I've gotten an enormous response to this essay; far more than I expected. A lot of people have written to tell me that they really enjoyed it, or that it really helped them. A lot of people have also written me with suggested improvements and clarifications, many of which I've used, and all of which I'm thankful for. And some people have flamed me for various perceived slights.
I want to take this special out-of-band section to try and respond to some of those criticisms. This won't satisfy the flamers, of course (flaming's fun!), but it might help clarify some of my meaning.
"You're biased and condescending."
Well, I am biased. I very much like FreeBSD, and there's a lot of things about most Linux systems I've worked on that irritate the hell out of me.
But that doesn't invalidate the statements I've made. Everyone is biased to some degree. Frankly, I wouldn't trust the statements of anybody who was totally objective; usually, to be completely unbiased and objective, you have to have no idea what you're talking about. Which isn't to say that I always know what I'm talking about, but hey; this is the Web :)
As for condescending, I am at times. I try to avoid letting it creep into my writing, but it of course happens anyway. All I can do is apologize and shrug. I think that, bias and condescension aside, there's some good information in here that some people can find useful. If you dislike my tone or style enough that you can't get information out of here, I sincerely hope you can find what you're looking for somewhere else.
"Why do you keep insulting Linux by calling it 'grown' or 'chaotic'?
Now this I don't understand. That's not an insult, people! That's Linux's greatest strength!!! That's something to puff your chest out and strut around about. That's something to be proud of!
Chaos means that you're moving every which way at once. Linux (and its various distributions) are moving in all sorts of different directions, with very little real coordination. That means they're going to end up in a lot of places the BSDs, with their more careful and orderly progression, will only get to more slowly (if at all). A lot of those places are going to be icky and horrible, and places you don't want to be. But some of them are going to be absolute jewels, that you could never reach any other way.
Thus, Linux may hit lower lows, and they may even be more numerous. But the sheer number of people and projects pushing in so many different directions practically assures you of striking gold. You can't get that sort of serendipitous perfection, without accepting a whole lot of chaos and a lot of wrong turns.
Linux has also grown very organically, with a lot of people each pushing in their own directions. And then some group of people or another picks through all those choices, and assembles a distribution. There's been no mastermind somewhere plotting out where Linux would go. It's all happened almost as if by accident or coincidence; it's like walking down the road and just seeing where it takes you, rather than trying to get to a certain place.
When I say Linux has grown and is chaotic, that's not an insult. That's a high compliment!
"Why are you comparing BSD against Foo Linux, when Bar Linux has feature X that's much better?"
Well, for starters, I'm trying to explain, not persuade. I know I've said that a dozen times already, but some people seem not to believe me. I want to contrast and show what the differences are, and why they're there. And I can only compare against what I know. I don't know everything about Linux. I don't have intimate knowledge of every distribution. I don't even know a lot of details about NetBSD and OpenBSD.
What I do have is a good knowledge of FreeBSD, and a general understanding of BSD design philosophy. I have a reasonable bit of working experience with a few Linux distributions. I've gotten a lot of good comments from people about Linux distributions, like Gentoo and Debian, as well as the other BSDs, which I personally don't know much about. And I've tried to integrate a lot of that information to better exhibit and explain the differences.
If I'm slighting the flagship feature of your favorite distribution, I'm sorry. If it's very similar to something BSD does, or otherwise allows a better and clearer explanation of how BSD works relative to Linux, for heavens sake email me about it with enough information that I can try and fit it into the essay. If it merely adds to a contrast between Linux distributions, without shedding any more light on how BSD works, it doesn't really help though.
More to come as I get more feedback and suggestions.