A Quick Look at the Upcoming PC-BSD 9
The March issue of BSD Mag includes an article by Kris Moore on pages 14-15. The text of that article is reprinted here with permission:
Even though the release of PC-BSD 9.0 is still a little ways off in 2011, there has already been countless hours of work put into it, bringing many exciting new changes and features.
Probably the biggest and most noticeable change will be the ability to select from a variety of desktops/window mangers. Historically PC-BSD has only offered KDE, starting with version 3, and later version 4 as a users main desktop. While KDE still offers a very complete desktop environment, there are a large number of users who prefer to use an alternative on their system. This is often for a variety of reasons, such as size, speed, design, or just personal preference. In order to provide a more satisfactory desktop experience to a larger audience, starting in version 9.0, users will provided with a easy-to-use desktop selection screen, which will allow PC-BSD to be customized with the desktop packages of the users choice.
Currently some of the desktops being offered include KDE, GNOME, XFCE and LXDE. In addition to these desktops, some common packages are also offered for installation, such as NVIDIA drivers, HPLIP and MythTV. After an installation, sometimes a user may need to add or remove various packages and PC-BSD 9 provides a mechanism for this as well. By running the included System Manager tool, a user can quickly change the installed meta-pkgs again to their preference, by inserting the original DVD/USB media, or by installing from the Internet.
In order to accommodate this large shift from a single desktop environment, almost all of the PC-BSD management tools have had to either be fixed, or in some cases replaced entirely. Since most of the desktops have a variety of different configuration managers, or none at all, it was decided to create our own PC-BSD control panel, which could provide a consistent interface for common configuration tasks. From this new control panel, a user can easily perform tasks such as setting up networking, add/removing users, controlling the firewall, browsing & installing software (PBIs) and more.
This brings us to the last major change to PC-BSD 9, the PBI package management system. In previous releases of PC-BSD, the PBI system had been developed with QT/KDE and was tied into that particular desktop in many ways. However, with the possibility of a user not even having KDE installed on their system, this meant our PBI system would need to change as well. It was decided to re-implement the PBI format entirely as command-line applications, so that it would be agnostic to the particular desktop being used, as well as be able to function on traditional FreeBSD systems, which may not even have X11 installed.
Since the entire PBI format was going to be overhauled for 9, we have also taken the opportunity to enhance it with a number of new features. Since a PBI file includes all the required libraries/dependencies included within it, there is a potential for file duplication between applications. In order to reduce this from occurring, the revamped PBI format includes intelligent management of libraries, and is able to share identical copies between applications. We have also added other important features, such as repository management, digital signature verification, off-line repository browsing and more. All these features are available via a command-line interface for power-users, while a new GUI front-end provides users of previous PC-BSD versions with a familiar framework for management.
Even though PC-BSD 9 is still early in the development cycle, it has already undergone some dramatic changes, and is shaping up to be a large step forward for BSD on the desktop. Testers or curious users are welcome to follow the development of this release by watching our new blog.
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