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.