PC-BSD vs. Ubuntu

When it comes to open source operating systems, Linux is the clear champion, however it isn’t the only free option available. Way back in the history of computing, a branch of the Unix operating system was released by the University of California, Berkeley. Known as BSD Unix, this branch still lives on in various guises in operating systems like FreeBSD, OpenBSD and NetBSD. Each of these BSD derivatives brings something unique. With OpenBSD, it is an emphasis on security, with NetBSD a focus on portability and with FreeBSD a vision for a general purpose server operating system.

One problem with the BSD line of operating systems is that they are built for servers and/or embedded solutions and completely ignore the desktop. Installing FreeBSD as a desktop operating system is possible; however, it is fraught with difficulties and isn’t to be attempted by the technical novice. This is where PC-BSD fits in. It is a version of FreeBSD but designed for the desktop. Easy to install and easy to use.

So how does PC-BSD measure up to one of the top Linux distributions like Ubuntu? The installation process for both operating systems is quite straightforward (especially if you are comfortable with installing operating systems). Both platforms can be booted from DVD or a USB stick and then installed. Both PC-BSD and Ubuntu take the users through the different steps with easy-to-read instructions, and you don’t need to get your hands too dirty to get the job done. Overall, Ubuntu probably has the edge in terms of sleekness, but PC-BSD’s process was easy enough, especially since it was the first time I have ever installed it.

PC-BSD install process

The most striking difference between PC-BSD and Ubuntu Linux is the design of the desktop. PC-BSD uses KDE whereas Ubuntu uses Unity on top of GNOME. At this point it would be all too easy to get into a comparison between Unity and KDE but that would miss the fundamental differences between the two operating systems. For those who like KDE there is an official KDE based Ubuntu derivative called Kubuntu.



Both Ubuntu and PC-BSD support the major productivity applications including OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Firefox, Chrome and so on. For multimedia, both support programs like VLC and Audacity, and both support running Windows programs under WINE.


Installing programs is a little different on the two platforms; however, the idea is essentially the same. Ubuntu uses its Software Center as a single interface for installing and uninstalling programs. The main page offers a selection of recommendations and top-rated programs along with a list of categories to browse. It also has a built-in search facility which can help locate relevant packages.

Ubuntu-Ubuntu Software-Center

On PC-BSD, there are two applications for installing additional software. Historically, installing software on FreeBSD has been tricky, so PC-BSD invented a new, easier system. At the highest level is the AppCafe which offers an easy one-click solution to installing the most popular packages such as Firefox or OpenOffice. The AppCafe offers a range of recommendations as well as categories and a search facility.

The problem with AppCafe is that it doesn’t cover every program available for PC-BSD. In most situations, this probably isn’t an issue. However if you need to install a low level package, you will need to use the System Package Manager which isn’t as friendly as AppCafe. For example, to install the file encryption tool “ccrypt” on Ubuntu you just search for “ccrypt” in the Software Center, click on the package and install it. On PC-BSD “ccrypt” doesn’t appear in the AppCafe but it is available from the System Package Manager. What this means is that there will be moments when you need to search two places to see if a program is available.


Other tasks like configuring the network, changing the background, tweaking the firewall, adding a screensaver and so on, are equally as easy on Ubuntu Linux and PC-BSD. A couple of features that make PC-BSD unique are that it uses ZFS as its primary filesystem and that it includes a program called Life Preserver. The Life Preserver app allows you to take full advantage of the ZFS snapshot functionality and perform full or partial system backups to remote servers, including a FreeNAS server.


