5 Best BSD Distributions

5 Best BSD Distributions: As some of you may know, Linux is not the only Unix-like operating system available. There are other UNIX derivatives, and one of the most popular among them is called BSD. If you have been to Distrowatch, you will see different BSD distributions listed in there.

I have said before that I'm interested in trying BSD distros, but until now I still can't find the time to actually do it. I just did some research about several BSD distributions and read a couple of reviews so if I have the time to finally take the plunge, I'll be prepared.

For my own reference and for those who are also interested to try BSD, I've listed five BSD distros that are considered by many as the best:

Free BSD is the most widely used of all the BSDs and has been called "the unknown giant among free operating systems." It is utilized in servers (FreeBSD hosting are in demand), desktop, and embedded hardware. Its latest version is FreeBSD 7 and is loaded with exciting new features and innovations. FreeBSD has its own repository with thousands of easily accessible third-party applications. FreeBSD can also run a majority of Linux binaries without sacrificing performance and without the need for any compatibility layer.

Like most BSD distros, FreeBSD system installation is still in text mode. However, it is well documented and as some say, installing it is as easy as Ubuntu.

Perhaps the second most popular BSD distro is OpenBSD. It is founded by Theo de Raadt, the equally popular free software developer and advocate. OpenBSD is well known for the developers' insistence on open source code and quality documentation; uncompromising position on software licensing; and focus on security and code correctness. Its strict security philosophy and advanced security features has become its trademark. Its latest stable version is OpenBSD 4.4 with features such as: improved hardware support; new/extended platforms; new tools and functionality; More info can be found HERE.

On lighter note, the current OpenBSD mascot is a pupperfish/porcupinefish called Puffy. It was chosen because of the Blowfish encryption algorithm used in OpenSSH and the strongly defensive image of the porcupinefish with its spikes to deter predators.

NetBSD is one of the major BSD-derived operating systems. With a motto, "Of course it runs on NetBSD," it is known for its portability supporting 50+ hardware platforms. In fact, NetBSD supports more platforms than any single Linux distribution. NetBSD has been ported to a large number of 32- and 64-bit architectures, from VAX minicomputers to Pocket PC PDAs.

Its latest stable version is NetBSD 4.0, which was later updated to version 4.0.1. For more information about NetBSD, you can read the complete and updated user guide HERE.

DragonFly BSD
DragonFly BSD is a fork of FreeBSD 4.8 with a main goal of giving the BSD base an opportunity to grow in an entirely different direction from the one taken in the FreeBSD-5 series. It is known for implementing a Light Weight Kernel Threads (LWKT) and a lightweight ports/messaging system. Being a derivative of FreeBSD, DragonFly has inherited an easy-to-use integrated build system that can rebuild the entire base system from source with only a few commands.

The latest release of DragonFly BSD is version 2.2 with the latest drivers, better pkgsrc support and integration, and a brand new release infrastructure with multiple target options. It can run as a LiveCD, and is available in bare-bones bootable USB disk-key image, CD IS, and DVD ISO (with fully operational X environment). You can learn more about DragonFly BSD or read the installation instructions by visiting HERE.

PC-BSD is a desktop-oriented OS that is based on FreeBSD. With a graphical installer and a user-friendly KDE desktop environment, PC-BSD makes life a lot easier for beginners. It also provides official binary nVidia and Intel drivers for straightforward hardware acceleration and an optional 3D desktop interface through Compiz Fusion. In addition, its package management system is designed for ease-of-use.

PC-BSD 7 is the latest edition with PC-BSD 7.1 coming real soon. It utilizes KDE 4 desktop, has updated its hardware support and out-of-the-box packages, and offers new methods of installation, including a DVD, USB and Internet/network install. Learn more about PC-BSD by visiting HERE.

If you have tried any BSD distribution, please share with us your experiences via comment.


  1. Hi there,

    These are not distros. These are complete operating systems.

    Each uses their own kernel and userland utilities like ls, cp, rm, mv, top, etc.

    In the Linux world one speak of distros (Linux kernel + GNU userland + third parties), the same doesn't apply to *BSDs.

