Finally Moving Away From Windows

Broken Window

Thanks to a combination of some really impressive malware, bad clicking, and poor website choices, I had to blow away my Windows 10 installation. Not that it was Window’s fault, but a piece of malware had infected my computer when I tried to download a long lost driver for an even longer lost RAID card for a server. A word of advice – the download you’re looking for is never on an ad-infested forum in another language. In any case, I had been meaning to switch away from Windows soon. I didn’t have my entire plan ready, but now was as good a time as any.

My line of work requires me to maintain some form of Windows installation, so I decided to keep it in a VM rather than dual booting as I was developing code and not running any high-end visual stuff like games. My first thought was to install Arch or Gentoo Linux, but the last time I attempted a Gentoo installation it left me bootless. Not that there is anything wrong with Gentoo, it was probably my fault, but I like the idea of some sort of installer so I looked at rock-solid Debian. My dad had installed Debian on his sweet new cutting-edge Lenovo laptop he received recently from work. He often raves about his cool scripts and much more effective customized experience, but often complains about his hybrid GPU support as he has an Intel/Nvidia hybrid display adapter (he has finally resolved it and now boasts his 6 connected displays).

I didn’t want to install Windows again, but something didn’t feel right about installing some flavour of Linux. Back at home I have a small collection of FreeBSD servers running in all sorts of jails and other physical hardware, with the exception of one Debian server which I had the hardest time dealing with (it would be FreeBSD too if 802.11ac support was there as it is acting as my WiFi/gateway/IDS/IPS). I loved my FreeBSD servers, and yes I will write posts about each one soon enough. I wanted that cleanliness and familiarity on my desktop as well (I really love the ports collection!). It’s settled – I will run FreeBSD on my laptop. This also created a new rivalry with my father, which is not a bad thing either.

Playing Devil’s Advocate

The first thing I needed to do was backup my Windows data. This was easy enough, just run a Windows Image Backup and it will- wait, what? Why isn’t this working? I didn’t want to fiddle with this too long because I didn’t actually need an image just the data. I ended up just copying over the files to an external hard disk. Once that was done, I downloaded and verified the latest FreeBSD 11.1 RELEASE memstick image and flashed it to my trusty 8GB Verbatim USB stick. I’ve had this thing since 2007, it works great for being my re-writable “CD”. I booted it up and started the installation. I knew this installer pretty well as I had test-installed FreeBSD and OpenBSD in VMs when I was researching a Unix style replacement OS last year. In any case, I left most of the defaults (I didn’t want to play with custom kernels right now) and I selected all packages. This downloaded them from the FreeBSD FTP server as I only had the memstick image. The installer finished and I was off to my first boot. Great! so far so good. FreeBSD loaded up and I did a ‘pkg upgrade’ just to make sure that everything was up to date.

Alright, time to get down to business. I needed nano. I just can’t use vi, or just not yet. I don’t care about being a vi-wizard, that’s just too much effort for me. Anyway, just a ‘pkg install nano’ and I had my editor. Next was obvious, I needed x11. XFCE was common, and there were plenty of tutorials out there. I wont bore you with those details, but it went something like ‘pkg install xfce’ and I got all the dependencies. Don’t forget to install SLiM to make it seamless. There are some configs in the .login I think. SLiM needs to be called once the boot drops you to the login so that you get SLiM’s nice GUI login instead of the CLI login screen. Then SLiM passes you off to XFCE. I think I followed this and this. Awesome. Now that x11 is working, it’s time to get all of my apps from Windows. Obviously, I can’t get everything (ie. Visual Studio, Office). But in my Windows installation, I had chosen many open-source or cross-compiled apps as they either worked better or so that I was ready to move away from Windows at a moments notice. ‘pkg install firefox thunderbird hexchat pidgin gpa keepass owncloud-client transmission-qt5 veracrypt openvpn’ were some immediate picks. There are a lot more that I downloaded later, but these are a few I use everyday. My laptop also has the same hybrid display adapter config that my dad’s has, but I chose to only run Intel graphics, so dual screens are no problem for me. I’ll add Nvidia support later, but it’s not a priority.

