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Gnome Shell on BSDs – What is the situation?

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BSDs are Unix operating systems available under the Berkeley Software Distribution license. They look a lot like Linux distributions because they use the same desktop environments and they work similarly to Linux in most cases.

In the recent past, most of the popular BSDs used Gnome 2 as their default DE maintaining it for as much as they could, avoiding the leap to Gnome 3 and the Shell. Now that Gnome has reached version 3.8 and thus an undeniable point of maturity, it is time to check BSD’s and see what their plans are.

freebsdFreeBSD which is the most popular of all BSDs is used by companies, Internet Service Providers, researchers, computer professionals, students and home users all over the world in their work, education and recreation. FreeBSD comes with over 20,000 packages (pre-compiled software that is bundled for easy installation), covering a wide range of areas: from server software, databases and web servers, to desktop software, games, web browsers and business software – all free and easy to install.

The latest stable version still uses Gnome 2, and sadly enough the currently under development version 10 still isn’t making the leap. All other DE’s are available on their latest versions except for Gnome. A port is on the works though and while there is still much work left to be done and many users complain about build errors, some of them have managed to run GS on FreeBSD.


Gnome Shell running on FreeBSD 9.0

pcbsdPC-BSD which is the second most popular BSD system according to is actually based on FreeBSD so whatever Gnome related we previously said apply for it too. There is a way to get GS running on it.

This system provides a graphical installation to enable even UNIX novices to easily install and get it running and also a graphical software installation program makes installing pre-built software, known as Push Button Installers (PBI), as easy as other popular operating systems. It is basically a more user-friendly version of FreeBSD.

ghostbsdGhostBSD is another user-friendly, GNOME-based FreeBSD distribution in the form of an installable live CD. Besides developing the live CD, the project’s other goal is to improve the GNOME desktop experience on a FreeBSD system, but it seems that this (official) goal doesn’t include proceeding with Gnome 3.

Apparently, the latest stable release that is version 3 is the last one that will be using Gnome (which is version 2 at the time). Future versions will be offering the MATE desktop environment as the default choice. What a technological setback for the users of this system…

netbsdNetBSD is a free, secure, and highly portable UNIX-like Open Source operating system available for many platforms, from 64-bit AlphaServers and desktop systems to handheld and embedded devices. Its clean design and advanced features make it excellent in both production and research environments, and it is user-supported with complete source. Many applications are easily available through The NetBSD Packages Collection.

Currently NetBSD is using Gnome 2.30 and there is no sign of this changing any time soon. Characteristically, I talked with an important NetBSD developer after the release of GS 3.6 and he told me that he “almost never used Gnome Shell in his life”.

openbsdOpenBSD that is the 5th most popular BSD system out there, is actually the only one that offers Gnome Shell as an option for its users, and has been offering our favorite desktop environment since version 3.4. The latest release of the “pufferfish” includes Gnome Shell 3.6.2 and while not latest, it is certainly showing the logic of development for this system that will get the latest on the next 5.4 version apparently.


As a general conclusion I can say that the Gnome Shell under BSD situation is currently hopeless. While there is a hope for the future with FreeBSD finally taking the leap to Gnome 3 (and many popular derivatives following), this point still seems to be far from now.

Kudos to the OpenBSD developers who decided to get out of the conservative nature that characterizes the BSD community in general and ride the wave of evolution. I can only hope that the rest will follow accordingly soon…

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  • Adrian

    You say it like a bad thing, but in reality there are alot that don’t like gnome shell, for what it is and its unstable , even at 3.8.1. If they don’t want to use it then they don’t have to, most BSD users wouldn’t use it by default anyway.

    • hellzou

      Not having the choice is a bad thing…
      And I don’t see where Gnome Shell 3.8 is unstable by the way.

    • Craig

      “most BSD users wouldn’t use it by default anyway”

      How could you possibly know that?

      Wait, don’t answer that. You can’t.

  • diamond_gr

    Gnome 3 on FreeBSD by Manolis Kiagias. Check it out:

  • Jekyll Wu

    It is hopeless because GNOME developers pay little attention and effort to keep their product portable.

  • Florian

    I am really concerned about the GNOME Environment excluding itself from everything that is not Linux. GTK for example used to be portable in the past, but nowadays you will have a hard time getting GTK3 Apps (with python i.e.) working stable on Windows.

    Really sad and I think GNOME People should do something to prevent that…