Of course it does!

April 14, 2017

So, Spring Break has been upon me in in recent days and I’ve been relaxing and doing the things I love.  One of those things was download the recently-released NetBSD 7.1 ISO and install it as a guest VM in VirtualBox.


The NetBSD logo, used with permission according to their logo usage guidelines.

Now, I’ve had a good amount of experience using FreeBSD (I consider myself a novice, though) and I’ve already tinkered around with OpenBSD in a VM (also enjoyable to use), but I never found the time to actually give NetBSD a go.  I did try to install NetBSD many, many years ago on an old Macintosh (NetBSD is known to run on practically everything….of course), but that didn’t go as smoothly as I expected (though I may tackle this one again in the near future).  I did give it another try some months ago, but a lack of hard drive space and a lot of user error made the experience on my laptop none the better.  In retrospect, however, I suspect that it was more an issue of user error in both instances than anything else. 🙂

This time, though, I decided to install NetBSD 7.1 on a more worthy host system: the desktop PC I passed on to my kids (AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition, 4 GB RAM, 1 TB hard drive, Fedora Linux 25 x86_64).  I downloaded the ISO from the NetBSD website, configured VirtualBox, and began the installation.

The installation itself is pretty straightforward.  It is a text-based menu installer, similar to something like Windows XP or even FreeBSD’s bsdinstall, and definitely easier to follow than OpenBSD’s installer (though that’s not too hard if you pay attention during the installation process).  After configuring my partitions (I just selected the defaults) and choosing what disk sets I wanted installed, I was off to the races.  After the installation was complete and I finished some post-installation configurations (root password, new user creation, etc.), I rebooted the VM and logged in.

After logging in, I was presented with a shell, one that I configured right after it was installed.  You have the choice of stock sh, csh, or ksh.  I decided to stick with the stock sh shell and continue my system configurations from there on.

One of the many things I liked about NetBSD was the new (at least to me) pkgin package manager.  Apparently, it’s been around since version 6.x but I didn’t know about it until now when configuring my installation before rebooting to the installed OS.  You have the option to use pkgin instead of the usual pkgsrc tools like pkg_add, pkg_delete, etc.  Pkgin does a good job at being just like apt or yum/dnf for those still in the Linux world (specifically Debian/Ubuntu and CentOS/RedHat/Fedora, respectively).  Thanks to pkgin, I was able to install many of the tools I use both in Linux and in FreeBSD.  I had considered installing the tcsh shell (which I use in FreeBSD), but I decided to stick with what NetBSD provided me for the time being.

Since Xorg was already installed from one of the disk sets during the installation process, I was already up and running with a GUI, albeit with twm as the window manager.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love twm and I have used it in the past since it’s the default once Xorg is installed, but it is a very basic window manager.  I decided to install IceWM (for nostalgia) and I also installed JWM (Joe’s Window Manager) which I really liked.  After a few tweaks to my .xinitrc file which I had to create in my home directory, each of them worked wonderfully and as expected.  I also installed Midori so I could browse the web without resorting to my host OS.

VirtualBox_NetBSD x86_12_04_2017_09_01_53

My NetBSD 7.1 VM running IceWM as the window manager and Midori for browsing the web.  I also SSHed to my host OS so I could access my Irssi IRC sessions from within NetBSD.

There were some niggles, though.  As you can see, Midori is using the default “Raleigh” GTK+2 theme since I hadn’t set a preferred theme, and it’s ugly as sin. 🙂  I also tried running LXDE as my desktop environment, but I’d get an error saying that “it couldn’t connect” to some service when I configured it in my .xinitrc and ran startx (I imagine it might be some “Linuxism” that LXDE was looking for, but I’m not quite sure).  Finally, Firefox was a bigger issue altogether.  While I was able to install it using pkgin (latest version as of 2017-04-12 was 52.0.1), it would eventually crash when accessing certain website and the only way to get it somewhat working again was by deleting the .mozilla configuration directory.  Even launching Firefox in safe mode wouldn’t stop it from crashing.  Oddly enough, while the package repo for NetBSD identifies Firefox as “firefox-52.0.1”, the “About Firefox” option shows it as “Nightly” 52.0.1.  I suspect this has a lot to do with why Firefox (or “Nightly” in this case) was so unstable.  Needless to say, I uninstalled it (along with LXDE and other problematic packages) and stuck with Midori which was more stable here than it’s ever been in FreeBSD or even Linux.  Hopefully, the NetBSD team will change this so that it upgrades to the stable rapid-release version of Firefox in the near future.

So, after all of those issues, I decided to trick out my little NetBSD installation by going with one of my favorite window managers from back in the day, Window Maker.  I also installed ePDFview, PCManFM, LXTerminal, Leafpad, both GTK+2 and GTK+3, and the MATE Desktop themes package for both GTK+ versions.  I created my GTK+2 and GTK+3 configuration files with a little help on the web, and installed screenfetch to display the OS and system information with the NetBSD logo.  Along with a desktop wallpaper I found on the web, I’m quite proud of my final setup if I do say so myself. 😉

VirtualBox_NetBSD x86_12_04_2017_18_31_57

My tricked-out NetBSD 7.1 installation running Window Maker.  LXTerminal is using the BlueMenta them provided by the MATE Desktop themes package which goes well with the Window Maker style I had selected.

All in all, I have to say that I was very pleased with my NetBSD experience.  In spite of the issues I had, I was able to get a working NetBSD system in no time and was able to be productive as a user (for the most part, anyway 😉 ).  If you get a chance, give NetBSD a try in a VM sometime and get your hands dirty with this great Unix-like OS.  Of course, if you have spare hardware, rest assured that it will run NetBSD. 😉