My experience installing FreeBSD 8 using the PC-BSD 8 RC2 installer

Ok, so I was interested in the fact that FreeBSD 8 could now be installed using the PC-BSD 8 installer.

So lets see how easy it is. Remember, this a review of installing FreeBSD 8 with the PC-BSD 8 installer. It is not a review of installing PC-BSD 8.

  1. I downloaded the DVD ISO (and since I am using VMWare I didn’t even have to burn it, I just created a new virtual machine and pointed at the ISO).
  2. I started the install at 3:06 PM.
  3. I found everything simple and easy, it was a click next wizard. I only made changes in selecting my keyboard, changing from installing PC-BSD to install FreeBSD, and configuration the user information.
  4. I did not install any optional components.
  5. I finished installing and booted to FreeBSD 8 by 3:12 PM.

Total time: 6 minutes plus some seconds (I didn’t look at the exact second things started.)

I went through the install quite a few times less than an hour, just testing different settings.

What was great

  • Ok, It was easy. Way easier than Sysinstall.
  • It auto-partitioned for me.
  • It had my keyboard available.
  • Custom partitioning was easy. There is an edit option if you make one with the wrong settings or if you just want to change the defaults slightly.
  • I was able to select zfs partitions. Sysinstall can’t do this yet (well at least not with release yet, maybe stable or current can).
  • It wiped previous disk partitions for me when I reinstalled over the top and chose Fresh Install.

What was questionable

  • Do we really want to have 10 seconds at the text-based PC-BSD splash screen for an install disk?
  • I had a hard time finding Mount Time in the Timezone Settings. It was America/Denver:Mountain Time and I was looking for America/Mountain Time. Probably my fault. But I prefer the world map image that allows you to click where you are above the list, which to me is much better than only the long list.
  • I must have missed the opportunity to name my system. I went through the install twice and couldn’t find a place, not even an advanced section. So it appears you will have to rename the system post install. To rename it afterwards you have to edit the /etc/rc.conf and /etc/hosts and then use the hostname command (or reboot).
  • I am left wondering what distributions installed? Obviously these required distributions are installed:
    • base
    • kernel | Generic

    I am pretty sure these two additional distributions are included as well: (which is nice because I recommend these two distributions).

    • games – This is what gives you those awesome tips every time you log in.
    • man – This is the man (manual) pages for all the
    • However, I don’t know if another distribution was selected.

  • I didn’t see anywhere to configure my IP Address information if I planned to have a static IP, not even an advanced section. Well, I actually found that if I choose to install from the network, I could setup my IP Address, but it when I did this, it didn’t work at all. It failed to give me an IP Address and yes I entered the correct information. I am a expert at IP and Networking and I did it multiple times and rebooted and tried through multiple installs. And I still couldn’t name my system.
  • Not because it didn’t work, I also didn’t like the IP Address configuration fields. The width was weird. I get annoyed when I am forced to type when /24 would work. Both methods should be allowed.
  • There are tabs on the left but I couldn’t click on them. That would have been nice. To do a minimal install of FreeBSD, I only need to make a change on Keyboard and Users so this could have even been faster if I could have clicked just straight to those (which I wouldn’t do the first time, but after doing this a lot, an expert would want to skip).
  • When customizing the partitions, I would have liked to have the ability to move partitions up and down if I ordered them incorrectly.
  • When I installed making everything ZFS partitions (except swap), the install failed. Maybe I forgot something important, or it is not yet fully supported to use ZFS on all partitions. Either way, if it doesn’t work, it would be nice to be informed before hand.
  • I was left wondering, if I choose FreeBSD, and add components such as Firefox, am I getting FreeBSD packages or PBIs or nothing? Well, I tried it and sure enough, it appears to have installed the PBIs, but since Xorg wasn’t there, nothing really worked. So when installing FreeBSD instead of PC-BSD, don’t expect any of the options to work.

Were there enterprise features?
Well, when it comes to installing, the enterprise features are the ability to script the install and provide a distinct computer name and other distinct settings when doing so.

The one place where open source and FreeBSD in particular fails to come anywhere close to competing is in the enterprise features surrounding the operating system. Yes FreeBSD is enterprise ready, but it’s installer is not even close. It doesn’t matter if your OS is enterprise ready or not if all the features around the OS are not enterprise ready, such as the installer and its ability to be scripted and reused easily. Even when using an image, Microsoft has Sysprep. Yes, you can script something with *nix, but a scripting developer should not be needed for OS Deployment. No platform is easier to deploy scripted than Microsoft’s operating systems and open source platforms should take a look at what they are doing and find a better and easier way to do it. I have performed scripted installations of FreeBSD on numerous occasions and I am always frustrated with its poor feature set.

Updated: Feb 23, 2010: Please read the comment by Kris Moore. Can I tell you I like it even more after this post.

