We are the Knights who say *Nix

Once again I’m turning to the blog to explore an intense intellectual discourse that started on Twitter/FriendFeed and deserves to be explored even further, without the interruption of some inane restaurant reviews or such!

Unlike all the other posts/rants on the topic of Linux vs. Windows vs. FreeBSD this one will explore my take on the issue from my point of view.

JohnnyCanuck RT @pluc: First day at inpix. Removing Vista, installing Ubuntu. — You gotta love this guy!

schultzter @JohnnyCanuck Their web site is a bit sluggish – he should probably upgrade to FreeBSD or Slackware and ditch the Ubuntu bloat 🙂

JohnnyCanuck @schultzter Unbuntu s probably the most polished distro avail with plenty of drivers & great apps. If it’ll run Vista, Linux will scream

JohnnyCanuck @schultzter The more Linux remains geeky & the roll your own distro/driver mentality prevails, Linux is bound to fail. Just look at netbooks

schultzter @JohnnyCanuck LSB and freedesktop.org will take care of that, why not geeky & mainstream?! What am I looking at netbooks for?!

JohnnyCanuck @schultzter netbooks are the only mainstream Linux success story out there. How many FreeBSd machines can you pick at CostCo?

schultzter @JohnnyCanuck i’m confused, are you saying linux is a success or failure?! not many (any?) netbooks shipping with linux these days!

JohnnyCanuck @schultzter Asus eeePC have been the only real success 4 Linux out of the box. http://tinyurl.com/6egq7h too much distro squable elsewhere

JohnnyCanuck @schultzter You know what 140 characters is pretty crap for debates. Blog it and we’ll have a good old fashion party in the comments…

schultzter @JohnnyCanuck Can I just post a link chain to these tweets or do I have to get all fancy like last time? 🙂

JohnnyCanuck @schultzter I think you should be fancy anytime you can!

So the question is: should you bet on FreeBSD or a Linux distro (and which one)?

I was set to find-out what was the market share held by FreeBSD and Linux. We know that Microsoft claims anywhere from 100% down to a low 95% (actually, I think at one point their buddies at IDC suggested it could be as low as 70% for servers). The problem is that it’s hard to track something that’s given away and shared freely.

We could look at forum and social media chatter, but we’d need to make sure we take a long enough sample to smooth out the hype periods. The iPhone isn’t close to de-throning the Blackberry, but during WWDC you’d think everyone in the world had and/or wanted an iPhone!!!

Instead I choose to look at Netcraft’s Most Reliable Hosting Company Sites in May 2009 report and add a healthy dose of logical argumentation (i.e.: assumptions).

What we see here, is that of the top ten at least three are FreeBSD and at least three are Linux while only at least two are Windows (so nyah nyah Mr. Gates). If we look at the offerings of the two unknown we can see they both offer Windows and Linux and one also offers FreeBSD.

Note that Apple’s OS X isn’t really in the server space, although they do offer one server in their Mac line-up they don’t show-up on Netcraft’s list and I think it’s safe to say if you’re buying a Mac you’re not going to put anything other than OS X on it!

The Netcraft report can be interpretted in one of three ways:

FreeBSD runs the majority of servers on the internet but it’s un-reliable and therefore doesn’t show-up in the top ten proportional to it’s market share.
I don’t think any of the Fat Dads, even me, would honestly argue that most of the servers out there run FreeBSD – we may wish they did, but honestly I don’t think they do.
FreeBSD runs as many servers as Linux does and it’s just as reliable, hence they show-up just as frequencly and equivalent to their market share.
This is the compromise interpretation which the Fat Dads might be willing to grudgingly accept, but as we’re about to see they probably won’t like the alternative.
FreeBSD runs a minority of the servers on the internet but it’s very reliable and therefore shows-up in the top ten in greater proportion than it’s market share.
This is my personal opinion and probably the opinion of everyone who runs FreeBSD – a very wise bunch of people and you’re probably best to listen to their opinions.

So there you have it, no doubt about it, FreeBSD is the better operating system!

