Subject: Re: Nice to see NetBSD mentioned. However...
To: None <>
From: Szilveszter Adam <>
List: netbsd-advocacy
Date: 01/07/2001 18:58:13

Well, let me chime in from "the other side":

On Sun, Jan 07, 2001 at 11:08:55AM -0600, Richard Rauch wrote:
> I haven't used the FreeBSD installer.  I do know that when I was
> installing Debian GNU/LINUX, their current approach annoyed me.
I have not yet installed Debian, so no comment on that. But I have used
FreeBSD's installer to get at it at first and have observed its evolution.
I think, that while X-based installers are not a
particularly good idea (it is very varied hardware after all that one might
encounter) but the FreeBSD sysinstall(8) is IMHO a good compromise which can
serve power-users and newbies alike to some extent. It has a menu-driven
interface (but not X-based) that gives you some hand-holding in what you
need to do. In fact, it should be quite similar to what I have seen from
NetBSD's sysinst (BTW I like its colors!) if you go the "Standard" install
route (formerly known as "Novice") because it is linear and not as
complicated to follow as I have heard Debian's to be. It will simply guide
through the process by asking a couple of questions and gives a way to
access help files and some docs if you need it, nothing more. It provides
templates for some basic configuration too, like networking, which might
come in handy and as someone already pointed out, will allow you to install
via ppp, which is a much requested feature here in Hungary as soon as you
leave the university CompSci lab. (Of course I have no doubt many of you
have tried the then "Expert" mode, which was later renamed to "Custom"
because it really is just that: You can freely vary the steps and are free
to shoot yourself in the foot if you want to:-) But it was not the "Expert"
mode in that it never provided any more configuration options than the
"Novice" mode... but the name was misleading, hence the change. I believe
some of the comments stem from using this option...)

But there is more: sysinstall has support for virtual consoles during
install. This means that while you can use the templates to set things on
vty1, on vty2 you can watch the commands as they are executed during the
installation. So you can get cozy  and yet can keep tabs on
what's up. But wait, it's getting better: on vty4 there is a holographic
shell with some useful commands waiting for you should you need to do
manual intervention. Of course, I realise that NetBSD runs on a lot more
hardware platforms and that not all of them can support virtual consoles.
Also, for some reason even on i386 it used to be the default not to use
them (but why? IMHO it is one of the greatest advantages of using a
UNIX-like system on your common PC... I use it like hell all the time since
it does not require me to spend my day in X if I want to use more programs
in the foreground at the same time... and my eyes like it a *lot* better
than the flickering SVGA-display... of course to have a console mouse
daemon to top it off a la moused is even better, then you really do not
need to go to X that much at all...)

The fact that sysinstall also can serve as a general-purpose configuration
tool after the fact is also a plus if you need it. Not necessarily for
adding users, but for eg adding a new drive to your system. Using only
command-line tools and the totally outdated /etc/disktab it really requires
quite some skill, while IMHO adding and removing HDDs is not such a rare
occurence on a common PC. (fortunately FreeBSD's disklabel suports the
"auto" option which should be able to get the basic parameters out of many

Of course there are problems too: sysinstall is not translated to any other
language. This has been available on Linux distros for some quite some time 
and is
a nice gesture towards non-English speaking users. (along with non-US
keymaps, which are available in quite great numbers on FreeBSD but are
somewhat missing on both Net and OpenBSD.) Also, I have never tried to use
sysinstall on a non-SVGA video adapter, but it would be nice to see how
well it would work there. Maybe it should have an option of using it in
monochrome and color mode...and of course, you shouldn't even dream of
using sysinstall if you have less than 8 megs of RAM, but better make it 16
for normal operation. Must mention also, that a replacement for sysinstall
has been in the works for years now...
>  * NetBSD has put a lot of effort into writing up useful INSTALL
>    documents.   As Anders Lindgren says, this helps a lot.  If it could
>    be made more concise without losing any useful informatoin, that
>    would be a plus.
Seconded. I think quality documentation can (and in fact has) helped a lot.

> A spartan installation tool (or just basic UNIX tools) coupled with clear
> documentation wins hands down.

I think I will have to respectfully disagree here. Remember that sysinst is
the "face" that you see of the OS when you meet it for the first time. You
may already be familiar with UNIX system administration in general, but
this is your first time with NetBSD. You need to get used to some of
conventions that are used here and only here. Of course, you can go
one-by-one through the config files, but it will be a lot faster if you can
setup some sensible starters first. You can then do the rest later. Also,
you can always use the standard tools if you want to:-) And no, I don't
think that NetBSD is for hardcore hackers only, otherwise I wouldn't be

Szilveszter ADAM
Szeged University
Szeged Hungary