Because there are so many different options out there for your free and open-source operating system, it can be hard to figure out what the best option is for you. Sifting between Linux distros is difficult – Debian and its derivatives, Ubuntu and its derivatives, Fedora, Arch, openSUSE, the list goes on. However, what if the best choice for you isn’t actually technically Linux? Here we review GhostBSD, a FreeBSD-based Unix OS designed for a simple desktop experience, to see if it’s the right fit for you.
GhostBSD First Impressions
One of the things that always strikes me when trying out a BSD OS is how similar they often feel. I know that Linux and BSD are both “Unix-like” operating systems, but it’s easy to forget that because the source code for things like GNOME, or in GhostBSD’s case MATE, are free and open, they’re easily ported to other operating systems like GhostBSD. It helps me focus on the changes that are meaningful, like how GhostBSD works under the hood and the choices the project made to accomplish the mission of providing a simple desktop OS for general use.
I immediately felt welcomed by GhostBSD. Aside from the techno-mumbo-jumbo that you get on first boot, where you have to choose how to start the system, it’s great to see that there’s a friendly-looking theme and presentation about the OS. It feels very much like a FOSS desktop OS that I’m used to, but it’s still reasonably friendly to use. This is important because giving your grandparents something that you’re familiar with on a laptop or desktop is a great way to help them out, but if it’s something that’s user-hostile in some way, they’ll just keep using their tablet that’s too small for them to see.
The GhostBSD Installation Process
Something I dislike about GhostBSD is the installation process. There isn’t an icon to install, so you have to jump into the terminal and run the
gbi command. This method of getting to the installer is definitely not so user-friendly, leaving you to have to find the documentation to get it installed onto your system’s drive. I do find this a bit of a letdown.
The installer itself is also geared more toward a power user. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could end up with a configuration that you don’t really want. For example, if you have another OS installed on your disk (very common with first-time users), it defaults to a full-disk installation rather than slotting into the open space on your disk, like Fedora would with its Anaconda installer, for example. Plus, you’d end up with Fish rather than Bash for your default shell, which isn’t great for beginners, as there are tons of guides written on Bash that may or may not work with Fish.
GhostBSD User Experience
Overall, as a Linux user, it’s easy to find my way around GhostBSD. The MATE desktop is familiar to me, as are most of the tools available in the OS. I particularly like that there are already four virtual desktops preconfigured, as those are now an integral part of my workflow and are what ultimately keep me drawn back to Linux and BSD.
Another virtue of the desktop environments that we love is the ability to customize and tweak to suit different needs. For example, you can move the titlebar buttons for close, minimize, and maximize from the right side to the left if you’d like, which is nice for macOS users.
There are also freedoms associated with updates and update mechanisms – you can either use
pkg like you might use
dnf from the command line in Linux or use the GUI package management tools.
The applications that are installed are all necessary. It’s exactly what you might expect to find in your typical lean open-source desktop OS configuration, with no frills and just the essential applications.
There is not much to remark on with the user experience – it is a very simple and friendly version of the MATE desktop that’s designed to be light on system resources and simple to use. Overall, I think there is no way you could go wrong.