The stability and maturity of the FreeBSD kernel isn’t in question; in fact the same BSD code that was used to create FreeBSD was also used to create the kernel for Apple’s OS X and iOS operating systems. Also FreeBSD has been used on servers for many years to power some of the most popular Internet services. As a desktop operating system PC-BSD offers the richness of FreeBSD, including ZFS, but with a more friendly front end. For the most part, it succeeds. In terms of every day usage, PC-BSD is certainly comparable with Ubuntu. Unfortunately, PC-BSD doesn’t have the depth of industry support that Linux enjoys. If a third party releases its software for other platforms besides Windows and OS X, it is normally for Linux. Other Unix-like operating systems (including PC-BSD) are often neglected. It is this last point that means if I had to pick a winner, I would opt for Ubuntu Linux, but I would certainly recommend you try PC-BSD for yourself; it might just fit your needs perfectly.

Gary Sims

Gary has been a technical writer, author and blogger since 2003. He is an expert in open source systems (including Linux), system administration, system security and networking protocols. He also knows several programming languages, as he was previously a software engineer for 10 years. He has a Bachelor of Science in business information systems from a UK University.


  1. It’s nice to see a BSD geared toward desktop users. I’ve played around with GhostBSD in the past, but it was fairly awkward compared to Linux. For someone who just does basic computing and doesn’t need a lot of different software this could be a good alternative. For sure its a good way to avoid the bloat which has been creeping into the major distros of Linuxland.

  2. Why is it that Linux/BSD reviewers always test the installation process for new software but never the UNinstall process? Most, if not all, distros always contain a lot of unneeded software such as extra language packs, extra printer and video card drivers. Many distros allow the user to uninstall unwanted packages. Some, like Ubuntu, set up all application packages as dependencies of system software, making it impossible to uninstall any package.

    Is the package manager in PC-BSD able to work on multiple packages in one run, like Synaptic, or does it work on one package at a time?

    How does the disk partitioning process compare between PC-BSD and Ubuntu? You never mentioned that. From what I remember, the BSD partitioning process differs from that of Linux quite a bit.

  3. I am not an expert by any means, but it is my understanding that a user can “compile” his operating system on his computer and only those drivers and such will be retained and all the un needed drivers will be discarded. This is how Linux/UNIX can take up less space on the Hard Drive. As for the programs you don’t need, I haven’t seen too many Linux distributions with “too many” programs included. I am sure this all depends on the didtribution you choose. If someone else wants to chime in on the compiling procedure, I sure won’t be upset.

    1. Yes, one can compile their own system to get rid of extraneous drivers and programs, but how many users have the expertise? Today’s Linux distros pride themselves on being so user-friendly that a newbie, with no knowledge of Linux, can install them and be up and running in literally minutes. Compiling a system is definitely not newbie-friendly. Besides, if I have to compile my system to get rid of unwanted components, I certainly would not pick Ubuntu. I would pick Linux From Scratch where I can, not only build the exact system I want, but also learn a lot about the inner workings of Linux.

      What I am questioning, first of all, is why test the INSTALL process but not the UNINSTALL process? Secondary question is, what logic do the developers use to make “digicam” (a photo manager) a dependecy for “marble” (a globe and map widget), or “ubuntu-minimum” (a vital system package) a dependecy for “cowsay” and “fortune”?

      1. What I find interesting is the claim that cowsay and fortune are included in a minimum setup.
        Perhaps it’s an older release he’s talking about, as I’ve not found that true since 12.04, when I started using Ubuntu heavily.

        1. In the past week I have installed Mint16, Mint 17 and Lubuntu 14.04. They all installed cowsay and fortune by default, and did not allow their un-install.

  4. I get where Dragonmouth is coming from, and I know him, so I know the background around this inquiry. I think he is right, too. Quite a few systems focus on making a system easy to install, but when it comes to getting rid of stuff you’re not interested in, you’re at the mercy of the packager. In many cases, meta packages install a whole swath of software. Yes, that makes it easy to install anything from an entire desktop environment to a communications subsystem. But if you want only a few pieces of it, you have to remove the entire infrastructure and carefully install individual packages. Yet even there, pick the wrong package and once again you are installing far more than you may have wished for.

