OpenBSD & The Command Line

Lately, when I’ve been using a computer, I’ve been using a laptop with OpenBSD installed. It’s changing what I want a computer to do, and how I want to interact with one.

OpenBSD isn’t an easy system to use. For example, you cannot just plug-in a USB drive and have it work. You have to determine the device name, create a directory as a mount point, login to the root account, then type in a command that might look something like this:

# mount -t msdos /dev/sd1i /home/cafebedouin/usb

The default configuration makes the graphical window managers look terrible. Popular, resource intensive desktop environments on Linux systems that automagically mount usb drives are available, such as GNOME. But, they run so slowly on the default OpenBSD installation settings that they are impossible to use without making significant changes to OpenBSD configuration files, such as to the limits on user file sizes.

I know GNOME can run on the laptop in question, because GNOME works just fine when I boot it with a USB version of Linux. But, OpenBSD demands that you learn what you are doing in order to get what you want. It’s not user-friendly.

But, what should I learn? Do I want to figure out how to change the settings on a window manager to get it usable and have it mount this usb drive for me, or would I rather just figure out how to mount the usb myself from the command line?

The answer to that question is easy. The command line is for me.

The documentation on OpenBSD is fantastic, with detailed discussion of every system daemon, how to configure system files, and so forth in the man files. Still, sometimes it is necessary to look up information on the Internet. And, rather than launch X Windows and then Firefox, the text browser lynx made more sense to use. 

Nothing cuts through the crap of the Internet, such as ads, like a browser that will only render text. Further, no tabs or windows means I am rarely multi-tasking. Another thing I am rarely using? A mouse. You do not need one on the command line.

For me, using OpenBSD has been an education in thinking through the tools I use. There’s a difference between LibreOffice and emacs/vi. If you want to write text, why get involved in formatting at all? Further, if all you are doing is modifying configuration files and writing text, why use a tool with so much other functionality, when a simpler editing program like mg will do the job? On the other hand, limiting yourself to the command line is an excellent way to gain an appreciation for all the functionality an editor like Emacs provides, such as an in buffer window browser eww.

If you have an old machine, installing OpenBSD on it will likely be very easy. The hard part will be figuring out how to use it, which will invariably increase your understanding of how UNIX derivative systems work.