Choose two GNU/Linux or BSD flavors and see how they compare in features and supported software/hardware.

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GENERAL FEATURESFreeBSD is a free (as in freedom) UNIX-like operating system from the BSD created in 1993. family. Learn more about its features and history.A free (as in freedom) UNIX-like system from the BSD family. Created in 1995 as a NetBSD fork, which aimed at stronger security. The founder and leader of the OS is an expert in the computer security domain, a Canadian programmer Theo de Raadt. Familiarize yourself with OpenBSD's project goals.

OpenBSD's mascot is Puffy — fish from Tetraodontidae family, often confused with Diodontidae family. Learn more about fascinating residents of Red Sea.

Supported architecturesalpha, amd64, i386, ia64, pc98, sparc64

The full platforms description.

Installation from CD-ROM: i386, amd64, macppc, sparc, sparc64.

Installation only from FTP: alpha, armish, hp300, hppa, landisk, luna88k, mac68k, mvme68k, mvme88k, sgi, vax, zaurus.

In preparation: aviion, hppa64, solbourne, romp.

The full platforms description. OpenBSD server hardware compatibility list.

SMP is supported only on i386 i amd64 platforms, on rest kernel runs but utilizes only one CPU. 8.12 — Does OpenBSD support SMP?

Minimal hardware requirements486, 24 MB RAM, 150 MB HDD, details: Hardware Requirements

The list of supported laptops. See also laptop section in the handbook.

For the most popular i386 platform, Intel 80386 processor or compatible is enough. At last 16 RAM. See HDD requirements for other platforms.

Hardware requirements for other platforms are available in the platforms description.

The list of supported laptops.

Software freedom statusFree as in freedom. Most code is BSD licensed, some components are GPL licensed. Nonfree software may be installed via ports mechanism. After accepting Intel license, it is possible to use firmware for wireless network cards (WiFi). More information in article Intel Approval for Redistribution of Wireless Firmware.Free as in freedom. Most code is BSD licensed, some components are GPL licensed. Nonfree software may be installed via ports mechanism.

No ATI and NVIDIA closed binary drivers (called blob) are available.

Installer - overall(3)

The text installer displays dialog windows (like the NetBSD installer).

FreeBSD installation:

(1) OpenBSD installer is pure text-based. It does not display any dialog windows (like NetBSD's and FreeBSD's installers). Its working is mainly asking questions user.

OpenBSD installation on OSVids. Full disk OpenBSD installation by Marcin Wilk. Quick OpenBSD installation and configuration on You Tube.

Package selection(7) Software Packages are divided into categories that are sorted alphabetically, eg. afterstep, archivers, astro, audio, benchmarks, etc. The user may select a specific category and mark some packages for installation. Thanks to the "all" category, it is possible to choose packages from the full list. Dependencies are resolved automatically in the background. There is a short description for each package.(3) System is divided into components, which are called distributions sets in the OpenBSD's terminology.
Predefined package groups(6) System The predefined groups are:
  • All (everything),
  • Developer (full sources, binaries, documentation, no games),
  • X-Developer (full sources, binaries, documentation, X-Window, no games),
  • Kern-Developer (full binaries, documentation, kernel sources),
  • X-Kern-Developer (full binaries, documentation, kernel sources, X-Window),
  • User (binaries, documentation),
  • X-User (binaries, documentation, X-Window),
  • Minimal (the smallest possible installation),
  • Custom (you choose what you need).
(0) During installation we choose only system's components (by selecting distributions sets, thanks to "all" option, it is possible to mark all distribution sets at once). This is why there are no predefined choices like "KDE/GNOME Workstation", "FTP Server", "Firewall/router", like in many Linux distributions. After finishing installation, additional software may be added from ports.
Expert mode install(5) The available installation modes are: Standard, Express and Custom.(0) Installation in expert mode only. Deep knowledge about partitioning (fdisk and disklabel familiarity). In fact partitioning is the only hard stage that can make trouble. However one should remember that OpenBSD is one of the most well documented systems and installation process is also described in details in FAQ.
Graphical installer(1) Although there is no graphic installer, the FreeBSD derivatives: PC-BSD and DesktopBSD have a graphical installer. The lack of a GUI installer is no big deal since FreeBSD's text installer is very clear and intuitive.(0) There is no graphical installer.
Installer speed(8) It depends how much software is selected to be installed. Usually the installation takes 15-25 minutes.(9) If one knows exactly, how to divide the hard drive (the number and types of disk partitions), the overall time of installation is shorter than 10 minutes (this is obviously in case of CD installation, if we install from FTP it can take longer, depending on the network bandwitch).
Graphical system management(0) No graphical tools. One can of course use wizards from environments like: KDE, GNOME, XFCE.(0) No graphical tools. One of course can use wizards from environments like: KDE, GNOME, XFCE.
Console-based system management(3) Only via sysinstall installer. It is possible to install packages, partition disk, manage users, configure console (and mouse), configure language settings, configure network card and services. Text frontends for ports system: pkgfe, portsman.(0) No text tools. Administration is possible only by manually editing configuration files in /etc directory.
Number of packages(9) More than 18000 ports. Moreover there is available a Linux emulation: handbook section, Linux compatibility (Wikipedia).(4) About 4200 ports and 4000 ready to installation binary packages.