    We can SAY that, “Oh, the system isn’t that big”, but the fact is that even systems that were considered “small” in size have mushroomed by several orders of magnitude. Yes, current hardware is more than capable of dealing with this bloat, but can still benefit from something small and efficient. But an older system, which some of us have, and many of us have been “lured” into BSD and Linux systems because “they are smaller and leaner, and run well on older equipment”. While that remains true to some extent, the concern that Dragonmouth raises is valid, and to me, the answer is that, yes, systems have been installed to be easy to set up. To tear them down and reorganize them is possible, but it takes a great deal more expertise, and in some cases, may involve going all the way back to the source code to rebuild just what you want and nothing else; we do have such things: Linux From Scratch is one, but that’s WAY beyond the time and expertise of the systems we’re discussing here.

    The answer to lay it right out there, is this: yes, DM, what you want to do CAN be done, but the level of complexity and what you have to resort to in order to achieve what you are looking for may ultimately involve engineering your own solution. Looking at the number of things out there, it’s been done a lot, just not the way you’d like it to be done. Starting with a minimal core system, like an antiX Core, a SUSE Studio build (you’d have to start pretty minimal there) or a similar system that doesn’t include that much and allows you to build what you want is probably the best way to go. You’re not likely to find it in either of the distributions discussed; they are good, but I doubt they are what you are looking for.

    1. It has been a couple of years since I played around with a BSD so I don’t know how tightly integrated the packages in PC-BSD are.

      I understand that distro developers want to make it as easy as possible for the users to be up and running. I guess the Window-ization of Linux is the price we have to pay for the convenience.

      1. There are numerous “minimal” Linux distributions out there for you to choose from.

        However, there are far more end users that prefer the approach that mainstream distributions such as Ubuntu and Linux Mint have taken.

        Why should they be subjected to the personal preference of someone else?

        The beauty of Linux is choice.

        PS…There are a broad range of Ubuntu variants and offshoots, and even some rather minimal distributions that are based upon it such as Linux Lite.

        1. “There are numerous “minimal” Linux distributions out there for you to choose from.”
          I know that but the article is about Ubuntu so I am commenting on Ubuntu, not on minimal distributions.

          “Why should they be subjected to the personal preference of someone else?”
          But we are all subject to personal preferences of someone else, the distro developer.

          “The beauty of Linux is choice.”
          That may have been the beauty of Linux at one time. Nowadays more and more distros are going with the default monolith approach. The only choice left is whether to install the distro or not. That is the same choice that Windows offers.

          “There are a broad range of Ubuntu variants and offshoots”
          And being Ubuntu-based, they all offer the same monolithic approach.

          1. Ubuntu is certainly not forcing anyone to use their distributions.
            However, world wide, millions of end users (including myself) have found that Ubuntu is the Linux distribution that best suits their needs. My HD video, 4.1 surround sound audio, graphics manipulation programs, Steam, XBMC, Microsoft “HomeGroup” networking, Google accounts and Cloud platform integration all work perfectly. With only minor tweaks and little or no backport usage the Unity desktop can be transformed into a far more attractive and responsive state.
            I mean to take nothing away from PC-BSD, as I very much want to give it a try. Just not on this particular build as it’s perfectly suited to everything that I need or want this system to do.

    2. i used to think this was an issue but since building a modern rig, ive never even thought about it until seeing this article. even back in ubu 8.x days i never had any issues with bloat slowing anything down or hogging memory or disk space. but i always worried about it. i think its not a problem and rarely ever was.modern hard drives and modern processors and modern memory squash “bloat” problems. seriously, cowsay? the problem with bloat is seen more in browsers ahan a linux with cowsay in it.

  5. PC-BSD is worth a look for anyone who hasn’t tried it.
    I have used it and played around with it but in the end settled for Debian/kFreeBSD being a long time Debian user [ Debian GNU/Linux on the desktop – Debian/kFreeBSD on the laptop ]

  6. Thanks for the review Gary. We have some excellent new changes coming to PC-BSD’s application management and would love to get your feedback in a few weeks when it’s finished.

