Finally: A dip into OpenBSD, a year after I planned it!

I have done a thing I said I would do last year!

Go me! XD. In all honesty, I completely forgot about this, but I have since done it, so that’s good right? Hopefully it’s worth the wait :). So rather than doing an in-depth review, I decided to show how to install OpenBSD, how the package manager works, and then install a graphical desktop environment, because it doesn’t come with one by default.

The video review-type thing


The installation

So, after a few failed attempts to do automatic partitioning, I just decided to give it a big virtual drive and get on with it. I’d found it doesn’t give you much space for software on small disks, but it appears that on reasonably sized disks it does just fine.

The installer was a bit weird I thought, not even having a dialog-box based wizard like most commandline installers for Linux. But then again, this isn’t Linux, so yeah. Either way, the installer was fairly easy to use for me, but perhaps not so easy if you’re new to this kind of thing. I liked the blue-on-black text on startup.

After going through some fairly-standard setup stuff, it asks what you want to install, and from where. I went from everything on the CD, which includes a basic X server setup as well. What I do notice is that there doesn’t seem to be any way to go back and change your choices at any point, which is a little annoying, but not essential. Also, as I found during a failed manual partitioning attempt, pressing CTRL-C just drops you to the shell – not ideal for a setup program. At any rate, installation was very fast and guides you well.

First Impressions

It’s like Linux! Though without some of the commands like lsblk, and slightly odd-seeming device names like /dev/wd0. It also presented drive letters during setup, which was interesting. I don’t know what you use them for though. At any rate, after X started up it takes you to a standard X terminal like any other base X install.

Installing software

It’s pretty easy using pkg_add to install stuff and pkg_info -Q to search for packages. There are a bunch of other options as well, but I didn’t look into those. Also worth noting is that there’s a large array of ports – programs not in the standard repositories – you can compile. The process looks manual and somewhat complicated, but it gives you a large array of software to install in OpenBSD if you need to.

Installing software is quick, and the way it’s done is interesting, because the package manager seems to unpack packages while they’re being downloaded – perhaps to save time or disk space.

Installing XFCE in OpenBSD

I was originally going to go for LXDE, but it didn’t seem to be in the repos, so I went for XFCE instead. I had to look up some commands to get a good selection of software, but this was easy to do. It installed fairly painlessly, but it did need a little bit of extra config to get it to start on boot. After this, it worked just like any other XFCE install, and strongly reminded me of Linux, especially since most of the programs available are also from/can be used with Linux.


This was about as far as I got with this particular OS, hence it being a dip in rather than a review, but nevertheless I hope you found it interesting :). If you’d like to see more on OpenBSD, let me know in the comments or drop me an email.

That’s it for now, but stay tuned!


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About Hamish McIntyre-Bhatty

I'm a self-employed software developer working on Free Software projects, as well as studying for my degree with the Open University. Being pedantic when it comes to detail is fortunately useful for both of these things! A strong believer in free software, I have a few pay-for programs available under the GPLv3 and enjoy reporting bugs and helping to improve various open source projects, including volunteering at Wimborne Model Town to work on their river control system.

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