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Why I'm using OpenBSD rather than Linux

I used various flavours of Linux for many years, but since 2014 I've changed to OpenBSD. This happened more or less by accident. I first installed OpenBSD largely from curiosity, not dissatisfaction with Linux. But the more I used it the better I liked it. until I finally installed it on all my computers.

At first I kept one laptop running Linux so that I could use Adobe Flash and Skype, neither of which run on OpenBSD. But Flash is no longer maintained for Linux and the sites that demand it (fortunately a decreasing number) complain that the version on Linux is too old. Skype is no longer available for 32-bit machines (like mine) so that is no longer a reason for me to keep Linux.

OpenBSD is often praised for its security but that wasn't what attracted me initially. I didn't think myself to be particularly vulnerable, but I've changed my mind somewhat now in view of the increasing quantity of internet fraud and the number of ISPs and other holders of data whose security has been breached (TalkTalk is the latest example as I write). OpenBSD gives me a degree of confidence, though I hope not complacency.

There is a different kind of security that I also care about: what to do if everything goes wrong. Recently I stupidly managed to delete my /etc directory, thus rendering my system unbootable. I regularly backup /home both to tarsnap and to another computer on my local network, but of course I needed to reinstall the system. OpenBSD is the easiest OS to install that I've ever used, so reinstalling took only about half an hour. I still had to fetch the third-party packages that I use, but I keep a list of those so I knew what I needed to get. Best of all, I didn't even need my backup of /home; OpenBSD helpfully sets up a separate /home partition by default and I didn't need to overwrite this during the reinstall. Recovery from my mistake was therefore relatively painless.

I could have done all this on ArchLinux or Debian too, but installing those takes longer.

Using OpenBSD as a desktop
I find that OpenBSD works well as a desktop OS. Any disadvantages? I've already mentioned Flash and Skype, both of which have security risks so you are better off without them if they are not essential. Arch and Debian have more packages than OpenBSD but in practice this hasn't made much difference to me. Arch is more bleeding-edge than OpenBSD, even the -current flavour (branch) I use, but again that hasn't been a problem. And I like the *BSD concept of having a unified base system, which even includes X in the case of OpenBSD.

The stability of OpenBSD is excellent. The -current flavour, which I use, is roughly comparable with Debian unstable, which does occasionally spring a surprise on you, but in almost 3 years I've never had any major problems with OpenBSD.

None of this is meant as a criticism of Linux, which, as I say, I used happily for many years.

There's a lot more to say about OpenBSD as a desktop OS, including why I find it works better for me than does FreeBSD, but I have other posts about that and I won't repeat myself here. Please use the tags to read more.


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