I heard about DesktopBSD from Skip Evans. This is a configuration of FreeBSD that provides support for automatic detection of hardware, especially that needed to get X11 working properly. It uses KDE as its window manager, and much of the work done integrates KDE with services of FreeBSD. This sounded interesting to me, since I’m used to snappy auto-detection by various Linux distros, but getting FreeBSD running X11 has always required a fair amount of geek work and worry whether one has gotten the actual video card and monitor values right. At least within memory, the graphics subsystem is the place in computers where getting something wrong could actually start a fire in a system.
I downloaded the AMD64 1.6RC3 DVD of DesktopBSD for a trial on my laptop system. This model, a Gateway MT6458, isn’t on the list of known good installs, but I figured it was worth trying. I booted into the Live mode, and, as I expected, the auto-detection worked for everything but the built-in wireless and the sound system. My Linux install, Xubuntu, doesn’t know about those, either.
I didn’t want to disturb my current setup, so I plugged in my external 2.5″ USB drive. It has a 14GB partition for FreeBSD, and the rest is formatted as a FAT32 data partition. I dropped out of the Live mode and started an installation. The menus brought me to selecting a drive, and I selected the external drive. Then there was selecting a partition, and I selected the old FreeBSD partition. I told it to install to that. There was the notice that changes would be permanent, and I was fine with that. A brief whir, and an error message popped up saying that the install was aborted, that “bsdlabel” had failed. Well, OK, maybe I need to let it try to work to a blank hard drive.
Except that on reboot, my external USB drive was no longer recognized. Both the FreeBSD and the FAT32 partitions had vanished. Ooops.
Well, there were things on the FAT32 partition that I was going to miss. I have looked into data recovery stuff in the past and found the commercial ventures offering such to be priced out of range of my wallet. I decided to search for “fat32 recovery “open source””, and one of the things that popped up was TestDisk. Open source, runs on just about anything, handles just about any format… sounded like just the thing. The Wiki for TestDisk handily provides examples. I downloaded the Windows binary, copied over the indicated directory to my Vista installation, and ran it. It found my main hard drive and the external USB drive with no problem. Asking it to analyze the external drive brought results in seconds: it found both the FreeBSD and the FAT32 partitions on the drive. All that looked fine, so I moved on and was prompted to write out the partitions. It did that, I rebooted the laptop, and am now getting stuff backed up so that maybe I won’t have to miss things if I do silly stuff like experimenting with storage media that have unique data on them.
Oh, DesktopBSD guys… a little more attention paid to not doing bad things to partitions on installation failure would be good. I’ll try again, but not with any partition at hand that I care about.