Return of the Daemon

Beesdie as a pinup girl!

The time was late November of 2021, and I was ready to try some new things. Specifically, I want to learn how to create and distribute 3D models for use in games and simulations. For this I would probably need a new computer, preferably with a graphics acceleration chip. But that is currently beyond our financial reach, and is likely to remain so until mid-2022. So, I needed a way to amp up my existing computer to handle some of the rendering and development tasks I had in mind. I knew it wouldn’t be able to do all of them, but hopefully it could perform the tasks I needed for learning the basics. That would push my technological road block further away, hopefully to a time when acquiring a new computer was financially feasible. The answer for enhancing my old computer had been sitting in front of me all along: FreeBSD.

I had a TrueOS instillation on my computer, but I hadn’t used for quite some time. I suspected it would need a lot of updating. So much so that I figured a better option would be to start fresh. I had started with PC-BSD, which later became TrueOS, so I went online to get the latest release. I was very disappointed to learn the TrueOS had shut down, with very little explanation. A possible replacement was a different desktop oriented distribution of FreeBSD called GhostBSD. So I downloaded the current version of that and burned it to a disc. I then backed up my relevant files, cleaned and prepared the appropriate hard drive, and started the installation.

It went perfectly! I can honestly say that it was the cleanest and fastest instillation of an open source operation system that I have ever seen. I had a fully working system up within just under an hour. Most of that time was spent copying and moving files from the disc to the hard drive. I was able to take a short nap while it worked. I remember thinking ‘that was too good to be true!’

Unfortunately, I was right. As I started to install my favorite programs and utilities, I started encountering bugs and glitches. At first they were minor, and work-arounds were easy to find. I figured this was the result of system changes since my original install. But, when Window Maker wouldn’t operate correctly, and would frequently freeze the system, I knew something was very wrong. When other problems started to occur with other programs, I hit the breaks.

I did a little digging, and found that GhostBSD uses its own port tree and configuration schemes. For me that is a red flag. The largely standardized structure of FreeBSD and the related port tree was one of the things I really liked about it. One of the things I disliked about Linux was how each version of Linux had its own scheme and distribution methods; essentially a ‘port tree’ for each version of Linux. Reluctantly, I made a backup of my GhostBSD install (just in case), and went back to the source:

I’ve tried to install vanilla FreeBSD before, but with little luck. I find the instillation program is often confusing, and asks questions that most users, even intermediate level ones like myself, would have no reason to have answers for. The instillation script is clearly designed by experienced system administrators, for experienced system administrators.

One of the big strengths of PC-BSD was that the instillation process was designed with average users in mind. One of the distribution’s goals was to make FreeBSD more accessible to average users who weren’t experienced with Unix. Granted, it had some bugs, and some of the added features were cumbersome. In my opinion, when using FreeBSD you will eventually need to get very technical. But PC-BSD provided a good set of training wheels for the operating system. The GhostBSD instillation script was also very straightforward, so it could fulfill the same role that PC-BSD did. I’ll be keeping an eye on the distribution and see how it develops.

Anyway, I downloaded and burned a system install ISO for FreeBSD, prepped the hard drive again, and dove in. When presented with a question I didn’t understand or didn’t know the answer to, I accepted whatever default values the script recommended, and wished for luck. The only variable option I selected was to include the port tree. (A portsnap install.)

To my relief, it installed correctly. X-Windows wasn’t part of the instillation disc, so that explained a few things. (X-Windows is as inherently tricky as it is useful.) I was able to do a console login using both the root password and a user password without any trouble, though I did find that some permissions needed to be changed on my user password.

This was from one of those cases where the instillation script asked me question that I didn’t fully understand, so I accepted the default and hoped for the best. I figured (prayed…) that if problems arose I could fix them later. When I attempted some simple commands, I received a few messages about permissions and access rights. A search of the various FreeBSD related forums and documentation libraries eventually provided me with the information I needed. Persistence and patience are ‘user requirements’ that are still needed for setting up FreeBSD, and I suspect they always will be.

Once the core system was installed and running, I attempted to install a program from the port tree. This was more to test the network configuration that it was to install the actual program. The program in question was Midnight Commander, an open source stalwart that does not require the X-Window system. To my relief, the port installed normally, so my network configuration was (at least) adequate.

The next step was to install X-Windows. I was expecting this to be a nightmare, because on every other X-Window install I’ve done, be it Linux or FreeBSD, there were bugs to iron out. I went with the package install route, so as allow a faster download:

pkg install xorg

I really like the name xorg; it sounds like the name of a creature from Dungeons and Dragons.

