hello: Let’s make a FreeBSD for “mere mortals”

Can we make an open source system that is welcoming to switchers from the Mac? Something that “just works” as intended, without the need to fiddle around much to get to a working desktop that does its job and otherwise gets out of your way? Say hello to hello, a desktop system for creators with focus on simplicity, elegance, and usability. Based on FreeBSD. Less, but better!

hello: a FreeBSD Live system that is welcoming to switchers from the Mac

Design is how it works, not how it looks

Don’t get me wrong here: With “welcoming to switchers from the Mac” I don’t mean a Mac theme nor a Mac clone. There is an abundance of themes and even so-called “Linux distributions” that are basically just themed versions of Ubuntu. This is not what I want to create.

  • Automatically set the correct keyboard, language, and timezone
  • A proper global menu bar that works like you expect it to work
  • Every application comes in its own directory that can easily be “managed” using the file manager, no need for package managers
  • Automatically discover network services using Zeroconf (no more looking for IP addresses on the local network)
  • Easy and straightforward installer that doesn’t ask you cryptic questions
  • A straightforward backup system that “just works”

Less, but better

When I think about it, most desktop environments have many things that I find utterly annoying and do not want nor need:

  • Lots of configurability which makes everything complicated, makes no 2 systems the same, and, as a result, makes everything unsupportable
  • Everything tightly coupled with everything
  • Lock-down (it’s my computer, not the manufacturer’s, and it’s not the manufacturer’s business to decide what I can and cannot run on my machine)
  • Spyware (no, I don’t want to send the manufacturer and the secret service a list of the authors of all applications I am using)
  • GNOME, KDE Plasma (too much of everything)
  • App Stores where you have to log in using personal information

Unix philosophy is about small tools that do one job, but do one job well. Mac philosophy is about using the mouse to achieve everything. Let’s combine the two. Small tools that do one job, but do it well. As simple as possible.

Live medium

If you are somewhat like me, you want to try out a new operating system before you commit to installing to disk. This is what Live systems are for. Of course, hello comes as a Live system.

Create Live Media: Tool to fetch the lastest builds and write them to USB devices in one go

Automatic keyboard, language, and timezone

As someone who is using Live systems for everything, I can tell you: It’s annoying to set keyboard, language, and timezone each time you boot into a new system.

A proper global menu

File, Edit,… you name it. Easy, eh? You would think. Yet so many systems get it wrong.

A proper global menu. Yet so many systems get it wrong

Every application is a directory

Applications on Unix traditionally are scattererd around the whole file system, with the main executable in /usr/local/bin, metadata in /usr/local/share/applications, icons in /usr/local/share/icons,… you get the idea. As a result, it is very hard to drag-and-drop an application (and everything that belongs to it) in the file manager. The hello system simplifies this by taking a GNUstep-like approach using .app bundles. That Boot Environments application shown above? Open it in a new tab, and you see that it is actually a directory that contains the applications and additional resources it needs to run.

A simplified .app bundle is a directory that is treated like an opaque file in the file manager

Using Zeroconf to connect to devices on the network

For example, imagine that instead of having to find out and type IP addresses you could just use this:

Using Zeroconf to connect to devices on the network

Preferences are managed with small apps

Preferences are just regular applications, many written in Python, which allows one to inspect and change the source code with ease.

Easy and straightforward installer

If you have ever installed the operating system on a Mac, you should feel instantly at home. Example: just enter your name, the installer figures out a name for your computer (hostname) on its own. Want to log in over the network? It’s just one checkbox away.

An installer that does not ask the user cryptic questions

A straightforward backup system

FreeBSD uses OpenZFS, a file system with true superpowers. Yet features like Boot Environments and Snapshots need to be understood and actively managed by the user. Well, let hello do that for you.

Straightforward tools to make use of advanced OpenZFS features

Say hello!

Would you like to try it for yourself? Grab the pre-alpha continuous build of the Live ISO (but be warned: it may or may not work, as not every build is tested).

Author of #AppImage and contributor to hundreds of open source projects. #LinuxUsability, digital privacy, typography, computer history, software conservation

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