FreeBSD Foundation Celebrates 20 Years of Promoting and Supporting FreeBSD Project

This year the FreeBSD Foundation is celebrating its 20th anniversary. To commemorate those years of dedication to open source, we are going to take a look at the history of FreeBSD and what exactly the FreeBSD Foundation does. Join me, won’t you?

History of FreeBSD

Unix first appeared when God delivered the source code to the chosen people after they had fled Egypt. Okay, maybe that’s not exactly how that happened (but I’m sure a few greybeards think that is how it happened.).

Dennis Ritchie Ken Thompson Unix
Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson working on Unix in Bell Labs | Image Credit – Nokia Bell Labs

Unix was first created in the early 70s and quickly took off among academic circles. In 1977, a student at the University of California at Berkeley named Bill Joy began working to compile different Unix tools to create the “first Berkeley Software Distribution, or 1BSD”. (If the name Bill Joy sounds familiar, its because he created the Vi text editor and was one of the co-founders of Sun Microsystems.)

The Berkeley Software Distribution version of Unix grew in popularity. Users would make their additions and bug fixes and send those updates back to the team at Berkeley. This user-generated content was then included in the next release of BSD.

In 1992, Bill and Lynne Jolitz released 386BSD, which was the first BSD to run on the commonly available Intel 386. The following year, 386BSD was “suffering rather severely from almost a year’s worth of neglect”.

So, Nate Williams, Rod Grimes, and Jordan Hubbard decided to fix that by creating an intermediate snapshot of 386BSD. This was originally done with the approval of Bill Jolitz. However, Bill withdrew his support. The developers decided to continue anyway by making it their own project.

The new project would be named FreeBSD. FreeBSD 1.0 was released in December of 1993. And the rest is history.

What the FreeBSD Foundation Does?

Freebsd Foundation Anniversary

The FreeBSD Foundation was created in March of 2000. The foundation is a non-profit organization “dedicated to supporting and building the FreeBSD Project and community worldwide”. They raise funds to “fund and manage projects, sponsor FreeBSD events, Developer Summits and provide travel grants to FreeBSD developers”. The foundation takes care of all copyright, trademark, and other legal things having to do with FreeBSD.

As a result of its efforts to promote FreeBSD, here are just a few of the companies that use FreeBSD:

  • Netflix
  • Summersault Website Development
  • Hobnob, Inc.
  • Experts Exchange, LLC.
  • Juniper Networks
  • NYI
  • NetApp Data Fabric Group
  • WhatsApp
  • Verisign, Inc.
  • cleverbridge
  • and many more

Major Accomplishments of the FreeBSD Foundation

FreeBSD Foundation at Rootconf in 2017
FreeBSD Foundation at Rootconf in 2017 | Image Credit – Rootconf

I asked Deb Goodkin, executive director of the FreeBSD Foundation, what were the biggest accomplishments of the Foundation in its 20-year history.

As per their executive director, here are the biggest contributions of the FreeBSD foundation:

  • In the earlier years, we built a strong partnership with Sun Microsystems, to provide certified Java binaries for FreeBSD.
  • For over five years, FreeBSD Foundation provided a full-time Release Engineering Administrator who could focus on providing timely and reliable releases, as well as, improving and automating the processes going forward.
  • Foundation employs full and part-time software developers to implement features and functionality, review code changes, and immediately respond to urgent problems that have significantly helped improve FreeBSD over the years.
  • Advocating for FreeBSD around the world by giving FreeBSD presentations and workshops, creating training and educational material, and producing a FreeBSD magazine. Last year, the foundation promoted FreeBSD at 38 events around the world.
  • FreeBSD Foundation also developed and produced the FreeBSD Journal 5 years ago, providing the first professionally created FreeBSD magazine.
  • Foundation brought on a full-time software developer to oversee and improve the project’s continuous integration efforts.
  • Security improvements – Provided a part-time person to step in as the Deputy Security Officer and help oversee, improve, and streamline the processes.
  • With University of Waterloo Co-op program, 2-5 new college students actively contribute to the project each year.
  • Management and support of the FreeBSD port to 64-bit ARM processors.
  • Worked with National Day Foundation to declare 19th June as National FreeBSD Day.

Final Thoughts

In closing, I would like to applaud the FreeBSD Foundation for the work they have done in the last twenty years to support one of the top free and open-source operating systems. I hope that it continues to go strong. I also hope you have many more years of success.

FreeBSD might not be that popular among desktop users, but some Linux users switch to BSD to get their hands dirty with a more UNIX feel.

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  • I’m learning FreeBSD. I like the stability of the OS. I love KDE/plasma on FreeBSD. My hope is that the FreeBSD team would create an easy desktop process to tackle the barriers to improve entry. Most desktop users want something that is simple that just works. Make the install desktop process “nontechnical” and automated .. don’t show all the background stuff that the user does not care about or understands. I would consider FreeBSD as my daily driver if I could only get my older printer to be found and installed like Apple does. Every other device (tablets, phones, iPads, laptops) can print to the printer except the FreeBSD install. I setup friends and family with Linux but if I could easily do the same with FreeBSD, I could have a second option. I do not use Windows I only attempt to fix the broken. Find a path to have FreeBSD pre installed like Dell did with their N-series laptop. Help not hinder, please.

  • FreeBSD is a complete OS. – long pause – Linux Kernel (+ systemd ), GNU Tools and a packet manger of some sort makes a (one of many) Distribution. Android Smartphones boot Linux Kernel with “Google”. Just because some device boots a Linux Kernel doesn’t mean it’s all Open Source. To many GPL Violations are happening. OEM choose Linux Kernel to boot TV,Stereo etc. because Junior Devs are “into” GNU/Linux not FreeBSD Development. – IMHO

  • Thanks Freebsd for closed source Sony PlayStation and Mac OS. because of you, we don’t have to play console games on Open Source, User and Privacy respecting Linux OS

    • Thanks BSD and Unix for being open source before Linux was ever a twinkle in Linus’ eye, and for being able to be studied and learned from by Open Source Enthusiasts around the world. Which inspired users to make their own Open Source Tools. Imagine a world where Linus wasn’t inspired by Open Source enough to make his own Open Source OS.

  • The article paints a pretty rosy picture of the BSD history. Actually, in reality, it was not so pretty. There was A LOT of in-fighting and litigating going on. You were never sure if your work on a particular project was going to get you into trouble. This was one of the reasons I moved to Linux. Mind you, BSD has since cleaned up it’s act and seems to be headed for a more productive future. Also worth noting is that a lot of long time Linux users are moving back to BSD. (Suggestion for an article:- why are they moving back? Maybe an interview with a few might be in order. It would certainly make for an interesting article.)

  • The key difference between FreeBSD and GNU/Linux is the license.
    Apple, for example, took all the work that the community had put into FreeBSD, made a few changes – and the result was a proprietary, non-free OS. Turns out the FreeBSD community had been working as unpaid Apple employees all those years.

    That can’t happen to GNU/Linux, thanks to the license, the GPL. Anybody can take GNU/Linux, make whatever changes they want, and use it. But if they give, or sell, their changed version to anyone else, they have release it under the same GPL license and with full source code. They can’t lock it up as a proprietary product.

    • It’s even worse than that. They forked the kernel and other bits and named it Darwin and that further distances the FreeBSD heritage. And since Apple paid royalties they can legally call it Unix. That money didn’t go to FreeBSD, though.