Had this install failed, I would have tried the source compilation route, but luckily that wasn’t necessary. Even so the process took a while. Most of a night in fact. I entered the command mid-evening, and it was still downloading when I went to bed. I got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, and checked on it. According to the timestamp, it finished downloading around 2:30am, having taken six hours to fully download. I found out later that there was a problem with our satellite internet connection, so this slow process had nothing to do with FreeBSD.

The next day I attempted to launch X-Windows. I was presented with three questions related to my video card, which fortunately I did know the answers for. I had the original manual for my computer, a Dell Inspiron 660 series, with all the specs laid out, right next to me. This may be a no-brainer, but if you’re going to try installing an open source system like FreeBSD, I highly recommend having such documents on hand.

I entered startx, and after a few seconds the TWM window manager came up, in full ugly glory. The color resolution was painful to look at, and the windows didn’t fit my monitor very well. But X did launch without issue, and I was able to change the colors and resize the windows without any problem. So the initial horrid appearance proved to be nothing of concern. I figured if anything was going to go wrong with this instillation, the X-Window instillation was the most likely place. But apparently things went fine. So far, so good.

The next step was KDE. I knew this would be a haul. KDE is a full blown desktop environment with all kinds of tools and features. The funny thing is that I generally use Window Maker, but I still make use of numerous KDE tools and features, so I still needed to install the full beast. Once again I logged into the console as root and put the system to work:

pkg install kde5

I did nothing else with the computer that evening, because it was too busy downloading to be of any other use. When I returned the next day I made some necessary changes to some key configuration files, took a deep breath, asked for the favor of the technology gods, and reluctantly launched X.

I anxiously waited while the computer whirred for several minutes until the login manager (a variant of SDDM) popped up. I entered my userid, then waited again. After about 30 seconds the bouncing KDE pointer appeared, and the various components of KDE came into focus. I heaved a sigh of relief, but I still wasn’t out of the proverbial woods. My problems with GhostBSD really increased when I tried to change the window manager and add other programs. Even so, I went through a series of tests and checks to make sure that KDE (at least) was working as advertised. With KDE working, I figured my largest hurdle had been cleared.

The next step was my preferred window manager, Window Maker. I installed the packages just as I’ve done before:

pkg install x11-wm/windowmaker
pkg install x11-wm/wmakerconf

When I boot up, the login manager screen provides an option for selecting a window manager. But to my dismay, Window Maker wasn’t among them. After doing some quick surfing of Linux and BSD forums, I found that for SDDM to recognize and use a manager client, it needs a .desktop file in:


Such a file can be created using any text editor. Using the KDE one as a model, I made one that looked like this:

[Desktop Entry]

I named the file wmaker.desktop, and placed it in the appropriate directory. When I logged out and back in, Window Maker appeared as one of my options on the menu. If you have a window manager client that you particularly like, but that doesn’t provide a .desktop file, a file of this type is probably what you need.

Window Maker popped up, and it’s various applets whirred into operation. I then opened a root terminal and attempted to install a simple x-window application from the port tree. The package installed normally, and my userid was able to launch the application without a fuss.

Now I was able to relax, because if I could get this far then I was probably in the clear. At this writing I have installed many of my favorite applications from my earlier TrueOS install, and haven’t had any major problems. Either I’ve gotten better at this open source thing, or FreeBSD has gotten easier to work with.

I had forgotten how much faster FreeBSD can handle heavyweight programs like Firefox and LibreOffice, especially when compared to Windows. Earlier today I had six heavyweight programs running in different workspace windows, all handling a variety of tasks, and my computer didn’t show the slightest lag. That same workload would have killed Windows. It’s almost like having a new computer.

My next step is to install and load the development and rendering tools I will be using for developing game materials. If the increased performance of the rest of the system is anything to go by, I’m cautiously optimistic.

OK you tricky little daemon, show me what you’ve got.

The image of the Beesdie daemon as a pinup girl was pulled from a wallpaper that appeared in the PC-BSD forums some time ago. Sadly I don’t remember which version, and I certainly can’t remember the name of the creator. Here is the original wallpaper for those who are interested.

Window Maker’s forgotten mascot

Amanda Panda

A few people have asked me about this furry character, which appears on my Window Maker page. Her name is Amanda Panda, and she was designed to be a mascot for the Window Maker x-client. Notice the pattern on her ears.

I first heard about this mascot circa 1999, during my Linux phase. From the look of things, the idea didn’t stick. The original page that promoted her vanished a long time ago, and the only place I was able to find record of it was through an Internet archive site. I took this screen shot using my smart phone:

The original page came from an earlier iteration of the official Window Maker site, and it does not have a counterpart on the current site. Regarding the artist, there is a performing artist and singer named Agnieszka Czajkowska, but I don’t know if this is the same person who is credited in the description. Also, the giant panda is no longer on the endangered species list; it has been upgraded to ‘vulnerable.’