    There are however things like PC-BSD can be classified as distros. In the case of PC-BSD it takes FreeBSD (kernel and userland) adds KDE4 and wrap all up in a release.


  2. You missed out Mac OS X (aka Darwin).

  3. "These are not distros. These are complete operating systems."

    So, a "distro" is not a "complete operating system"?

    "A software distribution, also referred to as a software distro, is a bundle of a specific software (or a collection of multiple, even an entire operating system), already compiled and configured."
    From: "Software Distribution",

  4. Tony -
    The title of the article clearly states the "BEST" BSD distros.


  5. Hi,

    I migrated from M$ to Linux about 6 -7 years ago, and might like to take the BSD challenge. I'd be a total Noob once again.

    What best looks like (feature-wise) either Ubuntu or openSuSE 11.1. Does BSD have apps on gthe CD or DVD?



  6. JJMacey,

    Think of FreeBSD as you might think of Slackware: Superlative stability, a text-based install that is not, and never has been, as difficult as the masses would have you believe, and the expectation that you will do a bit to help yourself before asking others to help you. Disks are soooo cheap there is no financial reason not to throw something in your computer and try BSD out if that's what you want to do. And yes, there are apps on the CD/DVDs. But the ports system might change you mind about installing them.

    So give it a shot. And welcome.

  7. A few more :

    RelaxBSD (Chinese modified FreeBSD)
    Desktop BSD (FreeBSD Distro)
    OpenDarwin (Darwin BSD Apple)
    HeX Live-CD (NSM console is again FreeBSD)
    There was one more starting with "M"

    I've tried it all. Just can't settle with one !

    It's good to test rather than stick with one and leaving the rest !

  8. I have tried FreeBSD and have used it as my home desktop for a couple of months become going back to Linux. Went back to Linux not because BSD was hard or something, more like I was stupid :). Anyway, for any Linux user out there who would like to explore BSD in the future, the closest Linux distro to BSD would be Gentoo...if you think Gentoo is fine for you, then grab a BSD iso, burn it and enjoy the little red devil :)

  9. Hi All,

    Interesting thread...

  10. Hi All,

    I've decided to d/l the full DVD of FreeBSD.

    I'm right now downloading the full DVD of the latest openBSD.

    Will I be able to install it on my free space, and then dual boot?

    I'm looking forward to some fun! I'm just a computer hobbyist, run Web Sites, Forums, Blogs, and social network things.

    Linux - open source - and those applications are so cool! I like those challenges.

    Best Regards,

    Phoenix, Arizona

  11. @penguiniator

    Oh please that article is full of uncertainty.

    Plus the point is BSD distro =! Linux distro.

  12. I've just set up an OpenBSD web/mail/print/backup server for my home on an Acer Aspire One box. Works beautifully. OpenBSD documentation is almost scary: there is not a single word of fluff. Everything is relevant, compact, precise, practical. I had an urge to ask on the mailing lists a few times but each time I held off just a bit and found the solution on my own. Great learning experience.

  13. quakerdoomerMay 04, 2009

    A few more:


  14. AnonymousMay 14, 2009

    I have used many Linux distributions and only one BSD (NetBSD). I found it was great in all respects! Unfortunately I currently have an nvidia card, but I will not be buying one again, and when my hardware is fully supported I think I will switch to one of the real Unix systems.

    Finally, to those who say that "these are not distros":
    What does BSD mean?

  15. BSD means "Berkeley Software Distribution". Google or the Wikipedia version is here -

    I'm surprised that you have issues with your video card. ATI was the worst.

    Best Regards,

    Phoenix, Arizona

  16. i have tried ubuntu, open suse, desktopbsd

    I am now using FReeBSD with Enlightenment DESKTOP.
    This desktop is smaller than KDE and GNOME and its nice.

    its hard to first get onto freebsd, but once you know how it works, its easy.

    I have also tried Freebsd with, XFCE desktop, and E16.


    Ive not tried NETBSD or other variants, But i probably wont cause freebsd is sufficient for my needs.