In emulation mode it is possible to run compiled programs from systems: SVR4 (Solaris), FreeBSD, Linux, BSDI, SunOS, i HP-UX.

Package management, automatic dependency resolving(8) The ports system provides troubleless software installation and update mechanism. More than 18000 programs exist in the repository which is also called a ports tree, ports collection or just ports. The FreeBSD's ports system has been adopted by NetBSD (pkgsrc) and OpenBSD (ports) and has been independently developed in three branches since then.

The most important component of ports are makefiles. They determine from download sources, instruct how to compile the sources, create binary packages from them and finally install programs.

In order to install software you just need to enter a correct directory and type # make install (eg. if you want to install ratpoison window manager just enter the following code: # cd /usr/ports/x11-wm/ratpoison/; make install ).

Compiling programs gives the ability to tweak all possible options. However big programs like KDE, GNOME or require long time to compile (and lots of other resources like RAM memory and disk space). In such cases precompiled binary packages are helpful. In both cases dependencies are automatically resolved. To install a package, simply type # pkg_add -r package_name (eg. # pkg_add -r ratpoison, to install ratpoison window manager).

Regular ports updating is very important. There are two programs for updating ports: cvsup and faster and safer portsnap. Portsnap can be also used for ports installation.

FreeBSD ports system is very complex, so we're not going to describe it here in detail. More information can be found in the handbook and in the manuals man ports, man portsnap. There are two very useful supplemental tools: Portupgrade for ports and packages updating Portmanager for ports management.

(7) The FreeBSD ports system has been borrowed in the project. Currently the development of both projects goes separately so the systems are not compatible, but they are quite similar.

Ports allow you to install the additional software directly from the source code. Installing software is trivial. You have to go to proper directory in ports and type make install (for example: # cd /usr/ports/x11/ratpoison/; make install for ratpoison window manager installation).The advantage is ability to customize all settings to one's preferences (flavors and subpackages). The disadvantage is sometimes long compilation time, especially for such big programs like KDE or GNOME.

Precompiled binary packages do not give such flexibility, but installation time is much shorter (ratpoison window manager installation: # pkg_add -v ratpoison, PKG_PATH variable should be set). In both cases dependencies are automatically resolved. It is very easy to print outdated packages # /usr/ports/infrastructure/build/out-of-date script and update all of them # pkg_add -u. There is also a possibility to mark the upgrade without actually performing it # pkg_add -n package_name.

The ports need to be regularly upgraded through cvs or much faster cvsup. One may download and uncompress ports.tar.gz file to shorten port's installation time. You can fetch stable version of this file from main FTP server or from mirrors (recommended). For OpenBSD current users snapshot of unstable ports version is also available. Example cvsup server is, and cvs is Full lists of cvsup and cvs servers are available.

