Thursday, 28 April 2011

Did You Know You Can Try BSD With VirtualBSD?

A while ago back in January I came across this announcement on and made a mental note that this was something I had to try.
VirtualBSD 8.1 was released on or around 4/01/2011 and it basically gives you a pre-defined FreeBSD 8.1 installation with Xfce 4.6 and a range of applications in a virtual machine. It is a desktop ready FreeBSD 8.1-RELEASE in the form of a VMware appliance but can also in a few steps be made to run with VirtualBox. Read the instructions for that here.
As I already had VMware Player installed I went for using it as intended. Most of what I'm going to write you can also read on the VirtualBSD site so feel free to skip over.

The desktop has apparently been styled to "resemble a certain OS from Cupertino", but I wouldn't know, and to be honest only the window buttons and decorations strike me as similar and as a cheap attempt at being something it is not. Xfce, even with wbar at the bottom, does not make a MacOS in my view. That said, decorations are easily switched, and with a few themes your buttons will also magically migrate to the right again.

Adding scrot and make tools from ports
VirtualBSD is aimed at people who have never tried FreeBSD so far but would like to and are not comfortable with the installation process yet, wanted to but didn't have the right hardware, or have used FreeBSD in the past but have since moved to a different OS but want their 'fix' from time to time.
From what I have found the small VirtualBSD team have achieved that aim very well. It is pretty much a one off release and there may or may not be more in the future. That said, for me 8.1 has already served the purpose of introducing FreeBSD to me well enough, and it should be a good learning / experimenting tool for some time to come. I found it difficult to set aside a large primary partition for FreeBSD in the past and this has allowed me to work around that and snoop around the system a bit. Obviously a pre-made VM does not teach you how to install FreeBSD properly to hard disk, so there's more reading required if you wish to take the next step.
Genuine FreeBSD booting
VirtualBSD 8.1 is a 1.25GB file to download and is compressed in zip format. At the moment it is only distributed via torrent, but that one is healthy and as a result I was able to get the file in less than an hour. Extracting it presents you with an approx. 4GB virtual appliance designed for 1024MB Ram, one processor and an 80GB virtual hard disk to open with VMware Player or better. You can adjust these settings hereafter and add a second cpu etc. Changing the initial small screen resolution in the Display section of the Xfce settings menu to higher was problem free and my screen resized dynamically to the chosen 1366x768. You may have to restart the bar at the bottom. After poking around a bit I found most additional plugins for Xfce such as the screenshooter are not installed and I advanced to testing software installation.
The ports tree is already pre-populated and issuing #portinstall -rR scrot downloaded, compiled and installed scrot, together with a few build tools that were still missing.
VirtualBSD also comes with a good selection of software which truly makes it fully functional 'out of the box', as claimed. Miro and VLC are included and I was able to download a few movie trailers from within Miro and watch them, watch Flash videos on Youtube and a news site and downloaded an mp4 stream which I was then able to play in VLC, in full-screen and resizing effortlessly. A plugin for Firefox 3.6, which has the Mozilla Prism extension to create small web applications and a a few handy bookmarks to services like Evernote and SimplyBookmarks, is not installed. The VM comes fully equipped with Thunderbird, OpenOffice, Transmission, Samba and the printing service Cups. These alone pretty much resemble the selection any Xfce based Linux distribution like Salix would give you or my own custom Slackware, but going trough the menu shows there's also much more installed like the Gnutella peer-to-peer client, Skype and a Lastfm client with which I was able to stream mp3's. The clean desktop has subtle transparency effects enabled. Fonts look nice and easy to read.
Playing MP3 files from Lastfm
VirtualBSD 8.1 is well done and stable and a good way to get introduced to FreeBSD in my opinion. Playing around in a virtual machine users can get acquainted with the differences and similarities to Linux and test out commands and the ports system which may feel alien to some, but which several distributions have also been inspired by and work in a similar fashion, i.e. Gentoo, Kongoni GNU/Linux and Slackware when used with Sbopkg, although dependencies are not resolved here.
I enjoyed VirtualBSD and will for sure keep it around. Just a word of warning: It's proven extremely hungry for disk space and although 6GB are recommended, even without installing more applications you may need more than that just watching movies and having Firefox open, or recover disk space as described in the how-to's.


  1. great! very informative, that helped us a lot, in case this PC breaks down along with your other appliances, check out services at

    AZ repair appliance

  2. Very Good Review Sir, I always read your reviews then go for a little test myself.... I always wanted to play around with BSD which I have but not the way I'd want to, I just dont have the hardware to do it but i will one day in this life.... I got your Blog in my iGoogle home page, so please continue to keep us in the KNOW! Respect.

  3. @TuffRank
    Thank you very much, Tuff! If hardware is the problem then this is definitely the right one for you to try. I'll do my best, even if some things are coming up and I may have less time soon. Cheers!


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