Why OpenBSD is not my daily driver
Oh - how I wish that OpenBSD would could be my one and only OS. It is clear, simple and beautiful. The documentation is amazing. And it does not try to outsmart me, it does not hide the world from me; instead its actions are understandable and it teaches me whenever I still need to learn.
But, unfortunately reality sucks. There are a number of reasons why OpenBSD is on a few of my machines, but not on every one.
This is not an article about blaming OpenBSD for any shortcomings. Instead it is my personal bucket list of issues that I will have to overcome to make OpenBSD my home everywhere.
Some of these items might go away soon. The OpenBSD folks are doing amazing work from release to release. Some items can go away by finding alternative solutions or avoiding the problem altogether. Some can not be resolved due to OpenBSD priorities, some due to my priorities.
Whatever, it is still good to compile a list and to check it once in a while to verify it against progress that has been made. So, here are my personal items that need resolving. All in no specific order.
Graphic Card support
That would be reasonably easy to overcome, all I need to do is to spend money. I currently have an NVIDIA 1050TI in my desktop machine, and an NVIDIA GM107 in my Dell laptop.
I fully understand the missing support from OpenBSD for NVIDIA graphic cards. Still, as it currently stands, I am unable to use OpenBSD on my desktop (I have a wide-screen monitor that needs support beyond VESA). And while my laptop has got dual graphic cards, it seems to be quite a waste to have a major component of my laptop being permanently deactivated (other than Bluetooth, where I don’t give a toss).
As a side note: if I were to switch my graphics card to AMD or Intel, I would have a hard time to get a proper recommendation for what to buy. The world of graphic cards (as much as of chipsets) is full of model names and codes. I can read the radeon(4) man page, but most of the cards on the list are not available anymore at your average online shop, and it is a tedious work to understand which cards perform how well and where they can be sourced from.
I have to earn money. And that means (specially during the current pandemic) that I need to connect to my machine at work.
My employer is using a well-know remote desktop environment. There are dedicated clients for the usual suspects (Linux, Windows, MAC). FreeBSD works via Linux compatibility. But OpenBSD cannot use that stopgap.
There is also a web-based client that could be used. Not sure if my employer supports this. But the fundamental problem using this is speed and the inability to properly mask and transfer certain keystrokes in the browser. And you do not want to work with such an environment for many hours per day.
One of the machines that I would love to convert to OpenBSD is my home NAS. Currently, it is running Devuan. It has got four HDs, three of them running a RAID5 on top of FDE for a total of around 4T.
There are two issues with converting this machine to OpenBSD. The first one is that stacking RAID and encryption is not recommended.
The other is that long time ago I was warned about using UFS for large filesystems, due to the very long filesystem check times - should they become necessary. I am not sure if that still holds, I am happy to check again once the first item has been removed from the FAQ.
I do play games and support for these time sinks has dramatically
improved in the last few years, due to the amazing community in
#openbsd-gaming - thank you.
OpenBSD currently feels very much like Linux did in the early 2000s, where you need to select from a curated list of games that work - but the list is now long enough that you will find something for every type of game you are interested in.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of games that I cannot live without. The first one is FTL. Funnily, the game has been converted to run in the browser using Humble Play. But one of the attractive properties of this game that it is light-weight and fast. The performance of the browser port is still sluggish and no replacement for the real thing.
The other - and more important - is the amazing game Dominions 5. This game has been my addiction since I started playing Dominions 2 in the early 2000s. At that time, Dom 2 was probably one of the few proprietary games officially supporting PowerPC Macs and SUN Solaris.
There are a few things that I need, because I want to interact with the world around me. Skype and Zoom have become the lifeline to family and friends.
It might be possible to move many of them to solutions that work on OpenBSD (does Jitsi work?). But it is an uphill battle, where you always find yourself locked out.
Feedback update (2021-01-04): Looks like there is a web-based skype solution, which unfortunately loves to lock out Firefox users. There is a plugin to overcome this. Chromium might be better. MS Teams also seems to work fine on the web. Jitsi as well. Zoom still seems to be unavailable, unfortunately. Thanks for the information.
Writing them down, it seems that none of my current issues are impossible to solve. VirtualBox or Gnome Boxes style VM support would be amazing, and seems not to be completely impossible now that we have vmm(4). Let’s see where this road leads us.
For the filesystem and graphics card there might already be viable solutions out there that I am not aware of. Even if not, it is clear that time and money can be used to overcome these problems. I am looking forward to this day.
For now, I am happy to run a Fedora desktop - but have my OpenBSD desktop ready at any time on a NUC using a KVM switch. It is nearly as good as the real thing, but not perfect.