It occurred to me that I have spent a great deal of time focusing on Linux as the top alternative operating system to both Microsoft Windows and Apple’s Mac OS X, and for good reason. It is the most popular alternative out there. However, it isn’t the only option. In fact, there are many other options out there.
While there are actually too many out there for one single post, today I want to focus on one particular type of OS out there – BSD. This often unknown operating system is widely popular among the IT world and is often used for servers of many different kinds including for use on linux laptops. However, it is still a great alternative operating system for your laptop as well.
So, for today I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the best BSD operating systems out there so you have even more choices in front of you when choosing an operating system other than just Windows or Mac and even Linux.
What Is BSD?
So what a minute. What exactly is BSD anyway? You are probably thinking that if you are new to the world of alternative operating systems. Like Linux, BSD is a Unix-like operating system for your computer. It shares many of the same commands and structures that Linux does, only its origins are ab it different.
BSD is actually descended from Research Unix from the Berkeley Software Distribution. That means that its origins date back for decades making it one of the most thoroughly developed operating systems in use today. For legal reasons, the software cannot use the Unix trademark, but you can trace its origins to the Berkeley Unix in use many years ago.
All the distributions today that carry BSD in their name are descended from this version of Unix. Although to be fair many of them have been forked and altered so while they share a history, the modern versions can be much different, at least in some respects.
Top 5 BSD Distros
Now that we know exactly what BSD is, it is time to take a look at some of the distributions out there for BSD. Some are more popular than others, and each has their own focus. But I think one of these will suit your needs if you are looking for a different kind of operating system and don’t want to rely on one of the major Linux distributions for your needs.
The most widely used version of BSD out there, FreeBSD has built a reputation over the years. Today it is very popular and is commonly used on servers and even on some desktops. While it is the most popular, it isn’t the easiest use. That title actually goes to another on this list. Still, it has set the standard by which all other distributions that carry the BSD name must live up to.
Because of its popularity, it is easy to find help for your problems with it when setting up or even using it on a daily basis. While it isn’t the most user friendly, overall it isn’t too bad especially for anyone with experience in Linux or BSD operating systems.
OpenBSD is the second most popular BSD distribution out there, and for good reason. It is built with the insistence that only open source code is used making it completely free to use for virtually anything you can think of. At the same time, the developers take great pains in making sure it is one of the most secure BSD versions on the market.
That makes OpenBSD one of the most popular platforms for individuals and even companies to use it for different needs including server use and even on desktops. If you are in search of an operating system that is very secure, then OpenBSD is perfect for you. In fact, it is so secure that you may even get annoyed when working on it a little bit. Just remember in the end it is all about keeping your machine, and in turn your data, safe.
NetBSD is another highly popular version of BSD out there for the taking. Its motto is, “Of course it runs on NetBSD.” And they do live up to that saying. NetBSD will run on over 50 different hardware configurations making even more robust than many versions of Linux. Some users have even gotten it to run on older PDA’s if you can believe it.
The operating system is very portable and lightweight too, making it great for older machines. If you have some hardware taking up space that you can’t seem to find an OS for, then you may want to consider throwing NetBSD on it. I’m betting it will run on it rather well, although you may have to tweak a setting here and there.
If you like FreeBSD but aren’t impressed with the direction that distribution is heading, then DragonFlyBSD could be right for you. It is a fork of FreeBSD 4.8 and its main goal is to give users an alternative to FreeBSD while keeping with that same FreeBSD feel that many have grown accustomed to simply because of its popularity. The entire system can be built with just a few commands much like FreeBSD.
Designed with former FreeBSD users in mind, it runs in a much more similar fashion to past versions of FreeBSD before they moved into new territory with version 5 and above. If you love FreeBSD but aren’t too happy with the latest versions of the distribution, Dragonfly is a great alternative to return your BSD roots.
If there is one thing about BSD that we can all agree on it is that is probably less user friendly than even Linux. That is where PC-BSD comes into play. PC-BSD is designed with the personal computer in mind and has been built with a desktop user’s needs at the forefront.
Because of this, it includes a graphical installer so you don’t have to worry about awkward terminal commands to get your operating system installed. It includes the KDE operating system to create a beautiful interface and even includes many of the most popular Nix-based software that someone using a regular desktop would need. In many ways, that makes PC-BSD the best choice for anyone looking for an OS to run alongside or even replace Windows or Mac, and it is great for newcomers to the BSD platform.
How Do You Choose?
Now that you know what some of the most popular versions are, the time has come for you to make a decision on which one you will use. This can be tough especially if you haven’t used BSD before.
If you are setting up a desktop PC and want an easy to use version of BSD, then you really should go with PC-BSD as it is designed with your use in mind. However, if you are looking to setup your own server, then you may want to consider OpenBSD if you want to really tighten security or you can always go with FreeBSD for all of the above if you want to make sure you have easy access to help when you need it.
A lot of it depends on how you will be using BSD, the level of expertise you have, and how easy you want it to be to find the help you need when you need it.
This can be a tough one I know. Why bother switching when you already have a working system running the major operating systems? Like Linux, there is a definite niche when it comes to servers and those just wanting to stay away from the major players such as Apple and Microsoft. At the same time, BSD provides many tools that make it perfect for servers or even desktop use in a more secure environment. Heck, you may just want to give it a try as a little hobby. I know that’s how I first got into it. In the end, you have to look at what you want to do before you make the switch, as there may be other alternatives out there that are easier. I will tell you that your Nix knowledge will grow if you do decide to give it a try, and there is nothing wrong with learning something new.
Linux isn’t the only alternative to Windows and Mac out there. While using these operating systems sometimes takes a little more knowledge compared to others, they are some of the most stable and secure operating systems today. If you are looking at setting up your own server or just want to play around with something that isn’t Windows or Mac, and Linux just doesn’t do it for you, I suggest you give BSD a closer look.
While they won’t hold your hand, you could find an operating system that is secure and very stable that is perfect for your needs, whatever they may be. So don’t think you are stuck with just Linux if you want to escape the worlds of Apple and Microsoft. There are other options out there.
If you want to try your hand at a BSD, but you don’t want to go through the hassle of partitioning your drive, then consider looking at a budget friendly Windows laptops. Have a look in our Best Budget Laptops Under $400 guide or in our Best Budget Laptops Under $300 guide where you might find a suitable laptop for a fresh BSD install.
Have you ever tried BSD? If so, let me know what you think about it in the comments below. Love it or hate it, I want to hear from you.
About the author
Matt is an IT professional with over fifteen years experience supporting network infrastructure and computers. An avid gamer, Matt enjoys his time playing and writing about his experiences both in the IT world and in the gaming communities. You can find more of his writing for LaptopNinja where he enjoys talking about everything tech.