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OpenBSD: First Impressions

Posted: May 1st, 2004 | Author: | Filed under: *BSD | Comments Off

I took a bit of time this morning to download OpenBSD 3.5, fresh from the oven.  It took me awhile to find a near-ish mirror that had 3.5 on it, but I booted from the tiny CD ISO and away I went.

Overall the install process was the usual no-frills text-based system that gets the job done but isn’t pretty.  I was pretty happy with it, except for one thing:

Disk partitioning/disk labeling

Jeez.  There’s really no excuse for this.  I’ve done my fair share of installing *nix systems.  My first experience involved downloading disksets of Slackware (in a subdirectory called slakware) over a 14.4 modem.  The whole process was new to me, but I got through it.  A, AP, D, K, etc.  I did a whole lot of rawriting.  The text install system was good but not pretty (albeit prettier than the OpenBSD installer).

It worked.  I moved on.  I’ve since installed pretty much every major version of Red Hat in addition to modern Slackware, Debian, SUSE, Fedora, Mandrake, the BSDs, and more that I can’t even remember.

I’m not a *nix newb by any stretch of the imagination, yet the OpenBSD disk partition/disk label system totally makes me step back and say “WTF?”

After I look at the install guide and blink several times, it all comes back to me and I’m able to limp through the partitioning and disk label process.

Hey guys, it doesn’t have to be this hard.  When I was lost at the partition prompt, I typed ‘?’ and was only able to see about half of the help.  Where was the rest?  Oh, it had already scrolled off the screen.  It’d be great to know that at the size: prompt 150M is an option.  It’s not obvious by any stretch of the imagination.

All of my complaints aside, the rest of the process went smoothly and made a lot of sense to a veteran Linux user.  OpenBSD managed to find the el-cheapo NIC that is in my test box, DHCP gave me all of my settings, and away I went.  I opted to load the basic OpenBSD packages from CD.  They loaded quickly, and I soon rebooted the system in to OpenBSD.  SSH works great out of the box, and we should all thank the OpenBSD team for the glory that is OpenSSH.

It’s lean and mean, baby.  It’s not like a default Red Hat install where you’ve got a bajillion processes running and a bajillion ports open.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  There are just enough processes running for the machine to be able to function.  This is the reason that only one root exploit has been found in the default install.

Since installing 3.5, I’ve used adduser to add a non-root user to the system (remember to add youself to the group wheel if you’d like to su), set up and used X using xf86cfg, and added a few packages using pkg_add.  I’ll probably start playing with the ports collection soon.

Summary: OpenBSD is a tight little secure distro that gets the job done.  The install process is bare-bones but makes sense except for disk partitioning/labeling.  You don’t get a lot by default, but if you only add what you need, you won’t have to deal with insecure bloat.

Congrats to the OpenBSD team on a great release!


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