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Switching to OpenBSD - Dave's World

I'm Switching to OpenBSD

March 29, 2020

It's been a long, long while since I wrote on this blog, but I finally have something else to write about. I've become quite disillusioned about Linux and the community and software ecosystem which surrounds it. While I'd choose GNU+Linux any day over Windows or macOS, I'm starting to see that it has very serious issues that are not being taken seriously by influential figures.

There are many, many things to be concerned about, but a couple of things caught my attention specifically. One is an inherent problem with the fact that Linux (the kernel) development is separated from that of the operating systems built around it (such as GNU). This article explains one of the instances in which Linux is forced to maintain known bugs in the system in the name of backwards compatibility for userspace applications. It's well known that Linus Torvalds (although he is not on the development team anymore) would berate contributors for making any change that would break userspace. My other concerns have to relate with the many problems with systemd, the new init system used on most popular GNU+Linux distributions such as Debian. There is one telling thing that isn't mentioned on that article at this time: when a systemd service file is configured to run as a user that does not exist, it escalates it to root instead! Red Hat has been informed of this issue, and they say that it is a feature! This is completely unacceptable for any system; it's a classic Microsoft-style security failure.

In addition to issues with Linux, over the past several years I have become more and more uncomfortable with the implications of the copyleft style of licensing advocated for by the FSF. My friend apotheon convinced me that it is indeed a self-defeating philosophy. Maybe I'll write another article about that some time in the next decade. I've instead been promoting copyfree philosophy which is far more consistent and doesn't require copyright law in order to function, which appeals to my libertarian tendencies.

Because of this situation, I've decided to switch to BSD basically anywhere I can. I'm starting with my new ThinkPad T480 laptop I got after a frustrating two-month wait (blame COVID-19), which I'm using to write this article. My preferred BSD is OpenBSD because of its simplicity and focus on security. I've started to take computer security a lot more seriously lately, and OpenBSD makes it relatively painless to build a secure system.

I am planning to build a NAS soon, and I'll be using FreeBSD for its first class support of the amazing ZFS file system. I plan to use FreeNAS for the software.

Once I finally work out all the kinks (mostly hardware related), I'll write an article about the IBM ThinkPad 365XD I acquired and loaded with NetBSD 8.1.

If all this sounds interesting to you, I strongly encourage you to give it a try. If you don't have hardware to dedicate to it, try it in a virtual machine or something. You may find it frustrating at first, but once you learn to read its documentation, you'll find OpenBSD to be a very friendly and understandable system.