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Parents: OpenBSD is Superior

by Ben Goren


A loooong time ago—when the Quadra was the new kid on the Apple block—I was able to scrounge a Mac Plus from the Arizona State University School of Music for my parents to use. Some time after that, they bought a Performa 6214. Years later they started complaining enough about it being slow that I set them up with a hand-me-down 300 MHz computer (there was a switch after a few months due to hardware problems) running Linux Mandrake. It took them a bit to get used to the change, but they were mostly happy with the increased performance.

Lately, more and more people have been sending them multimedia attachments, or they’ve wanted to go to Flash sites, or other sorts of things like that. I’ve never bothered much with such things, myself, and I’ve never had a lot of luck getting them to work. Still, Mandrake is supposed to be the Linux distribution best suited to multimedia, so I kept plugging away. Every so often, I’d upgrade (as in “wipe and install a new version of”) Mandrake, hoping that would magically fix all their problems.


While I have to give Mandrake a lot of credit for being a whole heck of a lot better than Windows in general, it still felt unstable. My parents would complain of random hangs—not often in the big scheme of things, to be sure—and programs that didn’t like to work unless they logged out and back in again. Many times, I’d have to try to figure out why, for example, all sound stopped working in my mom’s account but not my dad’s.

I finally gave up. A month or two ago, I wiped the drive and installed OpenBSD 3.0. They had been using KDE before, and the OpenBSD KDE ports were then complete.

As far as I was concerned, it was a giant leap forward. No more RPM hell! Easy install and setup! No digging for mystery servers to disable! Simple, consistent configuration! As I’ve been using OpenBSD since 2.6 (and buying CDs since 2.7) and FreeBSD since late in the 3.x series, none of that was a surprise. My surprise has come from their reaction.


My parents say that OpenBSD is faster. Significantly, noticeably so. It’s also more stable—no surprise there—and the only thing they’re lacking that they had before (as in, they had before that actually worked) is Gimp-print drivers for their printer, and that’s mostly due to (don’t tell them) procrastination on my part.

Sound works, everywhere, all the time, for both of them—and I didn’t have to fight to make it so. They can watch and listen to all the Flash greeting cards our relatives keep sending them; on Mandrake, it was always a bit flaky. KOffice does a passable job for them—certainly no worse than it did on Mandrake, and about as well as Claris Works on the Performa. The same holds true for the rest of KDE, including Konqueror and Kmail. The Gimp does everything my mom needs for her artwork and a whole lot more (not that the Gimp was a problem on Mandrake). They bought a license for Moneydance, which does everything the version of Quicken that came with the Performa did, cutting the last ties to the Macintosh.

And it’s all faster.

Where did this myth come from that OpenBSD is slow?

I tell ya, once Mozilla and {Open,Star}Office are available, you’d have to be silly to insist that Mandrake is superior to OpenBSD for general desktop use. Yes, the GUI hand-holding that Mandrake offers is a pre-requisite for mass-market retail sales. But if you’re already Unix-savvy and you’ll be the one providing the tech support, you’ll have a lot less supporting to do and the people using the computer will think they’ve got a brand-new computer.