References to Amanda in the context of Window Maker are few and far between. Author Christopher Whittum has some information about her, and Window Maker in general. He also developed a Window Maker theme based on the character. Programmer Raj Shekhar also provides a few details, including this cartoon-style variant of the mascot drawn by David Bouley.

The name ‘Amanda Panda’ has been, and is still being, used in a variety of ways. It is frequently used as a nickname for any woman with the name ‘Amanda,’ for example. There is also a video game character named Amanda Panda, who is associated with a number of mobile device games of the slot machine and falling gem variety.

But if a generic Google search is anything to go by, one of the best known uses for the name, at least in the context of a contemporary mascot or logo, is for the Amanda the Panda Family Grief Center near Des Moines, Iowa. This place provides counseling services for families who have lost a loved one. I suspect they chose a giant panda because the animal often creates ‘warm fuzzy’ feelings. Just look at them! If you’re trying to help someone deal with a terrible personal loss, creating such a feeling is a good place to start.

It wouldn’t surprise me if there is a copyright or trademark issue in play regarding the use of the name Amanda the Panda. If that is the case, and only one organization or group can use Amanda as their mascot, I think it should go to this center. For my money, their work is far more important than an x-window manager, or a group of video games.

Though it would be funny if this center used Linux or FreeBSD to run their computers, and even funnier if they used Window Maker as their x-window client.

So regarding Amanda’s status as the official mascot for Window Maker, it either didn’t catch on, or it was deliberately dropped. This is unfortunate in one way, because she is just so darn cute! But ultimately it may be for the best. The world of open source software is littered with animal mascots, some of which are pretty silly, and it doesn’t really need more of them.

And for some folks, the use of cute animals like penguins and little red daemons to promote software is at best unprofessional, at worst juvenile. It’s true: there are people who do not like cartoon mascots. Especially serious people who are trying to run a serious business. (Does anyone remember the backlash Microsoft endured over Clippy?) Perhaps because of this, programs that are tightly associated with a cartoon mascot aren’t always taken seriously by the very people who might want to use them. This isn’t a widespread attitude, but it happens often enough to be an issue.

The world of computers can be a very fickle place. Just ask Amanda, the Window Maker giant panda.

There’s an app for that!

Courting the Daemon, part 4.

It’s safe to say that for a computer to be truly useful, it needs applications. An efficient operating system, like FreeBSD, is a great thing to have, even if it can be tricky to set up and configure. The bragging rights for taming such a technological tiger are noteworthy. And a fancy looking graphical user interface is fun to look at, with the ability to generate satisfying “ooos and aahs” when shown off. But such accolades ring hollow the moment someone says “Yes, but can I use your computer to check email? Or work on my documents?”

An industrial-strength operating system, and a lean, mean user interface aren’t much good if the computer doesn’t have applications that allow it do the things it was ultimately intended for: the Internet, manipulating documents, storing and managing important data, developing new software, and even playing games.

Fortunately, there are thousands of applications for UNIX-derived open source operating systems, including FreeBSD. Once again, the best place for a FreeBSD user to start looking is the ports tree. What follows are the applications I like to use. Different people like different things, so when you start setting up your own system, let your own personal needs and interest be your guide, and don’t take my suggestions as gospel.

File system tools

I make heavy use of graphical file managers. Back in the days of Windows 3.1, I used File Manager more frequently than Program Manager. For a time, I even used a graphical version of XTree Gold as my shell. With later iterations of Windows, I used a File Explorer window to access and manage most of my stuff. I just tend to do better if I can picture my files as being in a “folder” that I can open and pull from. These graphical file managers are designed for such work.

Dolphin is an integrated component of the KDE desktop environment.
Dolphin is the default file manager for the KDE desktop, but it can be executed from Window Maker. Most of KDE’s key functions are integrated within Dolphin, so by using this file manager, most of KDE’s features are available, even when the KDE window manager isn’t running.

XFile Explorer


This is an older file manager, that looks like the Windows Explorer. I use this when I need to execute specialized commands on files or file groups. It doesn’t have the same set of core features that Dolphin does, but it does support customized shell commands by means of a nifty command line editor.

Midnight Commander


This one is seriously old school. I discovered this old stalwart during my Linux days. It’s a semi-clone of an old DOS utility called Norton Commander, and it can be run entirely from the command line. It makes file maintenance very easy, by linking some complex file and directory commands to the function keys. As such, some otherwise lengthy or tedious file management tasks become a breeze. I often use this one when I’m not using the graphical environment, or from within an existing terminal session. I also have a customized script for running Midnight Commander within a dedicated X-windows terminal.