After I had imported my private keys and loaded my firefox and thunderbird settings, I wanted to get my Windows VM running right away as I was burning productive days at work fiddling with this. I had only two virtualisation options; qemu/kvm and bhyve. qemu/kvm wasn’t available in pkg, and looked real dirty to compile, from FreeBSD’s point of view. My dad is using qemu/kvm with virt-manager to manage all of his Windows/Unix VMs alike. I wanted that experience, but I also wanted packages that could be updated and I didn’t want to mess up a compile. bhyve was a better choice. It was built-in, it was more compatible with Windows (from what I read), and this is a great step-by-step article for Windows 10 on FreeBSD 11 bhyve! I had already tried to get virt-manager to work with bhyve with no luck. I don’t think libvirt connects with bhyve completely, or maybe my config is wrong. But I didn’t have time to fiddle with it. I managed it all through command lines and that has worked perfectly so far. Well sorta, there was an issue installing SQL Server, and only SQL Server, on my Windows VM. This was due to a missing ‘sectorsize=512’ setting on the disk parameter on the bhyve command line. That was only found after A LOT of digging because the SQL Server install didn’t log the error properly. I eventually found out that SQL Server only likes one sector size of disks for the install and my virtual disk geometry was incorrect.

Apps Apps Apps

I installed Windows 10 on my bhyve VM and I got that all setup with the apps I needed for work. Mostly Office, Visual Studio, and vSphere for managing our server farm. Plus all of the annoying 3rd party VPN software (I’m looking at you Dell and Cisco). Alright, with the Windows VM done, I can now work at work and finish FreeBSD mostly during the nights. I still needed my remote files (I setup an ownCloud instance on a FreeNAS jail at home) so I setup the client. Now, normally on Windows I would come to work and connect to my home network using OpenVPN (again, I have a OpenVPN FreeNAS jail at home) and the ownCloud desktop would be able to handle changing DNS destination IPs Not on FreeBSD (and Linux too?). I ended up just configuring the ownCloud client to just connect to the home LAN IP for the ownCloud server and always connecting the OpenVPN to sync things. It kinda sucks, but at least it works. I left that running at home overnight to get a full sync (~130GB cloud sync, another reason I use it over Google or Microsoft). Once that was done I moved onto the fstab as I had another 1TB SSD in my laptop with other files. I messed around with fstab and my NFS shares to my FreeNAS at home, but took them out as they made the boot time so long when I wasn’t at home. I would only mount them when my OpenVPN connected or manually. I really wanted to install SpaceFM, but it’s only available as a package on Debian and their non-package install script doesn’t work on FreeBSD (packages are named differently). I tried doing it manually, but it was too much work. As my dad was the one who introduced me to it, he still uses it as a use-case for his Debian setup. Instead I kept to the original PCManFM and it works just fine. I also loaded up my Bitcoin and Litecoin wallets and pointed them to the blockchain that I has used on Windows after their sync, they loaded perfectly and my balances were there. I kinda wish there was the Bitcoin-ABC full node Bitcoin Cash wallet package on FreeBSD, but I’m sure it will come out later.

The rest is essentially just tweaks and making the environment more comfortable for me, and with most programs installed as packages I feel a lot better with upgrades and audit checking (‘pkg audit -F’ is really helpful!). I will always hate Python, actually, I will always hate any app that has it’s own package manager. I do miss the GUI GitHub tool on Windows. It was a really good-looking way to view all of my repos. The last thing (which is increasing it’s priority every time I go to a social media site or YouTube) is fonts. My god I never thought it was such a problem, and UTF support is complicated. If anyone knows how to get all UTF characters to show up, please let me know. I’d really like Wikipedia articles to load perfectly (I followed this post and there are still some missing). There are some extra tweaks I followed here and here.

Conclusion

I successfully migrated from Windows 10 to FreeBSD 11.1 with minimal consequence. Shout out goes to the entire FreeBSD community. So many helpful people in there, and the forums are a great place to find tons of information. Also thanks to the ones who wrote the how-to articles I’ve referenced. I never would have gotten bhyve to work and I’d still probably be messing with my X config without them. I guess my take home from this is to not be afraid to make changes that may change how comfortable I am in an environment. I’m always open to comments and questions, please feel free to make them below. I purposefully didn’t include too many technical things or commands in this article as I wanted to focus on the larger picture of the migration as a whole not the struggles of xorg.conf, but if you would like to see some of the configs or commands I used, let me know and I’ll include some!

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