Ports are well documented. Pages man ports(7) and are also available online.

Graphical package management tools(2) KPorts, BPMBSD Ports Manipulator, PIB — Ports Index Browser, PortBrowser.(1) PortBrowser
System boot-up speed(6) About 30 seconds, it depends on hardware configuration. Clear and rich commented BSD startup scripts.(3) About 50 seconds, dependent on the hardware configuration. Clear and rich commented BSD startup scripts. All not essential services all disabled by default and if are needed must be manually enabled.

In contrast to NetBSD, compiling custom kernel for better performance and shorter booting time is not recommended. It is strongly advised to use default kernel and patch branch.

System responsiveness(7) Acceptable speed and responsiveness.(4) Tweaking compilation flags for better performance is strongly not recommended.
Popularity(6) Around 12 position on DistroWatch ranking.

See popularity of BSD flavors on Wikipedia.

(3) Around 45 position on DistroWatch ranking.

See popularity of BSD flavors on Wikipedia.

Security focus(9) FreeBSD includes lots of mechanisms that increase the security level. The portaudit tool allow to check installed packages if they are listed in a list of published security vulnerabilities. See also FreeBSD VuXML document.

There is also the TrustedBSD Project, which focuses on the extensions that boost FreeBSD security and which are necessary for getting the Common Criteria certificate. TrustedBSD components are:

Security related chapters from FreeBSD's handbook:

Some interesting comparisons between FreeBSD and other systems in terms of security can be found on Wikipedia: Comparison of operating systems (security). And here are the FreeBSD security statistics created by the well-respected Secunia company.

(9) OpenBSD includes a lot of mechanisms increasing the security level in the system. To name a few:

Additionally there is a possibility to use a sysjail tool which is designed to be close FreeBSD jails replacement.

In contrast to other operating system creators, OpenBSD's developers do not make an assumption that the user is a computer security expert. The system is fully secured out-of-the-box. Laborious tweaking and security hardening is not necessary. There's been only two remote holes in the default install, in more than 10 years! That's why the OpenBSD motto is "Secure by Default".

The programmers react fast for any security dangers publishing the patches soon after the problem is found. Also software in ports is updated if security vulnerabilities are found. This is result of one of OpenBSD's assumptions — "Do not let serious problems sit unsolved."

Some interesting comparisons between OpenBSD and other systems in terms of security can be found on the Wikipedia entry: Comparison of operating systems (security). And here are the OpenBSD security statistics by the respected Secunia company.

Stability and maturity(9) Like other major BSD flavors: NetBSD and OpenBSD, FreeBSD is very mature and stable system.(9) System is mature and stable, its reliability is very high. OpenBSD's developers track and implement standards: ANSI, POSIX and partialy X/Open.
Does the installer support multiple languages?(0) Installer only in English language.(0) The installer is only in English language.
Is the system localized after installation?(3) Localized areas: system console keymap, time zone, country.(2) ?
Is manual system localization easy?(6) Handbook: Chapter 20 Localization.(1) ?
Support for restricted formats(6) There is no native Flash, Skype etc. The restricted components in ports: See also multimedia, audio and graphics categories.(3) The restricted components in ports: See also multimedia section from OpenBSD FAQ and categories: multimedia, audio.

No ATI and NVIDIA closed binary drivers (called blob) are available.

Sagem DSL modem support(4) There is uEagle 1.5 driver available for BSD systems.(3) There is uEagle 1.5 driver for BSD-family systems.
Alcatel DSL modem support(3) Driver for BSD-family systems.(3) Driver for BSD-family systems.
Wireless support(7) However there is more native drivers for Linux than for FreeBSD, WiFi support is quite good. Drivers are included in the kernel. In each release support is improved. Additionally WiFi devices support has been expanded by including Intel's firmware. Compare wireless drivers.

(6) Wireless Ethernet Adapters for i386 platform. List of supported wireless devices is separate for each platform. Compare wireless drivers.

Each system gets a mark from 0 (min) to 9 (max). In most cases the description precises the mark. A question mark (?) means that we do not have any information about certain feature.