After finishing the installation of TrueOS the user will find himself in a simple, yet easy to use environment. The first impression of TrueOS is that of sober system without bells, and whistles.
But under that serious appearance lays a powerful system, with an intuitive interface, that the user can learn quickly, and effortless to use.
With a combination of the Lumina desktop, a set of simple management/configuration tools, a well chosen selection of software, and a rich repository of applications, TrueOS makes good on its goal of bring a easy to use FreeBSD to the Desktop.
A quick view to Lumina Desktop
TrueOS default DE is the Lumina Desktop: a lightweight, plugin-based desktop for Unix like systems, that remembers the likes of Fluxbox, or Openbox.
It is not as visually attractive (in the TrueOS system at least) as other more full featured DEs like Gnome, or KDE, but I soon found out that I did not care very much about that; Lumina is fast, intuitive and easy to use, has all the features I need, and it does not clutter my desktop with utilities/software I am never going to use.
Lumina does its job, stays out of the way, and for users interested in tweaking their DE , there is a wide number of plugins that be added to customize the way the user interacts with the desktop.
We can access to the software using the TrueOS menu in the bottom bar: from there we can see the software installed in the system grouped by categories.
We can also try to locate, and launch the software using the search bar.
Right clicking in the screen will also pop up a contextual menu that will allow us to launch applications, and customize various desktop settings like wallpaper, screen savers, etc.
As for the applications that we can launch on a freshly installed system I am satisfied with the selection: VLC for playing music and videos/DVDs, Phototonic the image viewer, a pdf viewer, the Firefox browser, the Thunderbird email client, a terminal, and a notepad like application.
Besides, there is a wealth of little utilities to configure, and administrate the system.
Useful, but not bloated. Most users will need obviously need more than to be productive, and they will be using the TrueOS package manager, AppCafe, to install extra software to complete the selection offered by default by TrueOS.
For managing our files we will use the Insight File Manager.
Insight also integrates a wizard that allows to download a Git Repository. Notice, however, that it can not be used as a complete replacement of a git client, since it does not have support for for commits, pushes, etc.
To complete the set of Lumina utilities we have a “Take Screenshot” application, and the Lumina Searcher that would allow us to search for applications, and documents in all the system.
First steps: TrueOS Control Panel
After a fresh install of a system, the first thing that usually everybody recommends to do is an update. In TrueOS updates are handled through the Update Manager, an application we can find in the TrueOS “Control Panel”.
Before we got into the updates we are going to give a quick feature to the other relevant entries in the Control Panel. To open the “Control Panel” we must click the icon in the system tray, and select in the menu that pops up “Local System”
From the Control Panel we can perform everyday activities:
- AppCafe: install new software
- Update Manager: Update the system
- User Manager: add new users, and users groups
- Task Manager: take a look at the system resource usage, and more rarely, I hope, kill a problematic process
- Service Manager: stop or start services
- Firewall Manager: close, and open firewall ports
- Life Preserver: schedule system backups
From the Update Manager you can check manually, at any time, if there are updates available, and install them if so.
As I said before, one of the first thing that one is told to do after installing a fresh system it is to get the last updates, and TrueOS is not the exception to that norm. There is, however, something else you should keep in mind when running TrueOS: the rolling release nature of the system.
In a rolling release system you are not going to get only the occasional security update, you will get updates too, when newer versions of the software are released, as they are included in the “Current” branch of FreeBSD: therefore, if you let too much time to pass between updates, the total size of the updates to downloads can grow quite a bit.
From this application you can add new users, groups, and assign users to a group.
If you take a look at the “Groups” tab, you will notice a “wheel” group. You may also notice that the user you created when installing the system is a member of the “wheel” group. This means htat your user can gain superuser privileges, and perform administrative tasks like adding new software to the system.
