The 7 Best BSD-Based Operating Systems of All Time

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


Despite being similar to the more common Linux, Unix has its own demographic. Today, BSD systems operate under the hood of modern computers and have even inspired the code base for premium desktop and non-desktop platforms.

So, which BSD distributions stand the test of time? The following seven distro options will give you an idea of ​​this question.


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

FreeBSD is a 4.4BSD-Lite release and includes improvements from the Lite2 release. It gives you access to a repository of as many as 20,000 packages for different usage scenarios.

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

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

To download: FreeBSD

OpenBSD is a developer-focused platform that provides Unix users with a community-enhanced, open-source OS solution.

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

The diverse architecture support shows that OpenBSD portable promotes advanced computing and engineering. It is used in cybersecurity, encryption, cryptography, and end-to-end server engineering.

Many OpenBSD codebases are used to extend Windows and macOS functionality, and the developers emphasize using the codebase components for various forms of development.

To download: OpenBSD

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 distro runs under the hood of consoles, including that of SEGA Dreamcast. Like FreeBSD, NetBSD also finds utility in systems engineering and embedded systems.

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

NetBSD supports amd64 and i386 devices such as 64-bit x86 family machines or 32-bit x86 family generic machines with AMD or Intel CPUs. It is also suitable for ARM systems such as the 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 and API code. The distro floated to the fore with its standout features including the HAMMER file system, which supports built-in mirroring and historical accessibility.

DragonFly has a powerful kernel with efficient SMP mechanisms to deliver powerful and server-side transactional computing.

DragonFly BSD’s comprehensive user support for VFS, user, process, threading, and storage subsystems is unmatched. DragonFly embraces the BSD ethic and gives users direct access to many applications in binary and source form.

Due to community participation, the distro has reached version 6.0.1 at the time of writing.

To download: DragonFly BSD

Users looking for a more user-friendly Unix-based operating system should feel right at home with GhostBSD. Built and powered by FreeBSD, the distro includes some excellent components of the now-defunct TrueOS.

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

The GTK supported desktop environments (KDE, GNOME, etc.) welcome users into a neat user interface. Once installed, rest assured that you will be spoiled for choice with the pre-installed apps and software.

GhostBSD takes care of advanced Unix-specific computing needs and more general requirements for office and home computers.

The distro features slow-rolling releases, which makes it different from some of the other well-known names within the BSD range. Despite this fact, there is no limitation in terms of stability or release cycles.

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

To download: GhostBSD

FreeBSD has given users a variety of paid and open source operating systems, including MidnightBSD. MidnightBSD features a turnkey desktop with open source software such as X.org and GCC, published under GNU step licenses. The familiar Xfce default environment and application settings allow BSD newbies to dive into the operating system for immediate use.

Users can expect a highly optimized desktop environment, which is still not intimidating for beginners with Unix systems. Tasks via MidnightBSD for security, file management, scheduling, etc. is a breeze with its fast user interface. Users can also expect a suite of network engineering development and server deployment tools.

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

To download: midnightBSD

You can’t deny the role of Linux when you think of open-source operating systems. In its many distro avatars, Linux offers resourceful OS solutions for different usage scenarios.

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

NomadBSD is a live, portable Unix-like distro 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.

Thanks to the FreeBSD-based codebase, NomadBSD can immediately detect hardware as soon as you plug it in. You can also easily use it for software testing.

To download: NomadBSD

Choosing the Best Open Source BSD Distribution

BSD systems convinced users with their powerful kernel, functional system software ecosystem and permissive licenses (the best solution for advanced technical workstations).

Each of these operating systems is the best within the current generation of open-source Unix-inspired operating systems. Given their excellent feature sets and open source license, they are always a bargain no matter what purpose you have in mind with them.

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