Wow. I would have never guessed when I wrote this a few years ago that it would get the traction that it has gotten, but I’m glad it has. It’s nice to see fans of BSD and Linux discussing these distributions and I hope that many of you who aren’t so familiar with this line of operating systems have learned something. I took a few minutes to read the comments and you guys are right, this list is a bit out of date. For example, PC-BSD changed its name to TrueOS, and gained a bit of a reputation as one of the best desktop installs of BSD. However, as of March of this year, it sadly ended its run and now is nothing more than a memory.
So today as I hold up in my house in 2020 I thought we should update this list for 2020. As always, if you agree or disagree, feel free to comment and maybe we can all learn a thing or two about the wonderful and almost crazy world of open source software.
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.
Based on FreeBSD, GhostBSD attempts to fill a void often forgotten by many FreeBSD users – the desktop environment. As good as FreeBSD is, it does not target desktop users. GhostBSD’s goal is to fill that niche while providing all the FreeBSD goodness it can muster.
Its focus is on simplicity. Because of this, it ships with an installer and includes MATE or XFCE as the desktop environment. On top of that, much of the desktop software the average user will need will be installed when you setup the operating system, making this version of BSD much more user friendly compared to all the others on this list. Thank to this philosophy, GhostBSD may be the best BSD distribution for newcomers to this 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.