I never saw anywhere to create or use an installation script. This is a key feature for enterprise customers. If you cannot do a scripted install, you are not an enterprise solution. Maybe there is a different way to do scripted installs of FreeBSD using the PC-BSD installer that is documented somewhere else. I keep waiting for some distro’s installer to get smart and ask at the end of an regular install if the install settings should be saved as a script.

There are many types of focuses for a desktop: email and docs, graphics or CAD, home user, media center, developer, etc… I have yet to find a distro that gives me the option to install differently for different focuses that is not Microsoft and does not cost money. Microsoft doesn’t do a good job, having Home, Professional, Enterprise, Ultimate, Media Center, they are closer, but missed the boat too. I want a list of scripts. Script A will install everything a developer needs. Script B will install everything a Graphic Artist needs. Script C will install everything a technical writer needs…etc.

This is an awesome job by the PC-BSD team. You may look at my notes above and think that there was more negative than positive and be surprised by this assessment.

I can quickly get a FreeBSD system up and running as I like without using the annoying Sysinstall tool which asks me dozens of things I don’t want. Just look at my post for installing FreeBSD (How do I install FreeBSD?) where I list 41 steps (and some of those have sub-steps) just to get a minimal install. PC-BSD has taken the Ubuntu approach where the install is simple and customizations that experts need can be accomplished post installation. I may in the near future be changing my How do I install FreeBSD? post to use the PC-BSD installer.

This is a big deal for FreeBSD, in my opinion. I am not saying there isn’t a long road ahead. But lets face it, FreeBSD has refused to update the install in far too long and NO!, Sysinstall is not good enough and hasn’t been good enough and will continue to fall short in the future. So yes there is a long road ahead, but while FreeBSD has been avoiding that road, PC-BSD is now at least driving down it.


  1. Meh says:

    PC-BSD is like roasted nuts it reminds me of MAC and WIN blended into one, its what you would get if you married Gates and Jobbs you would end up with "Steve Gates" not a bad thing.

    I will wait for the year 2013 when we start seeing a red deviled super mutant commercial dethroning its estranged cousins!

  2. [...] # /usr/sbin/sysinstall or [...]

  3. onederer says:

    If you want to see a smooth Gui application of FreeBSD, take a look at the now defuct DesktopBSD. That distro has had some mileage, been around, and has had a chance for good reliable upgrading, before it was abandoned by it's developer, around Sept. 2009. Copies can still downloaded (but not for much longer), from's archive. A lot of effort was made in the development and precision of this distribution. Everything just worked out of the box! It's a live version that can be installed. All updates are made via the FreeBSD repositories. Some people like this, and some not, but most applications were downloaded and compiled from scratch, instead of using binary versions. I really didn't like that, since it took to long and held up the computer during the compilation time. But in actual operation, this distro, worked like a well oiled machine. One couldn't tell whether one was using Linux or BSD with this version.

    I sure wish that some developer would pick up that distribution, and continue it's development. Most of the work has already been done. It's a matter of picking up from where it was abandoned, and keeping up with the changes.

    Oh, and I did try to install FreeBSD. I gave up. I find it too primitive with it's applications. It's like re-inventing the Model-T Ford all over again.

  4. Zogg says:

    Is there any documentation of how to replace the sysinstall of freebsd with pc-sysinstall? Any guidelines? Any directions? Or is this so hardcoded into PCBSD distro, that it takes too much of resources to do that atm?

  5. Kris Moore says:

    Thanks for the review,

    Let you in on a little secret, the entire install is 100% scrip-table 🙂

    The GUI is simply a front-end, which generates a config file, which the back-end then takes and uses to perform the installation. When you get to the "summary" screen right before the installation, right-click on the desktop, and bring up xterm. If you look at /tmp/sys-install.cfg, you'll see the configuration the GUI has written for your install to be done. This file may be modified, added to and everything else before clicking "next" to begin the installation. (So you can set hostname, network config, etc)

    This is documented in Dru's upcoming book, and I will be speaking about it at AsiaBSDCon in a few weeks. I'm going to be documenting this on our wiki soon as well, but in the meantime there is lots of good info in the "pc-sysinstall" backend /examples directory here:

    For 8.1 the plan is to further improve the GUI portion to allow setting up more of the variables that the backend already supports 🙂

  6. mato says:

    Ivan Voras was working on something but I'm not sure what the current status is, I'm afraid it may be one of those GSoC projects that never materialise in the main trunk. 🙁

  7. Matt Olander says:

    Thanks for the feedback! This is our first release with the installer completely rewritten for ZFS support and vanilla FreeBSD installs. We are already starting on the improvements to the installer for 8.1 which will address many of the issues you comment on 🙂

  8. Tim Kientzle says:

    I agree we need a scriptable installer; I don't think it has to be the same installer as the regular desktop installer. There is room for more than one installer.

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