Partial Reunification May Give BSD New Visibility

FRAMINGHAM (05/08/2000) - Linux is getting all the media and developer attention. But users of Berkeley System Distribution (BSD) - the "other" open-source Unix derivative - remain loyal. And analysts say that for some users and resellers, BSD still has an edge over its much-hyped cousin.

The BSD community, which, like Unix itself, fragmented into multiple variants such as FreeBSD, NetBSD and BSD/OS, initially experienced the Linux tsunami.

But in March, two versions were partially reunited when Berkeley Software Design Inc. (BSDI), the developer of the commercial BSD/OS, acquired Walnut Creek CDROM, a key distributor and developer of FreeBSD.

The resulting company will provide support for FreeBSD. Both BSD variants will increasingly share code, though they won't merge in the foreseeable future, executives said. That may cause confusion, warned George Weiss, an analyst at Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut. But Weiss said the merger could create some sorely needed visibility for BSD.

BSD vs. Linux

BSD's loyal user base includes some of the world's biggest Web sites. Most of Yahoo Inc.'s Web servers run FreeBSD, and that's unlikely to change, said co-founder and Chief Yahoo David Filo. When picking a platform for its site, "we noticed that BSD scaled better than other operating systems," Filo said. He said BSD still maintains an edge over Linux as far as reliability is concerned.

"That's where the long history of BSD makes a difference," he said.

Steven Schultz administers about 30 servers running BSD/OS at Thousand Oaks, California-based General Dynamics Electronic Systems, a division of defense contractor General Dynamics Inc. He has experimented with Linux but finds BSD easier to configure. He said there were problems in the past when incompatible C libraries meant some Linux applications would no longer run on newer versions of the operating system. Schultz said he hopes the BSDI merger will lead to more hardware drivers for BSD/OS.

Weiss said he believes BSD has some strong advantages, especially for resellers, who can customize BSD without having to give away the modifications to the open-source community as they would for Linux. For such companies, "BSD has the more advantageous licensing agreement," Weiss said.

But BSD faces an uphill struggle. Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Massachusetts, said he believes Linux has the advantage of being personified by the charismatic Linus Torvalds, whereas BSD is offered by "a faceless committee."

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