Some thoughts on UNIX and testing Opera on FreeBSD
Sunday, October 30, 2011 10:15:00 PM
I am part of the QA/testing team at Opera. I'm also part of a smaller group of people who work primarily on the Linux and FreeBSD versions of Opera Desktop. People often refer to us as the UNIX desktop team. However after we reluctantly dropped support for Solaris that isn't technically accurate. Linux was written from scratch to be a UNIX work-alike but it has no UNIX heritage. FreeBSD on the other hand is a descended from AT&T UNIX via BSD UNIX and is considered by many to represent (along with the other BSD variants) open source UNIX but legally it isn't UNIX either. This is because (like Linux) it lacks certification from The Open Group, who own the UNIX trademark. And without certification you aren't UNIX no matter how UNIX-like your OS is. In fact the only UNIX certified OS that the desktop team support thee days is actually MacOS. So I guess my colleague Daniel is part of the real UNIX team and I'm part of something else!
You could say I'm part of the "X team", since we maintain the version of Opera for desktop OSes that run the X window system. Though even that isn't a perfect description, given that if Wayland takes off, it will likely be this same group of people who will end up producing and supporting the Opera port to it. So the only way to accurately describe us these days is the Linux and FreeBSD team.
I run Linux as my main working OS and as such most of the posts I write here on my blog focus on Linux. Though since I tend to post publicly more frequently then some of my colleagues I do sometimes worry that people might be under the impression that we don't care about FreeBSD. That isn't true and indeed there are people at Opera who primarily run FreeBSD.
Also, whilst Linux is my first choice for a desktop OS I do also test on FreeBSD and actually prefer it to several popular Linux distros because the distributions I like best (Arch and Slackware) tend to have development philosophies that are closer to FreeBSD than to "popular" Linux distros like Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora, etc.
So I was actually quite excited last week when the new FreeBSD 9 RC 1 was released. Unlike with new releases of some of the Linux distros, I don't usually have late night fears that Opera will get broken by some new major change or other. FreeBSD has a deserved reputation for being reliable and robust and not rushing change for its own sake. Nonetheless with any OS upgrade there is always the chance that we will have to make changes to accommodate, so with the release of RC1 I figured now was as good a time as any to give it a spin.
I was also a little curious about the switch from sysinstall to bsdinstall as the OS installer. FreeBSD has used sysinstall since the dawn of time and it was really starting to show its age. Interestingly bsdinstall itself is only supposed to be a stop gap in its current form. It will continue to provide the front end to a future installer but the back end will be provided by PC-BSD's more feature full pc-sysinstall.
Firstly, my experience with bsdinstall was very good. I don't have too much to say as it all happened so fast. It didn't ask many questions but did ask enough to make sure I had a chance to make any customisations I might need to make. And most importantly it got the job done. At the end I had a nice install of the core system.
This is one of the ways that FreeBSD is similar to Arch (and to some extent Slackware). The installer only gets you to the basic setup. Quite a lot of post install configuration and installation of additional software must be done afterwards. Though as long as you are willing to read and carefully follow the excellent FreeBSD Handbook it isn't too hard to get a nicely functioning system that you can use as a desktop operating system.
And after the process was done and I installed Opera, how did it run? Exactly as expected, with no new issues or surprises. So a big thanks to the FreeBSD team for making my life really easy and demonstrating why we are very happy to continue supporting your fantastic OS!