed the instructions to restart the virtual machine, boot in single-user mode, use "passwd" to change the root password, and then restart. I did all that, and it seemed to work fine. After restarting, though, I tried typing the new root password into the authentication box for the package manager, and that didn't work.

Here, I opened a terminal, typed "su" (which interestingly enough did not prompt me for any password), and then typed the exact command to open that package manager as root. That successfully opened the package manager, but unfortunately the FreeBSD repositories didn't load, so I could only see already-installed packages. That aside, the package manager looks and feels a lot like PackageKit; it's user-friendly enough, though of course there are friendlier ones like the Linux Mint Software Manager and the Ubuntu Software Center.

Package Manager
At this point, I opened Mozilla Firefox and searched for "freebsd install flash" and found a very helpful page in the FreeBSD documentation explaining exactly how to compile and install Adobe Flash 10 on FreeBSD 8.X, upon which GhostBSD 2.0 is based. These instructions looked very similar to the ones in the GhostBSD forums, but they first required the installation of a particular FreeBSD Ports tree, and it was at this point that I realized that I didn't have that particular Ports tree installed already. I clicked on the link in that website to install that Ports tree only to come upon a "404 not found" error; other pages also linked to that site, so I was out of luck. At this point, I basically gave up, and that's where my time with GhostBSD ended.

Other than all that, GhostBSD never crashed and remained stable throughout, in true FreeBSD fashion.

I think that although it has a lot of potential and works mostly well, for a distribution that aims to eventually be as user-friendly as Ubuntu, GhostBSD still needs a lot of work, especially regarding authentication issues. The installed root password issue was of course of my own making, so I'm only holding that against myself. The issues with the Ports tree and FreeBSD repositories were of course issues with FreeBSD at the time I tested it and not with GhostBSD specifically, but these events nonetheless soured the overall experience. Hopefully if and when I test GhostBSD 3.0, it'll have improved a lot. I wouldn't recommend it for anyone but fans of both BSD and GNOME, but I think I'll keep an eye on how this distribution develops.


  1. You could of course use "sudo passwd root" to change the root password...

  2. @Anonymous: Does GhostBSD actually use sudo? If it does, I didn't know that — I just assumed it didn't. Well, now I know. Thanks for the tip!

  3. Hi PV, i was searching for a review of Ghost BSD for last two days and I did not find any review abt version 2. So I decided to try it out and started downloading..I am a regular reader of your site and jeff hoogland's site.. then suddenly I saw your Ghost BSD review.. I really liked it.. I am going to try it in VM after downloading it.. Now I have already downloaded Ututo XS 2011 an Argentine Gentoo based distro (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ututo) and booting it using the live cd option in VM and planning to install it on VM (You can downlaod it from here: http://www.ututo.org/cms/download.php?view.18 )

    Another one which I want to try is Gnu Hurd ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNU_Hurd)

    If you have tried any of these I would like to hear your opinion about these...

  4. Instead of writing all this crap you should of reinstalled it correctly as I did then you would find the package manager works correctly searches, updates, and installs as it says on the box. it is limited to 1 package at a time. The major let down for me was it does not mount flash-drives correctly only if inserted at boot time and does not unmount it mounts ntfs drives but not jfs. does not auto mount CDs which is a total bummer that is with 64bt The polish and start up times are pretty fast for bsd. pcbsd is testing gnome in the next version 9 so there should be good competition

  5. @jai ho: I contemplated trying Ututo, but (call me petty but) one thing on its DistroWatch page discouraged me — it uses the Sabayon logo for its Kickoff menu button, which gives me the impression that the developers haven't put quite as much effort into it as, say, Sabayon. That may very well not be true, but in any case, regardless of the logo used, I didn't really intend to review it. I may do that at some point, though. I don't plan on trying GNU/Hurd because it seems too complicated (as far as I know the only major distributions offering it are Arch and Debian and those are minimal installations) for a lowly newbie like myself. Thanks for the comment!
    @kelvin: Are you saying then that GhostBSD needs to be reinstalled after the first installation for the package manager to work? That's quite bad then. Or are you saying that changing the root password messes the whole thing up? That's also bad, if you ask me. Otherwise, how exactly is this crap, especially when I also said that when I tested this the FreeBSD repositories and Ports sites were all down, and I specifically added that although these were no faults of GhostBSD, they contributed to a bad experience? Anyway, that aside, as I tested this in a virtual machine, I wasn't able to test the automatic mounting of USB drives, although it did detect the ISO file which was present in the virtual CD drive. And yeah, it looks really nice and polished, but as I said in the post as well, it'll need to really watch its back once PC-BSD 9 comes out. Thanks for the comment!