In Unix based systems normal users have limited privileges; this limits the tasks they can perform when logged into the system. This a sensible safety measure: users do not need administrative privileges to perform everyday tasks, like writing/reading email, writing documents, etc. But from to time someone has to realize system administration tasks that require higher privileges; in those cases there are two options: log as root (the system administrator who has total, and complete access to the system), or allow a current user to gain temporarily administrative privileges in order to perform that task. Only those users in the “wheel” group are authorized to became superusers.
TrueOS Task Manager is a simple application that lists the memory, CPU usage, and the processes executing in the system. It also offers the possibility to “kill” any misbehaving process.
The Task Manager allows to quickly see if a process is consuming too much resources: it is simplified GUI version of the command line top. In case we want an equivalent tool but more complete we can install htop using the TrueOS package manager.
htop is a CLI command that will allow us to see the same information we see in the Task Manager, but it is feature richer: for example from htop we cannot not only kill process, but also easily modify it is priority, filter process, display them in tree format, etc
The “Service Manager” allows us to start/stop services, and to set which services should automatically run at start time. It is worth noticing that if we try to disable some critical services from this Graphical Interface we won’t be able to do so.
The “Firewall Manager” it allows to open ports so that remote applications can access our system, or conversely close the access to some port.
By default TrueOS firewall is up and running, and ports closed to external access. If we want to open a port (we have installed for example an Database Server, and we want other computers to remotely access the data), we can do it by either selecting a service in the “Find by Service” dropdown, which will open the ports associated to the service, or by manually inserting the port in the “Number/type” form, and then clicking the keyhole icon.
We can also form this application to disable the whole firewall (something that usually, we will NOT want to do).
AppCafe: TrueOS Package Manager
AppCafe is TrueOS’s package manager: it allows us to search the TrueOS repository for pre-compiled binaries of software to install, and install it along whatever dependencies are necessary.
We can browse the available software by categories, or just search by name. When we select a software for installation we can see the progress of the installation procecess in the “Pending” tab. In that tab we can the status (if the installation is finished, or not), the time it started, and the time it finished, etc
At times we won’t be able to install a certain software if we haven’t updated the system. It happened to me that I was postponing doing an update, since I knew that if I installed the current updates at that time they will break the system (the problem was promptly fixed, and I was able to update the system the next day), and the AppCafe application would refuse to let me install new software under those circumstances.
If that happens we can still install the software,in my case chromium, from the command line using this command:
sudo pkg-static install www/chromium
Life Preserver is the backup solution of TrueOs. Using this tool we can save snapshots of the system. We can use this snapshots in case of disaster to recover the system. In the How-to install the TrueOS system, we saw that when we boot from the TrueOS DVD, we are given three options: install TrueOS Desktop, TrueOS server, and Restore from Life_Preserver backup. If we select that last option we will be using one of the backups performed with this tool
Another interesting feature of the Life-Preserver utility is the possibility to replicate the current system to a remote location. Local snapshot are OK most of the times, but if something were to happen to the physical system, the snapshots also on the same machine would be lost, being able to keep a remote replica of the system increases the changes of being able to recover the system after a disaster.
I got not much to say on this subject: audio worked flawlessly after installation, without any required extra tweaking. I could play my audio files, and videos on youtube without problem.
As for multimedia applications the installed by default VLC is a quite good choice, but for users with other preferences, there are different multimedia players in the package repository, just a click away to be installed: xine, mplayer, audacity, kodi, etc
The first look at TrueOS left me a positive impression. The system offers out of the box, a convenient combination of both software, and utilities to make it easy to start using the system right away, avoiding all unnecessary bloat.
The system administration tools included, albeit simples, allow to realize the most common administrative tasks, quickly, and in intuitive, and easy manner.
Some of the most technically advanced characteristic of the system: ports system, kernel compilation, etc are still available but the average user will not need to concern himself with them. Although for system administrators the port system is a valuable asset, and part of the charm of FreeBSD system, for the average user the package system, along with AppCafe is less intimidating, and in most cases enough.
TrueOs has also good documentation, an active forum/community the newcomer can rely on to solve any problems he encounters while he learns to navigate the system, and there is on the top of that the documentation available for the parent system, FreeBSD.