  17. The NetBSD motto is

    "Of course it runs NetBSD"

    not as you quoted

    "Of course it runs on NetBSD"

  18. Hey Jun, how ya doing buddy? Long time no see. I'm here exploring East Africa - still. :-)
    FreeBSD & NetBSD have gone through some major transformations over this past year that gives them improved performance, power and stability. They can hold their own against anything from Linux and have been ready for prime time since yesterday.
    Peek my WordPress blog sometime at It's time for you to move up to WP too. :-)

    Later pal.

  19. Yeah Darwin is BSD too. Just Mac hide it a little. I prefer OSX as you get to play with BSD and have a very solid UI that is probably the best going. Ofc OSX is not free. However the new popularity of OSX can only help BSD. Apple seem to use OpenBSD as a reference. Probably why OSX is so secure in comparison to windows.

    I have played with Linux and BSD. I think BSD is a quiet secret. Linux is more well known. Yet I think BSD is every bit as good if not better. So interesting to see how BSD is brought to the desktop now and not just used as a server.

    The good thing about UNIX based systems is there is a lot of synergy, leaving only MS out in the cold. If you play with BSD you will have synergy with Linux/Unix/OSX.

  20. Distro or not Distro

    BSD is a "style" of unix (generaly there are at least two: BSD and V-system)

    PCBSD can be called a distribution of FreeBSD.

    DragonflyBSD is a FreeBSD as if frozen in version 4.x

    NetBSD is a different unix.

    OpenBSD is also a different unix.

    It is nice that you promote BSDs, but it is a shame that you do it without getting informed a little more...

    greetings, Peter

  21. i know :

    you know others?

  22. sort of unfriendly lot here. i'd really not like to ask most people here for help, i don't like to me made to feel dumb. perhaps popularity of particular distro's/systems (call 'em what you like) would be enhanced by a bit more welcoming and less disdainful people.

  23. The BSD's are not like Linux distributions.

  24. Ive used FreeBSD since 8.0 and its worked well on my eeepc as well as my quad core desktop system with nvidia graphics. It took me awhile to figure some things out like getting my mouse to work in X. Once you figure out the gist of how BSD's are set up its really alot of fun. Im getting ready to try the newest DragonFly BSD. I started out on Ubuntu and have used all the major linux distros for about 4 years now. If you are interested in learning to use BSD try looking at Dru Lavigne's blog over at or pick up her book The Best Of FreeBSD Basics and BSD Hacks. Cheers and happy huntings!

  25. I have to concur, many of you BSD-advocates sound like a bunch of snots who could use a well-deserved swift kick in the ass. Or punch in the teeth.

    I appreciate Anonymous' helpful pointers towards entry info, it's far more apropos to the theme of this post and its appeal for input than your disdainful bickering and sniping.

    Is it true that PC-BSD's development has been canceled? That seemed the easiest entree into the BSD world (ok, OSX-excepted) but I'm leery of putting a lot of time into getting a system set up with an OS that won't be updated ever again.

  26. I have been using Linux for a long time and had a friend constantly recommending BSD to me. I finally tried FreeBSD and I was very happy I did.

    The main difference with FreeBSD is the idea of the BASE system. The base install includes the kernel and the general set of utilities to run (ls, cp, compilter, linker). All of these are coded by their team and they are NOT the GNU tools.

    So a base install is lightweight and bare. From there you add whatever 3rd party programs you want.

    The difference there is it is easy to distinguish what is FreeBSD software and what is 3rd party. With a GNU/Linux system there is no concept of a 'base' system. Gentoo and Arch Linux are the two distros that have adopted this idea.

    FreeBSD also has great documentation.

  27. AnonymousJuly 19, 2011

    FreeBSD's documentation is in a word "Complete"

    I've been running FreeBSD since 4.2 or so, and OpenBSD since 2.6 or so, all the time playing with slackware,debian,gentoo,etc.

