The 7 best BSD-based operating systems of all time

Bell Labs Unix source code inspired the creation of Berkeley Software Distribution, commonly known as BSD. Since then, BSD has spawned a long list of distributions that enabled open source computing in the 1990s.

Although it is similar to more general Linux, Unix commands its own demographics. Today, BSD systems operate under the hood of modern computing and have even inspired the code base for high-end desktop and non-desktop platforms.

So which BSD distributions stand the test of time? The following seven distribution options will give you an overview of this question.

FreeBSD dates back to 1993; however, in 2002 the distribution was reconfigured to meet the computing needs of the new millennium.

FreeBSD is a 4.4BSD-Lite version and contains improvements from the Lite2 version. It gives you access to a repository of 20,000 amazing packages for various use cases.

Currently, at version 12.3, FreeBSD is explicitly intended for computing on the i386, amd64, IA-64, ARM, MIPS, PowerPC, ppc64, PC-98, and UltraSPARC platforms.

FreeBSD finds its use in the modern era for embedded platform computing. Ideally, it is also used in network and server deployment, storage, security, etc.

To download: FreeBSD

Openbsd desktop interface
Image Credit: Khaosaming / Wikipedia

OpenBSD is a developer-centric platform that provides Unix users with a community-enhanced open source operating system solution.


The latest version of OpenBSD, 7.0, is ideal for processor architectures such as i386, alpha, ladisk, loongson, luna88k, OCTEON, PowerPC, PowerPC64, RISC64, sgi, socppc, SPARC, SPARC64, x86_64, Zaurus and many more ‘others.

Support for diverse architectures shows that OpenBSD promotes advanced portable computing and engineering. It finds use in cybersecurity, encryption, cryptography, and end-to-end server engineering.

Many OpenBSD code bases are used to extend the functionality of Windows and macOS, and the developers strongly insist on using its code base components for different forms of development.

To download: OpenBSD

NetBSD Desktop Interface

NetBSD is an open-source, Unix-like portable operating system that powers everything from servers to embedded platforms and video game consoles.

This open source distribution works under the hood of consoles, including SEGA Dreamcast. Like FreeBSD, NetBSD also finds practicalities in systems engineering and embedded systems.

Developers rely on NetBSD’s cross-compilation framework to build custom operating systems using components from other systems.

NetBSD supports amd64 and i386 devices such as 64-bit x86 family machines or generic 32-bit x86 family machines with AMD or Intel processors. It is also aimed at ARM systems such as Raspberry Pi, PINE64, ODROID, and ServerReady.

To download: NetBSD

Related: NetBSD Explained: The Unix System That Can Run on Anything

DragonFly BSD is an operating system based on Unix source code and API. The distribution has grown in importance with its outstanding features, including the HAMMER file system, which supports built-in mirroring and historical accessibility.

DragonFly contains a powerful kernel with efficient SMP mechanisms to deliver high performance, server-side transactional computing.

DragonFly BSD’s extensive VFS, user, process, thread, and storage subsystem support is unparalleled. Embracing the BSD ethic, DragonFly gives users direct access to many applications in binary and source form.

Thanks to community participation, the distribution has reached version 6.0.1 at the time of writing.

To download: DragonFly BSD

GhostBSD Desktop

Users looking for a more user-friendly Unix-based operating system should feel right at home with GhostBSD. The distribution is built and powered by FreeBSD, and it incorporates some excellent components from the older TrueOS.

As a distribution, GhostBSD gives you the power of a Unix-like kernel, but with standard MATE packages.

GTK-assisted desktop environments (KDE, GNOME, etc.) welcome users with a neat user interface. After installation, you can rest assured that you will be spoiled for choice with the preinstalled apps and software.

GhostBSD addresses advanced Unix-specific computing needs and more general computing needs in the office and home.

The distro comes with slow builds, which makes it different from some of the other well-known names in the BSD lineup. Despite this fact, there is no limitation in terms of stability or release cycles.

Even if you are new to BSD or new to the world of BSD, rest assured you will find the distro rather easy to use, compared to some of its counterparts.

To download: GhostBSD

MidnightBSD Desktop Interface

FreeBSD has offered users a myriad of paid and open source operating systems, including MidnightBSD. MidnightBSD offers a ready-to-use desktop with open source software like and GCC, released under GNU step licenses. Xfce’s familiar default environment and application setup allow newcomers to BSD to immerse themselves in the operating system for immediate use.

Users can expect a highly optimized desktop environment, which continues to be intimidating for those new to the Unix system. Tasks through MidnightBSD for security, file management, scheduling, and more are a snap with its fast user interface. Users can also expect a range of server development and deployment tools for network engineering.

Recently, MidnightBSD has also integrated features from DragonFly and OpenBSD. MidnightBSD gives users the ability to run the operating system on highly customized system configurations and ports. It even syncs with newer versions of FreeBSD.

To download: MidnightBSD

Image Credit: Wikipedia / Wikipedia

You can’t deny the role of Linux when you think of open source operating systems. In its many distribution avatars, Linux offers ingenious operating system solutions for various use cases.

However, BSD has consistently challenged the supremacy of Linux as an open source alternative. NomadBSD is a dark horse, proving to be a worthy addition to the list of alternatives.

NomadBSD is a live, portable Unix-like distribution that you can install on flash drives and use repeatedly for system repair and data recovery. This applies not only to Unix and Linux systems, but also to Windows and macOS.

The FreeBSD-based code base allows NomadBSD to immediately detect hardware as soon as you plug it in. You can also easily use it for testing software.

To download: NomadBSD

Choosing the best open source BSD distribution

BSD systems have won over users with their powerful kernel, functioning system software ecosystem and permissive licenses (best solution for advanced engineering workstations).

Each of these operating systems is the best of the current generation of Unix-inspired open source operating systems. Considering their great feature sets and open source licensing, they’re always a steal no matter what purpose you have in mind for them.

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