Is It Time for BSD?

It's open source and free of legal encumbrances.

The intellectual property claims of SCO against Linux are very likely to backfire. But SCOs aggressive legal tactics have still put a chill on Linux deployments. In many cases, upper management and corporate lawyers have been spooked by SCOs scare tactics and are putting the kibosh on Linux usage until the smoke clears.

However, the alternative is not necessarily Microsoft Windows for servers and applications. There are other open-source operating systems that in many enterprise implementations have a better track record than Linux. Whats more, these operating systems have already survived the legal trial by fire that Linux is enduring.

The operating systems Im talking about are all members of the BSD family. Without getting into too much historic detail, BSDs origins go back to the 1970s, when it was developed at the University of California at Berkeley and became known

as the Berkeley Software Distribution. The BSD code broke plenty of new ground, especially in incorporating TCP/IP, which contributed strongly to the growth of the Internet.

Also, because the BSD license is much more open than the standard open-source GPL, much of the code in BSD found its way into other operating systems. However, in the 1990s, BSD found itself in a similar, and in many ways worse, situation to that of Linux today.

Instead of facing legal action from a company like SCO—which many outside of the tech world would be hard pressed to identify—BSD was under attack from AT&T, which was trying to control the rights to Unix.

The case ended in the mid-1990s, when it was discovered that AT&T had illegally placed BSD code inside Unix (will history repeat itself?). However, during much of the time that BSD was under legal threat, its adoption slowed and tended to feed the increasing interest in Linux at that time.

If you believe that an open-source operating system makes sense for an IT project, the BSD family deserves your attention. The three main BSD operating systems are FreeBSD, NetBSD and OpenBSD, and all three can be downloaded for free at their respective Web sites (just add .org to the end for each Web site). All have superior security, scalability and networking, and while they are very similar in many ways, each has unique strengths.

OpenBSD is the most secure of the BSDs and in my opinion is the most secure operating system, period. For details, take a look at eWEEK Labs June 2 review of the operating system (Page 58). NetBSD has been designed to run on almost any platform, from handhelds to ancient computer systems. FreeBSD is probably the most Linux-like of the three, with good third-party application packages and user utilities.

But no matter which one you choose to run, you are guaranteed to get a very reliable and secure operating system thats ideal for firewalls, Web servers, application servers or almost any enterprise application. Also, while they dont tend to have as many applications as Linux, the BSD operating systems can generally run most Unix and Linux applications in emulation mode.

Probably the biggest weakness in the BSD operating systems, for those seeking an everyday operating system, is the lack of good desktop applications. However, the BSDs have plenty of strengths in back-office applications. And if you really want a BSD-based system that has an excellent—maybe even the best—desktop and user application environment, theres always Mac OS X, which is based on BSD.

I firmly believe that when all is said and done in and out of court, Linux will be fine. If youre not facing any corporate friction about deploying Linux, theres no reason to stop.

But if youre facing foot-dragging on Linux from corporate bosses thanks to fallout from SCOs suits, you can still pursue an open-source option through any of the BSDs.

And if you were just shopping around, just considering Linux and hadnt looked at a BSD, you may want to reconsider and do some comparing between the systems. You might find that a BSD will be a better fit.

East Coast Technical Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at