Train Bridge at Swarthmore College crossing Crum Creek

Adventure Into PCBSD

While popping around the BSD community I keep hearing about PCBSD. Most people seem to detest it but some people like it. PCBSD calls itself a “... user friendly desktop Operating System based on FreeBSD.” I wasn't quite sure about the “user friendly” part but I am going to give it a shot.

I wanted a backup of my SSD in the likely chance that I dislike/break it and want out. The solution came in the form of dump and restore. Incremental backups of the file system, perfect. Had I known more when I setup the system I would've used ZFS which contains its own utility for incremental backups. I booted into single user mode and mounted the filesystem in read only mode.

newfs -U /dev/da0
mount /dev/da0 /mnt/usb
dump -C16 -b64 -0a -h0 -f /mnt/flashdrive/root.dump /dev/ada0

This took about 10 minutes and I was off installing PCBSD. My first impressions of the installer were “ohhhh... Pretty”. The entire process of installing is done within what looks like a KDE environment. While superfluous, it worked pretty well and I had the system setup in no time. I thought it was cool that you could pick from a list of window managers to come pre-installed on the system that included i3, my personal favorite. Installation was done and it was time to reboot and initiate first bootup which comes with it's own slew of setup steps.

Nothing, it dropped into the bootup sequence and the screen went black. I reboot and tried again. Still nothing. Given no chance to boot in single user mode I didn't see many options. I re-installed the system this time choosing only defaults. First boot up and still a black screen. I searched in vain for any way to drop into a shell during the PCBSD install.

I dropped into a FreeBSD live session and tried to mount the SSD. I futzed around with the boot settings trying to find a combo that would produce a bootable system. All I managed to do was mess up the boot sequence. Getting frustrated I decided to call it a night.

I checked the wiki and saw that my laptop was not on the list of laptops compatible with PCBSD. I decided the next day that it wasn't worth the time or effort to get it booting correctly. Lazily I reinstalled FreeBSD and only installed the core package and setup nothing else, after all I just needed the partition table. After the installation finished I dropped into the live environment.

newfs -U /dev/ada0p2
mount /dev/ada0p2 /media
mount /dev/da0 /mnt
mount /dev/da1 /tmp
cd /media
restore -rf /mnt/root.dump

The interesting step there is mounting the second flashdrive under tmp. One of the limitations I found with restore is it needs to be able to write to /tmp before it can do a backup. As I was in a read only livecd that posed a problem. The restore was done in a few short minutes. It was weird when Firefox popped up asking if I would like to reopen my tabs. Every thing worked a little too perfectly. We can't have that.

Up next – How not to upgrade to FreeBSD 9.2