Saturday, November 04, 2006

Picking an Operating System

Step one in getting my "this isn't going to cost me anything 'cause we'll just use open source and exising hardware" file server up and running is, of course, picking an appropriate operating system. I've always been somewhat agnostic in this area; I run a number of FreeBSD boxen, a couple of Macs, several Linux machines, and so forth. In the BSD world, I do have a decided preference for FreeBSD As for Linux, I used to use a distro called Tiny Sofa, but it appears to have gone into hibernation. Currently, I've been using CentOS, a repackaged version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4, without the subscription fee. (I did visit to see what was "cool" these days, but decided that it's turned into little more than a popularity contest).

The hardware I want to work with is an elderly Compaq, with dual Pentium III processors, tons of disk space and a gig of RAM. While this might seem museum-quality gear to to uninitiated, please bear in mind that we'll be running this without the Redmond tax, and without the (massive) overhead required by Windows. In fact, we won't run any windowing system at all; everything will be set up via the command line. If we want a GUI of some sort for administration, we'll find an open source web service that fits the bill, and run it from there.

Anyway, back to the process of choosing an operating system. A primary consideration, of course, is maintenance. I don't want to even think about this machine once it is up and running. Thus, updates should be painless. Well, CentOS has a pretty simple to use update manager (typing "yum update" and hitting the "y" a couple of times is pretty easy). But it's very hard to beat the ports system in FreeBSD.

After a bit of research into hardware compatibility, reliability, etc., I could not come up with a compelling reason to go with one operating system over the other. What it finally came down to was this: I found the FreeBSD install CD before I located my CentoOS disks.

FreeBSD it is!