  7. Ive been using PCBSD with i3wm for 2 years from PCBSD9.1 release and now im on PCBSD10.02. Previously I was using Ubuntu 10.04 LTS minimal with i3wm. The decision to change to PCBSD was mainly due to ZFS and its FreeBSD base.

    As Josh form PCBSD mentioned above, the latest software management in PCBSD 10.02, under appcafe actually is very very good. Lots of options to install, and under the newest version, they’re tightly integrated with pkng package manager as well, and yes, it comes with PBI and also option to install into jails. I practically use all of the methods available in PCBSD to install what I need including compiling them from ports and direct download. They all works and very stable.

    If only there are more hardware drivers for BSD’s and better support for suspending sessions, then I will say the BSD variant is the sure winner. I use ubuntu on VirtualBox for linux apps that I cant find on pcbsd and also windows 7 on Virtualbox for windows only software that I need. Overall I am very happy with PCBSD (despite having to let go some hardware that I love due to missing drivers). If you have terabytes of data, PCBSD rocks and coupled it with a freeNAS, you’re really safe. Furthermore, pf is really beautiful and practical.

    I wish all the best for PCBSD developers and all other BSD devs, without them I won’t be enjoying and learning as much as I am now. Thank You.

  8. Far too many Linux Distros that are non compatible lack of everything and synaptic package manager is worse created app installer ever ! Why ? Well i don’t want to have numerous dependencies and libraries listed among wanted seek-ed app ! Its confuse user and not user friendly at all ! Keep it simple list only app and not all the dependencies and no unistaller for app ! I can not find installed app with synaptic package manager there is no option ! List god damned installed app and let user decide what to do with it ! Under win task is few mouse clicks away but under Linux terrible nightmare consuming time electricity and user nerves ! After years of development Linux is still not user friendly os – so for what purpose we have mouse then and for what reason is GUI developed then ??? I want to do it quick and painless but seems to me that this is not possible in Linux !!! So Win is the winner all the time ! Anyone curious why win is the most used os – because is user friendly and easy to use !!! After three month of trying and testing Linux Distros and loosing nerves over lack of user friendliness in it i decide that replacement for WinXP would be Win 2003 and after that some Vista light to run old hardware and that with bus master drivers that are not present under Linux ! WinXP Runs faster as numerous Linux Distros if then so (some distro doesn’t event start to install) not to mention performanse VGA drivers ! Linux is not worth to loose nerve over it ! We have mouse so developers of Linux-es use it !!! And GUI should be intuitive not guessing what it is. And context menu properties on right mouse click we have useful purpose for that in win, what purpose have that feature if then so under Linux only developers knows ???!!! A i’m curious, for what people are thanking for above ? For lack of missed feature that should be there years ago ??? Wake up you are not living in 90′ any more !!!!

    1. ok then bro throw your ps3-ps4 get xbox 360-xbox one throw your andoid buy a iphone becouse you say linux sux

    2. I do not understand your compliant I use. Mint but it is still based on ubuntu and or debian and have used solydx and manjaro an arch based system.
      Deleting programs in most linux based distros is done through the software manager or using the terminal which completely removes the whole package. The commands vary depending on the type of distribution. I personally windows to be much more fussy and difficult in this regard. I personally want a complete operating system that is not windows and not a minimal system and I appreciate the many flavors of linux and have learned a lot especially the use of the command line.

    3. ” synaptic package manager is worse created app installer ever ! Why ? Well i don’t want to have numerous dependencies and libraries listed among wanted seek-ed app ! Its confuse user ”

      Windows OTOH just piles in all the dependencies needed for each app, so you end up with duplication bloat. Synaptic is merely showing you what dependencies it will install if they are not already there. It is just for information if you are interested; if not just ignore it. I usually ignore it. Calm down.

