Linux versus FreeBSD — A Comprehensive Comparison

Linux vs FreeBSD - Significant differences between these two operating systems

For most users, the difference between Linux and FreeBSD is not something significant, as the two operating systems frequently share even the same applications. Both of these Operating Systems are UNIX like, in their form and function; while they are developed mainly for non-commercial interests. However, on taking a closer look one can uncover more differences between the two. A large number of software developers around the world are responsible for improvements and updates to FreeBSD. They are of three major types:

  1. Core Team: They are in charge of managing the project. Core-team members are generally developers too. They have more responsibility and more say in the working of FreeBSD than other members. Core-Team members act as arbitrators and are in charge of the project.
  2. Contributors: They are the coders who write documentation. However, their work must first be reviewed by a registered developer (committer) before it is included in the project.
  3. Committers: They are essentially developers who have the permit to write in the source tree. An experienced committer is free to make changes, without needing permission. These committers have SVN commit access.

This setup is different from Linux in the following ways:

  1. The content of the system is not controlled by a single person, though the Principal Architect may require changes to be made in the code.
  2. There exists a repository, where all the operating system sources can be found, including older versions.
  3. In FreeBSD the entire Operating System is maintained and not just the kernel.
  4. Due to the organized maintenance of the source tree, FreeBSD development is hassle-free and clear as it is possible to gain access to all versions of the system, which are sorted by release number/date.

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Which is the Right System for Me?

Some guidelines to determining which operating system better suits your needs are listed below:

  • Linux is one of the most widely used Operating System and is more compatible with a large range of hardware. However, it is not as versatile as BSD. It is excellent for desktop and server use and is compatible with graphics cards, 3D effects, etc.
  • FreeBSD is excellent for use in servers, but mediocre for desktop use. This is more reliable and versatile compared to Linux. However, FreeBSD is not nearly as compatible as Linux (especially Java compatibility). If you're interested to use FreeBSD as desktop you should check out PC-BSD project which is based on FreeBSD and is a user-friendly desktop Operating System.
  • If you are already satisfied with the open source operating system that you currently have installed, it is advised not to change it.
  • Some users note that BSD systems, especially FreeBSD have noticeablly higher performance as compared to Linux. However, this sentiment is not shared by all.
  • FreeBSD is generally known for its reliability as a result of the more organised source code. Moreover, FreeBSD has a reputation for the high quality and standard of completeness of their projects. Their documentation is frequently updated and available in several languages. FreeBSD is generally used in high-performance network applications. It optimizes disk I/O for more efficient performance and often performs better, than other systems even while employing equivalent hardware.

Security

  • Integrated Firewall: While Linux uses Netfilter as its firewall, FreeBSD default firewall is PF and it supports IPFilter and IPFW2.
  • Access Control: Unix Permissions are supported by both Linux and FreeBSD.
  • Vulnerability: Using the port audit tool in FreeBSD, it is convenient to audit software for vulnerabilities.

Licensing

The license of choice for FreeBSD is the BSD license, and it is applicable for the kernel as well as the base system.
Most Linux/GNU distributors prefer the GNU tool chain, as the kernel for Linux is distributed under the GPLv2 license. A significant chunk of basic software of Linux is from FreeBSD UNIX system. Hence, they have the BSD license.

Compatibility with Hardware and Software

Hardware
As discussed earlier, Linux has a larger compatibility and supports a wide range of hardware. Due to this, it is more popular in hardware extensive applications than FreeBSD. However, though FreeBSD might have lesser support for hardware. It is simple, while its more unified nature makes supported hardware easier to configure and manage.

Software
While FreeBSD is compatible with the BSD Unix and POSIX APIs (Application Programming Interface), Linux is compatible with SysV UNIX and POSIX APIs.
It is often troublesome to port Linux software to FreeBSD and vice-versa, as though they have the use of the POSIX API in common, they differ in the use of the other API i.e.; SysV UNIX in case of Linux and BSD UNIX in case of FreeBSD. Systems based on Linux, like Red Hat for instance, receive more support for commercialized software development as compared to FreeBSD based systems. Moreover, the number of developers writing software for Linux is significantly more, than the number of developers who write for FreeBSD.
However, FreeBSD employs a Linux binary compatibility layer, allowing software developed for Linux exclusively, to run glitch-free on FreeBSD, eliminating the need for porting. In spite of this, some software written explicitly and in a non-portable manner for Linux systems only requires more work, before it can run efficiently on the FreeBSD platform. FreeBSD has a collection of about 24,000 third-party developed applications, like Internet Browsers, document viewers/editors, email applications and other productivity applications.

UNIX

UNIX is a computer Operating System, designed for multi-tasking and support for multiple users. Both FreeBSD and Linux are Unix-like Operating Systems, similar in their working. However, FreeBSD is considered to be more closely related to UNIX than Linux as the former is a direct descendent of UNIX. The Linux/GNU project had the sole aim of creating a software system entirely compatible with UNIX; comprising of free software only. Though graphically, Linux looks quite different from UNIX, both of them use X-Windows as the graphical interface.
Since Linux was originally meant to be similar to UNIX, the textual commands for Linux are nearly always identical to UNIX counterparts. Linux was initially developed as a free OS for personal computers based on Intel-x86. Just like UNIX, Linux and FreeBSD are free to download and redistribute; over the Internet. The most significant difference lies in the kernel. Where the UNIX kernel is unique for each and every variant, Linux versions share a common kernel or core.

Conclusion

Any of them could be picked up, as per the convenience of the user. Both need a bit of knowledge to operate, while they definitely are a bit sophisticated for someone who has been using Windows for a long time.

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