FreeBSD 6 is on its way. The
went out on Friday for FreeBSD 6 Beta1. The FreeBSD announcement indicates that FreeBSD 6 will be "a much less dramatic step from the FreeBSD 5 branch than the FreeBSD 5 branch was from FreeBSD 4.
" Still, there are a number of improvements and new features in FreeBSD 6 that are worth looking into.
One thing that hasn't changed greatly is the FreeBSD installation process. It's still the same no-frills menu-based installer that FreeBSD has used for some time. (Slackware Linux users will find it quite familiar.) We downloaded the FreeBSD 6 ISOs (though it turned out we only needed disc 1 for the install) and installed FreeBSD in about 20 minutes on a 1.6 GHz Celeron laptop with 512 MB of RAM. For the most part, there's not a great deal of difference from the user's perspective with this release.
Most of the packages included with FreeBSD 6 Beta1, or its Ports tree, are the same versions as what you'd find in FreeBSD 5.4. DistroWatch has a table listing the versions of the most popular open source packages found in FreeBSD 6 and earlier versions. A quick glance shows that the FreeBSD 6 Beta1 doesn't vary a great deal from FreeBSD Stable or the FreeBSD 5.4 release.
There have been a fair number of changes behind the scenes, however. As the release announcement points out, there are improvements to the UFS/VFS filesystem layer, improvements to ACPI power management and other goodies. The ACPI features may still need a little improvement, however. We noted that using acpiconf on the test Toshiba laptop resulted in a power-down of the system rather than just putting it to sleep. Of course, the issue may lie with Toshiba's ACPI implementation rather any problem with the FreeBSD code.
Wireless users may be happy to know that there are a number of changes to the wlan framework, which includes support for Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA). There is also increased support for wireless chipsets in FreeBSD 6.
The cross-pollination between BSDs continues in this release. This release includes OpenBSD's dhclient. Brooks Davis announced the switch in June, and noted that this provides privilege separation and support for WPA.
One feature that isn't in FreeBSD 6, at least not yet, is UFS Journaling. It is, however one of the Summer of Code projects sponsored by Google. FreeBSD developer Scott Long says that it should be ready for FreeBSD 7, and possibly available as a patch for later 6.x releases. If FreeBSD 7 sounds too distant, it's worth noting that the FreeBSD project is already working on FreeBSD 7.
The open issues page lists a few show stoppers and other open issues that must be corrected for FreeBSD 6.0. The release schedule calls for 6.0-RELEASE sometime in mid-August.
For those using FreeBSD 5.x, there is still development there as well. Scott Long writes that there will be a 5.5 release in the fall and quite possibly a 5.6 release after that. According to Long, the 5.x series will continue to be supported until at least late 2007, so there's still plenty of life left in the 5.x series. Long also says that users should feel comfortable deploying FreeBSD 5.x and FreeBSD 6.x side-by-side.
6.x is really just an evolutionary step from 5.x, not the life-altering revolutionary step that 4.x->5.x was. It should be quite easy to deploy and maintain 5.x and 6.x machines side-by-side and migrate them as the need arises. We don't want people to be stranded on RELENG_5 like they were with RELENG_4. 6.x offers everything of 5.x, but with better performance and (hopefully) better stability.
Users who are thinking about upgrading to FreeBSD 6.0 directly from a FreeBSD 5.4 install, might find this post by Dru Lavigne useful. From our limited testing of FreeBSD 6.0 Beta1, it looks to be fairly stable and nearly ready for production use.
FreeBSD 6.0 Beta1 is available for x86, AMD64, Alpha, and IA64. Users who want the PowerPC version, however, may need to wait as there are some issues with the release on PowerPC.
There are, of course, far too many changes to cover here. Interested users should read through the release notes to see all of the changes in this release. Overall, it looks like FreeBSD 6 is shaping up to be a very solid OS.
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