October 21, 2016

OpenBSD

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An addictive fish

These are a few lists and short tutorials of mine related to OpenBSD. You can find them in the OpenBSD submenu of the main menu.

If you are curious at all, why OpenBSD?

As many people out there, my first contact with a PC was with windows. More precisely, DOS. I am talking here about PCs, because the real first computing device that got into my place was a zx spectrum 48k (and later even a 128k one!). I cannot count the hours that I spent loading into the memory of the device programs, as e.g. computer games like manic miner. The abhorrent and cacophonous data loading via a cassette tape became something so familiar that I now feel nostalgic when I look at videos of the process.

In spite of that poor memory, I learnt BASIC and some LOGO with it. I all was influence of my father, who was working at IBM with punched cards on computers as big as a wall and with so few memory that, after installing the compiler, they had some 4k to work with.

Many years later, my father thought that i would be a good idea to buy a PC for me. That machine came with DOS and, later, the GUI came, with windows 3.11 and it was interesting to see how you could arrange windows in this or that shape.

However, I always felt like I was nothing but an extension of the computer. “Install this”, “Press enter”, “Accept conditions” etc. Somehow I felt more free using the spectrum than that i386. I also had the feeling that, somewhat, I had learnt more with the spectrum than with that much more powerful PC.

At that moment, I learnt about something called “linux”. I borrowed a laptop, made a partition, and installed what I believed it was Caldera linux on it. It might sound trivial now, but we’re taking of 1995 or so, and I had to create my own /dev on the system and play with cylinders and blocks when doing the partition. I suffered a lot, I spent hours on it, I could not erase the linux partition later to gave my friend her full windows drive back and… I loved it!

Unfortunately, my impression is that since the appearance (or should I say the apparition) of ubuntu, linux is now what windows once was. Everything is now “easy”, “quick”, it “just works” and it was not challenging any more. Moreover, “interesting” programs, such as e.g. skype, flash, are available in binary files for linux, and graphic acceleration companies have “drivers” for it, too.

In some moment of confusion, I even got a mac book. I returned it after three months of usage, because it was impossible to work with it (for me, I know this is personal). The mac book makes a very nice Christmas tree with all of that glowing and lights. I am talking in jest, of course. I could not feel comfortable without having total control. This is a proof of my desperation during those months… read and cry.

Since those blobs are binary data, you cannot read them. They usually contain bugs and make your laptop break, they might in principal (if you are paranoid like me) contain spyware, such as proven in the recent versions of skype (Microsoft is listening!). Ubuntu is also sending your personal information to the bad, bad guys, btw. Also, in 2016 it was reported that the linux kernel had a bug lurking for nine years, with a flaw giving untrusted users unfettered root access.

In 2004 I discovered OpenBSD, and I felt straight away at the right place. Dedicated programmers committed and extremely correct in their coding and ethics. Moreover, they are intelligent people with clear, concise answers to well-posed questions.

It is difficult to abandon things that “just work”, but, on the other hand, and from a personal standpoint, the reasons why I use OpenBSD whenever I can (i.e. on e.g. my laptop) are the following:

  1. The installation takes some 5 minutes
  2. It’s extremely secure
  3. It does not suffer of that common illness of many OS’s: regression
  4. The documentation is excellent
  5. You understand what the OS is doing
  6. It’s challenging and makes you think
  7. A top will usually tell you that X is taking about 0.1% of the CPU

Of course, this isolates you from a lot of “communities” but, taking into account my mild misanthropy, I am fine with that.