      ” for what purpose we have mouse then and for what reason is GUI developed then ???”

      Horses for courses. I use the mouse/GUI for common actions like saving a file, but don’t expect to use it for everything. Like I am using the keyboard to type this. For the more powerful low-level stuff I use the command line – these system apps have so many options (that is their power) that just controlling them with mouse clicks would not be practicable.

      Did you know that Windows also has a command line interface – which is used by its admins and power users. I am guessing that you are not one.

      “Anyone curious why win is the most used os – because is user friendly and easy to use !!!”

      No, it is because it is pre-loaded onto almost every PC sold.This is widely known, there is “curious” about it. But I don’t find Windows user friendly; I use it sometimes and it constantly pops up threats and naggings about updates, viruses, and things like having the cheek to tell me I have “unused desktop icons” (I don’t). I don’t even know if these threats are genuine or malware tricks; it’s scary.

    4. Steve you are telling the truth. But it is a fact that linux is an excuse for people who cannot program because they are dumb and want to install programs (like a little boy) using a command line. It is not user friendly, if not used properly (not for newbies or old people or children) you can uninstall or delete things u need (it happened to a friend of mine). The only thing that is good in linux is that is free and if you use the computer for saving files or ofice tasks buying windows is a waste of money, but for your home the best option is windows.
      The last time i installed windows was 2 years ago, and it runss exactly the same

  9. @Steve:
    “synaptic package manager is worse created app installer ever ! ”
    You need to learn how to use Synaptic just like any other program. Synaptic can be configured to show as much or as little package information as you want. You just need to configure it, just like any other program you wish to use.

    “List god damned installed app ”
    In the initial Synaptic screen, look on the bottom left. There are series of buttons. One od them is labeled “STATUS” Click on that button. The display will change to show all packages. In the upper left, you will see a series of labels: “ALL”, “Installed”, “Installed(autodelete)”, “Installed(manual)”, “Installed(upgradable)”, “New in Repository”, “Not Installed” If you click on the “INSTALLED” label, all packages that are installed on your system will be listed in the right panel.

    “I want to do it quick and painless ”
    Then switch to OS/X.

    “A i’m curious, for what people are thanking for above ? For lack of missed feature that should be there years ago ??? ”
    If Linux is missing features then why is Microsoft constantly borrowing from Linux? Only recently Microsoft announced that Win 10 will include a “package manager.” It certainly is not an original idea from then since Windows never had “packages.” Microsoft did not even bother to rename the feature before ripping it from Linux.

    Apparently you do not know either Windows or Linux. Otherwise you would know that Linux is as feature-rich as Windows. So please quit spreading misinformation, go back to your Etch-a-Sketch and let those who are informed have a discussion.

  10. Winblows is bloatware, holeware and useless. I REFUSE to pay 100 plus dollars for an OS that is not safe to get on the Internet without firewall, spyware and and anti-virus program running to protect you… As a tech, do you know how many Winblows machines I have to clean up because people won’t run anti-virus on it?
    I’ve been using Linux since 01 exclusively – was using it off and on before that as dual boot. It has come a LONG ways… the days of “needing” the command line is gone. It has become a replacement for Winblows… finally. And it’s gaining popularity over the other.
    If linux is so bad, why did apple use it when they changed for OS X?… (well bsd) because it’s stable, pretty much virus free and scalable. What improvements has “other” company come up with? Same old holes, same old flaws, just a more cumbersome interface… 8 is a joke.
    Micrcrap will never use a nix kernel because once they do, they will have open up the source to the public… unless they make their own, but why do that? They already make a kernel. They will NEVER!!! use anything open source – it doesn’t fit their marketing scheme.
    The only reason it’s popular, is it’s on almost every new computer that is sold, doesn’t mean that it’s good.
    You want stable RUN AWAY FROM WINBLOWS!!!

  11. Linux guys are idiots. That’s why Linux still sucks. It’s worse now than it was 10 years ago.

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