Hurd, BSD, MINIX 3, on Live CDs and Desktops

I wanted to draw attention to a list of BSD flavours and forks that I think are noteworthy. This article purposefully neglects Gnu-linux (/live CDs) as they are well documented elsewhere.

First of I must mention Hurd. It’s been a long time coming, and along the while there been changes in micro-kernel usage from Mach, to the L4 family –specifically Pistachio–, and now as of late, Coyotos (although the wikipedia article “L4_microkernel_family” also mentions L4.sec).

If you want to try Hurd, you can install the Debian (Mach based) version, Debian Gnu/Hurd. There is also a live CD called Ging.

On the BSD and live CD fronts, a couple of OpenBSD CDs are noteworthy, if only because OpenBSD historically never cared for them. OliveBSD and Anonym.OS LiveCD.

You can build your own by following these instructions. Maybe also read the NetBSD based article entitled “Notes on building live CD“, and also the NetBSD official manual.

There is also another liveBSD available here which is the same live CD provided by BSDeviant people before they disappeared. I’m not sure how great this product was but considering that the site is no longer but you can still get their CD, I thought I’d mention. Keep in mind that I am not endorsing that you download it as it may have restrictive licensing.

There is also a live BSD based CD called NeWBIE available from TDI. If I recall, a run-down appeared on, but no longer.

There also the FreeBSD based DragonFly (More on this below).

Other than that on the BSD line, Frenzy, a FreeBSD-based LiveCD, received a fab review by Andrei Raevsky at DistroWatch Weekly.

Just to finish up on Live CDs, there are other BSD based live CDs. RoFreeSBIE, FreesBIE FreeBSD LiveCD. Of course, there is also the official NetBSD based live CDs from their repositories.

On the Desktop front, there are various BSD projects that one might to keep a look on, simply because their aim is to make BSD accessible to everyone. What this means is to provide a desktop (with concepts such as drag and drop, rather than just provide a window manager), easy package management (with a front end utility), and easy upgrades, and binary security patches (this means without recompiling the kernel [a new concept to BSD in general]). These are MidnightBSD, DesktopBSD and PC-BSD (all FreeBSD based).

Of everything above, only DragonFly and MidnightBSD might be considered forks while the others remain closely tied to their mother projects (ie., FreeBSD, or NetBSD) and are called flavors.

DragonFly is, at the least, a major rewrite due in part to a fall out and diverging views concerning FreeBSD’s feasible future, and MidnightBSD attempts to customize FreeBSD to desktop requirements, and away from its traditional server centric ones.

Then there are a few oddities, namely Debian GNU/kFreeBSD and Debian GNU/NetBSD. Debian GNU/kFreeBSD are projects that replace Linux proper, the monolithic kernel, with the BSD kernels. This leaves the userland to GNU, in this case this is Debian userland (a good thing). This makes more sense to me than Gentoo that do the inverse and create a BSD-like environment with Gnu-linux.

Moving away from BSDs, one of the most exciting projects is one that uses a microkernel, insulates drivers so that they do not bring he OS down, self-heals without reboots or affecting running services/apps! There’s also multiple servers running. Does this sound familiar? It should as these have been Hurd’s goals as spouted by Richard Stallman in passing when lecturing.

Sadly I’m, not describing Hurd or I am but I’m also, describing MINIX 3. What’s more, it seems to be developing faster than Hurd because as Hurd still looks for a kernel, MINIX 3 runs X11, TCP/IP and has over 400 ports. It’s POSIX compliant, and provides a fully multi-user environment, even runs on 386s, and only needs a minimum of 16 MB of RAM. An 8 MB version is also available. Hard disk installation takes 200 MB minimum, with 400 MB minimum for a full install. What’s more all this from a live CD!

MINIX 3 sounds like a godsend, and makes one question how they could achieve so much in 2 years, yet Hurd is still not finished after what a decade or two? They say that Liedtke’s, the professor behind L4 (some say he was somewhat of a genius), death was a blow to Hurd. Mach is mentioned as a poor choice candidate, initially slowing Hurd development. In support of this, Thomas [then Michael] Bushnell, Hurd’s designer, has stated that the BSD kernel with Hurd would have been much easier to implement.

Don’t think microkernels hold up? Read Tanenbaum’s latest write-up on the matter.

There you go; there’s my list of interesting OSes.

Maurice Cepeda

For more on MINIX read, OSNews Open Addict, Computerworld,,,,,

Update: For a very quick run-down on micro.kernels vs. monolithic kernels read, “Kernel designs explained.” by Thom Holwerda.

This is licensed under the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License. All brands mentioned are properties of their respective owners. By reading this article, the reader forgoes any accountability of the writer. The reading of this article implies acceptance of the above stipulations. The author requires attribution –by full name and URL– and notification of republications.


3 thoughts on “Hurd, BSD, MINIX 3, on Live CDs and Desktops

  1. DragonFly BSD isn’t desktop, it’s server, even more, it’s cluster oriented. It’s just not done development enough to know if their development choices will pay off or hurt performance in the end. It’s another three or more years off even metting most of it’s goals.

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