I wanted to check out FreeBSD as I recently acquired a venerable Thinkpad T61. I have played around ages ago, but wasn’t sure how usable it is today as a Unix desktop.
I initially did a test run in a virtual machine, later on the physical one.
Downloaded the install ISO (12.1 amd64 dvd1) from the official website, spun up a new Hyper-V VM and booted from the ISO.
After the system was installed to the HDD, updated the packages with
pkg update pkg upgrade
Installed X, Gnome and related packages:
pkg install gnome-desktop gdm xorg gnome3
Enabled necessary services:
echo gnome_enable="YES" >> /etc/rc.conf echo moused_enable="YES" >> /etc/rc.conf echo dbus_enable="YES" >> /etc/rc.conf echo hald_enable="YES" >> /etc/rc.conf echo gdm_enable="YES" >> /etc/rc.conf
GNOME requires /proc to be mounted, so:
echo proc /proc procfs rw 0 0 >> /etc/fstab
After a reboot GNOME showed up.
Enabling remote desktop
pkg install tightvnc
Running vncserver allows me to start up the server, and set up a password for the connection. We obtain the VM’s IP address from
ifconfig and the VNC port from
By default the VNC connections connect to twm, unlike the Gnome session I expected.
To rectify this, we edit
~/.vnc/xstartup and set it to use gnome-session
(last 2 lines of
#twm gnome-session &
Start the server again with
vncserver -geometry 1280x768 yields strange result - some terminal is running, but not the entire Gnome UI.
Turns out this starts a new X session (as described in the
It was much easier to use
x11vnc based on this forum post to share a VNC of the current desktop.
Real hardware test
The installation procedure was obviously the same on the real hardware. I was pleasantly surprised that all of the hardware bits I checked worked out of the box, so the driver support for ancient Thinkpads is good :).
I decided to install the Xfce desktop enviromnent this time as it was supposed to be lighter on the resources.
# pkg install xfce
I needed to create a
~/.xinitrc with the following contents to start xfce with the
Most of my usual software worked well - I was able to install Firefox, Python, Git, Nodejs, npm from the packages. Wi-Fi and audio worked fine, youtube playback was a bit choppy.
I wasn’t able to start VSCode despite installing it according to the FreeBSD-VSCode instructions. I susped that’s due to a wonky Electron port.