The other thing to remember is when we’re talking about FreeBSD we’re talking about an operating system. When we talk about Linux we’re talking about the kernel, you need to consider the distribution as well. Some distros, like Slackware, try to keep things as lean and clean as possible but leave the operator with a lot of work to do. Other distros, like Ubuntu, try to do everything for you and often leave you wondering what’s the difference between Windows?! And then there’s those distros that build on one of the indepedant distros that just give you a different base language or different default applications or different media.

And the last thing to remember is that FreeBSD is Unix whereas Linux is only Unix-like!

Cross-posted on Cameron-Schultz at We are the Knights who say *Nix


  1. I have no complaints about your server numbers or whether FreeBSD is a better OS under reliability. My main point was in the desktop market: Linux and all the Unix spin offs have a lot of work to do in order to grow their share here.

    I would love it if the alternative to Dell or HP Windows PC wasn’t only a MacBook or iMac runnnig Mac OS X. But the reality is that Software Engineers build gray programme windows that do finite tasks and operations, stuff to get the job done. Mac OS X also employs User Interface developers to polish off the functions and make all the mental leaps for the users that the engineers see no problem in making you go through. And don’t forget that Mac OS X is built on the same founding Unix as the FreeBSD team builds upon. Those UI guys are the ones that make the OS so much fun and so easy to use. The open source reality of Linux is that the last guy to touch it is an engineer and not necessarily a graphics designer or a UI developer. Some one needs to polish Linux before it leaves the gate, Ubuntu had been the only distro to attempt this before the Asus took the Netbooks to CostCo and Best Buy. The EeePC really has been the only successful Linux computer to go to market and get some good press. The real shame is that the hard core Linux pushers keep turning their nose at it.

    To quote one your cats:
    “Your servers are all ACE!” Now get back to making something the rest of us can use!

  2. Sorry that just doesn’t hold, have you seen Vista and MS’ apps on Vista?! Every single one uses a different, baffling, interface. Menu’s are different, toolbars are different, palettes are different. The only thing follows the Windows “standard” is Notepad! And yet, Macs with their slick and clean interface are still the minority!

    I definitely agree that choice can mean confusion, and the *nixes present you with GTK and Qt for starters plus a host of other toolkits to develop and baffle your users with. There’s long been a discussion about what’s better default-button-on-left or default-button-on-right in the GTK vs. Qt camps.

    Hopefully groups like freedesktop.org will get issues like that straightened out and then *nix can be clean & slick too.

    But ofcourse nothing stops Mac developers from really messing up the interface (the fear of Lord Jobs smiting them is the only thing right now, but you get one rebel who gets away with it and the flood-gates will open).

  3. Ahem.. FreeBSD is not UNIX. In fact, the x86 OS X Leopard is actually certified Open Brand UNIX 03 while no flavour of BSD currently is. This is not an attempt to bash the BSDs out there but rather to point out that UNIX these days does != UNIX back in the 80s – early 90s. A lot has changed over the years out and MS won the popularity war much to the chagrin of UNIX supporters. Linux is getting pretty close to being a good os but it will never be ready for the desktop due to their communist orientation. Neither ATI nor Nvidia will be stupid enough to make public their latest GPU architectures so that the Linux commies can make open source drivers available for them and that will always mean that what ever Linux distro you put out today will only work properly with a 1 – 2 year old desktop since reverse engineering takes time.

    The same can be said about FreeBSD, however they have a different aim as to what they want their OS to be. They’re not aiming for the desktop but rather for the server/embedded appliance etc market. Also, they’re not commies so Juniper Networks doesn’t have to share the code running on their super expensive routers 😉

    All these minute differences makes for a rather moot argument from either side.

    So far, only OS X has a serious chance of catching up with Windows and as it will grab more and MORE market share away from windows, and as SJ will eventually die one day, we can probably hope for an official OS X86 DVD for sale in the Apple store. Mark my words.


  4. Well, Nvidia I believe publishes binary Linux drivers for their cards. The “pure” distros don’t include them but you can always get them yourself.

    And I have to wonder why, if the BSD license is so much more permissive than the GPL license that Linux uses how come so many embedded systems are based on Linux?