  6. I think what he meant was that you should've installed it correctly, to hard drive. Doing all your reviews in VB without a good reason, like it did not install anywhere else, does not count. You said yourself you have not been able to test auto mounting because of that. It's a drawback and does not make for a proper review.

  7. thanks! very good articles

  8. @Anonymous: Oh, sorry, I didn't realize what they meant by that. I'm sorry I didn't make it clear in this article, but I have said it before: I don't actually install distributions that I test to my hard drive because I only have one computer and I want to keep it as free of troubles as possible, so I don't want to risk anything by installing a new distribution alongside Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora" GNOME and Microsoft Windows 7. I hope that helps. Thanks for the comment!
    @linuxbasiccommand: Thanks for the support!

  9. I have GhostBSD 2 installing after about 5 minutes on the live DVD and can't believe how easy it was. The live DVD is about as fast as any I have used and I know that some people like a graphical installer, but this is BSD after all.

    Anyone who remembers DesktopBSD knows the weaknesses of PC-BSD, great though that project is and GhostBSD seems to me to be following in DesktopBSD's footsteps.

    Keep it simple, close to FreeBSD itself but now with Gnome.

    Thanks to the GhostBSD developers

  10. @Anonymous: Yeah, I too was surprised by the speed and simplicity of the installer. I remember thinking in my head, "That's it?" Then again, the installation of files to the disk itself took a little longer than I was expecting. Also, I'm not entirely familiar with the reasons for why DesktopBSD failed, so could you elaborate? I'd also like to know how that affects PC-BSD. From what I've seen, it seems to be a great project with some awesome goals (PBI, et cetera), but then again, that is the newbie outsider's perspective. Thanks for the comment!

  11. @PV

    Thanks for the review of GhostBSD 2.0. it was a great read and I would honestly install it to a hard drive to feel the real speed of the OS. the install process in a VM is slower, this I have done my self when testing the release before we released it to the public. I have tested the install process across several single core and dual core computers and the time to install is right around 10 minutes(plus a minutes here and there depending upon the ram of the system). Us at the developing team have found that the lighter the system runs faster and if people would like the heaver software they can install it. I know bxpkg you can only install one piece of software at a time, this is done for the reason that where it could not cause problems on there desktop. bxpkg is new software and is also early in there stages. We have teamed up with them through our process and they will grow with GhostBSD. There is only one problem that I see you have no links going back to our site.


  12. Hi pv, I have downloaded Ututo but alas i am not able to boot the Ututo as live cd in my VM... i waited for 1 hour and it was still showing scanning for some hardware and starting some processes but it has not booted the live DVD even after 1 hour so quit it..

    i have tried ghost bsd and it is very fast and i feel it better than PC-BSD... I have also tried Desktop BSD and I liked it better than PC-BSD... I am really happy that some other developers are reviving the Desktop BSD even though the main developer discontinued...

  13. @John: Thanks for the support. Yeah, if I had more computers available, I would certainly install on real hard drives.
    @jai ho: That's unfortunate that Ututo didn't work. Also, I have heard that DesktopBSD is being revived — these are exciting times.
    Thanks for the comments!

  14. as John said in above comment, it is really annoying that after reading a good review and we will decide to try it out and then there is no link to the site or download page from your site.. it may be a matter of searching in google but it is really annoying not to have the direct link from your site to the distro's site.. so if you can include a link to the distro's site in your future reviews it would really be helpful..thanks...

  15. @jai ho: I'll definitely try to do that in the future. Thanks again for the tip!

  16. Playing around with ANY distro in a Virtual "Live" environment, is NOT a review. !!!
    In fact, it's just a 5 minute cup-o-coffee, that anyone can make themselves -LoL.
    Why do all these so-called reviewers' do this crap ?, -I dunno.
    You should've installed it correctly, to hard drive, anything else just doesn't count.

  17. @Anonymous: Is there anything that you find particularly lacking in this review relating to the fact that it was done in a VM, or do you just blindly criticize VM reviews on principle?

  18. You must have a good deal of free time to write this crap as a review. Please save some bandwidth. Thanks.

  19. @Anonymous: Please explain yourself. And there's plenty of bandwidth to go around; if you feel like there is a dearth of good reviews of GhostBSD, write one yourself!

  20. GhostBSD sounds appealing to someone like myself who doesn't want to spend loads of time installing all the extra gnome stuff post installation. If you don't have any idea how to use a BSD system and you run into automount or wifi problems then you should consider learning it. I'm no expert in bsd-land but I know enough after using it(freebsd and openbsd) for about four years as a desktop that this is an excellent way for people to warm up to BSD. Read the FreeBSD manual, anything from Dru Lavigne as well as all the bsdmag's publications for really good ideas as to how to learn how to use this awesome OS. Downloading it NOW.

    1. @Justin Sullivan: Thanks for the comment!