    As a desktop, PC-BSD would be the easier choice.
    It's only been in the past few years that BSD's made it's way into the Desktop market.
    Most will find the desktop install and configuration to be less mature than linux
    The base system, design and documentation are as far ahead of linux as the linux desktop is from BSD.

    FreeBSD (and by proxy PC-BSD) is aimed toward a complete, multipurpose OS. It's easy to update and maintain:
    deb based distro:
    apt-get udpate;apt-get upgrade/apt-get dist-upgrade;
    rpm based:
    yum upgrade;/yum update;
    freebsd-upgrade fetch install;

    As FreeBSD is not a linux, the ports and base system are seperate, in both concept and management.

    updating ports
    portsnap fetch extract; (first run)
    portsnap fetch update; (all following runs)

    Portsnap fetches/updates ports.

    to upgrade ports, there are several utilities in /usr/ports/ports-mgmt/ that will do.
    (many more, but most people stick with one of those 2)

    to scan for known security issues with installed ports

    most ports are installable by "make install;" in the desired port directory once you've pulled down the current ports tree.

    PC-BSD uses PBI packages. The mechanics or commands are not known to me as I have not used PC-BSD for any length of time.

    OpenBSD, well, updating OpenBSD involves synching the source for the kernel and base system, compiling/install the kernel, reboot, compile/install base system, reboot.
    There are no binary patches (outside 3rd party).
    It's all or nothing unless you're setting up a slew of servers and wish to have one server compile binaries for distribution on your network.
    Which has been done many times, and works wonderfully, but it's quite involved.

    For a single machine, quickest path for OpenBSD 4.9 STABLE x86 where is the OpenBSD mirror of your choice:
    export CVSROOT=anoncvs@:/cvs

    cd /usr

    cvs checkout -P -rOPENBSD_4_9 src

    cd /usr

    cvs checkout -P -rOPENBSD_4_9 ports

    cd /usr

    cvs checkout -P -rOPENBSD_4_9 xenocara

    /* to get src for the first time, do above, to update src, do below */
    export CVSROOT=anoncvs@:/cvs

    cd /usr/src

    cvs -q up -rOPENBSD_4_9 -Pd

    cd /usr/ports

    cvs -q up -rOPENBSD_4_9 -Pd

    cd /usr/xenocara

    cvs -q up -rOPENBSD_4_9 -Pd

    /* got src, kernel next */

    cd /usr/src/sys/arch/i386/conf
    /usr/sbin/config GENERIC
    cd /usr/src/sys/arch/i386/compile/GENERIC
    make clean && make depend && make
    cd /usr/src/sys/arch/i386/compile/GENERIC
    make install

    /* Reboot */

    rm -rf /usr/obj/*

    cd /usr/src

    make obj

    cd /usr/src/etc && env DESTDIR=/ make distrib-dirs

    cd /usr/src

    make build

    /* Reboot */

    OpenBSD definately worth the hastle if you've got the time and energy, but it is a bit more involved. For a pre-configured OpenBSD desktop (X,xenocara in obsd), check out GhostBSD.

  28. AnonymousJuly 19, 2011

    sorry, freebsd-update, not freebsd-upgrade...brain is playing tricks with me.

    Also of note. Default shell in most linux distros is Bash. FreeBSD is csh, OpenBSD is ksh. Other shells are available in /usr/ports/shells if you desire a different one.

  29. Here is a nice one:

  30. FreeBSD, NetBSD, OPenBSD and even DragonflyBSD are completely different operating systems - that's why aren't called distributions. They can interchange source codes if are needed in their own way - not as in Linux world.

  31. ive been trying openbsd for 5 years all have workied prety good the hardware support ill be the problem for me accessing the last for server hardware will be great

  32. AnonymousMay 30, 2012

    HAve been playing with all the differnet unix and linux styles available. I really enjoy PC BSD. It is great, change a few things to the way i like them and everything works. Thanks to all those that use, help, support, and create this great thing called PCBSD.

  33. Ive been trying linux distibutions [Debian, Arch, ubuntu], but FreeBSD was love at first sight :-)
    It's great OS.
    Good luck.
    Jozef from Slovakia