Richard Bucker

Piss, Vinegar and OpenBSD

Posted at — Jan 12, 2022

I’m opinionated and some mornings I wake up and I just want a good argument. Maybe that’s why Theo D' Radt of OpenBSD decided to shit in my Wheaties yesterday.

It’s commonly reported that the OpenBSD developer is smart and quick to respond to real issues… but that they are also, at times, bullies.

I sent Radt an email merely to suggest that there is a market opportunity for OpenBSD if they were to support more modern laptop hardware. I’ve been searching for a new laptop that supports OpenBSD fully and does not cost huge money or tons of manual configuration… out of the box.

I dare you to install OpenBSD on a Raspberry Pi.

The issues are that [a] google does not have good results when looking for laptop support [b] and true to form Radt does not publicise his own technology choices. I guess that’s reasonable to a point.

The response I received from Radt was full of piss and vinegar which I still think was exaggerated. But sadly, at the end of the day, it might actually explain why OpenBSD is at the bottom.

Since I’m feeling full of piss and vinegar this morning… OpenBSD is slow, has freshman design flaws, seems to prefer quick failure (see relayd) rather than resiliance or recovery. Now the question other than the LOC and some compiler attention to detail is it REALLY safer than any other OS? The “remote hole” is merely a marketing claim based on the default install configuration.

And then there was this quirky thing he said about FREE. Like OpenBSD was free. I do not claim to fully understand the complexity of non-profits in the US or crypto export law and while I did not sleep in a Holidy Inn last night I can smell Bull Shit.

It’s not free. Someone is paying for OpenBSD development and hosting. Some corporations or individuals or patreon or educational institute or maybe even a government or two… That OpenBSD is free to me is still not free. (actually I donate $100USD directly to Radt with every release I download) But It’s not free to use. It takes a great deal to stay current and to work around the quirks. There was a time when bootstraping certain packages required 3rd party encumbered apps to bootstrap the build of the open source versions (thanks Java).

As I write finnacial software for business… the management I work for loves CentOS because it has an American Corporation standing behind it. There’s no question we could have benefited from OpenBSD but through firsthand experience not many people use or like OpenBSD. It’s a niche and Radt has become a cliche.

I really want OpenBSD to succeed and I want to use it. I’m a long time ago DOS programmer and it’s simply easier to reason OpenBSD in production than Linux or FreeBSD. Windows, iOS, and MacOS have become the mainframe of our day.

Let’s face it… there was a time when OpenBSD was the darling OS for firewalls, routers, NAS and other appliances. At some point corps moved from OpenBSD to FreeBSD. I recall a technical discussion after Cyberguard and Secure Computing merged when there was a technical briefing discussing why the tech leaders decided to stick with FreeBSD instead of any alternative including OpenBSD. This was very early days for OpenBSD yet FreeBSD had many of the features that the architects needed including various kernel security elements that would prevent users from hacking the OS once installed in produciton mode. The memory manager and secure memory. Kernel switching. And maybe a few I’ve forgotten. While OpenBSD had been free of even a single remote compromise it was nowhere near the level of complexity it is now.

Good morning and good luck Theo.

UPDATE: Thank you FreeBSD. This is the way you share your hardware support: laptop