Productivity applications

These are the meat and potatoes of my work station.



This is a fully-featured office suite, which is something that no workstation should be without. It is intended to work like any other integrated office suite, like Microsoft Office, Lotus Office, or Polaris, and in my experience it works very well. It has a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation editor, database manager, and a utility for drawing charts and graphs. It can import and export files from any number of commercial programs, and works very well with other x-windows programs. The learning curve can be rather steep, because many of the controls are in unexpected places, but once you get used to this, LibreOffice will become a trusted friend. Best of all, this one is free, with support for many different languages.



The name means “GNU Image Manipulation Program,” but the jokes still abound. Gimp is a full scale graphics manipulation program on par with Photoshop, and is completely open source. It’s primary purpose is for retouching raster images and scanned photographs, but optional plugins and extensions are available to let it handle just about every graphics format in existence.



This is a UNIX world classic, and a very handy program to have around. It is essentially a text editor, but it can be customized and scripted in an almost infinite variety of ways, making it useful for a variety of complex tasks. It makes a useful companion to other text manipulation programs. I don’t use Emacs very often, but it has proven to a useful tool to have available.


This is the last category I’m going to look at for now. In this day and age a computer that can’t access the Internet is little more than a paperweight. Fortunately there are many Internet applications, both commercial and open source, for every operating system around. FreeBSD is no exception. In fact, much of the Internet’s infrastructure was built on servers running versions of UNIX, which is the direct ancestor of FreeBSD.

Konqueror is an integrated component of the KDE desktop environment.
Konqueror started out as the file manager for KDE, which was later expanded into a lightweight web browser. Dolphin is now the primary file manager for the KDE environment, but Konqueror is still provided as a file viewer and web browser. One of its strengths is that it can be customized in a number of different ways. It doesn’t always do well with web sites that use a lot of scripting or style sheets, but for most others it does very well.



I actually have a few different web browsers available, because I like to see how this site looks on different browsers. My wife also does some freelance and volunteer web work, so she also likes to see how sites look on different browsers. This one is a very light weight and very fast browser, and is optimized for viewing text-heavy sites. It doesn’t do well with script heavy sites, and even sites with frames tend to balk. This site doesn’t look very good in Dillo, largely because WordPress makes heavy use of frames. But even so Dillo is great for browsing discussion forums and message boards. And it has one really nice feature for web developers: an HTML bug tracker. Along the lower margin there is an icon of a beetle, which when clicked will indicate the number of bugs in the HTML code, and what line the bug is on.



This is what I call a middle-weight browser. It can handle most scripts and HTML style sheets, but sites that rely heavily on Flash and other graphical features sometimes buckle. Even so, this is a good, reliable browser that can handle pretty much anything you throw at it. It is also surprisingly fast, all things considered.



The big guns. This is one of the most wide spread browsers in use, and is one of the industry standards. This is actually my default browser, even with the high memory requirement. If it’s on the Internet, this heavyweight can handle it.



This is my email client of choice. It can handle multiple email addresses over multiple servers, and it can be configured to behave in a variety of ways. Thunderbird also allows for the viewing of NNTP newsgroups, if you can still find any. This program is tied to the Mozilla group, which also handles Firefox. But there have been some changes at Mozilla, so the future of Thunderbird may be in question.

That pretty much covers the core of my FreeBSD system. I have added and changed things over time, and I’m often looking to try new things. As my needs and interests change, I’m sure to find other wonderful things in the world of open source software.

Presenting Window Maker

Courting the Daemon, part 3


Compared to some of the x-window clients out there, Window Maker is a lightweight. Some have even called it antiquated. But just because something has been around for a while doesn’t mean it’s no longer useful. Granted, in the world of computers, software doesn’t age well. But there are exceptions to this rule, and Window Maker is one of them.

Unlike one of the desktop environment clients, like KDE or GNOME, Window Maker doesn’t create a virtual “desk” for the user. Window Maker is basically just a GUI for the Unix environment. A better comparison may be with Microsoft Windows 3.11. That old version of Windows was a GUI for the DOS (or DOS-based) system underneath, and it wasn’t trying to be anything else. Windows 95 and later, by comparison, created and managed a virtual desk, in much the same way the Macintosh GUI does. (The success of Microsoft Windows in this area is a topic of constant debate.)

You may ask why I chose to go with such an “old school” GUI client when there are more powerful ones available. Truth be told, I like Window Maker’s simple interface and design, and that simplicity is one of its greatest strengths. Unix, FreeBSD and Linux have all changed considerably over the last two decades. Window Maker has changed very little, and it still runs beautifully. The core design is versatile enough that with only minor updates it can still run with the best of them. The same can’t be said for many other x-window clients.

As for power, I didn’t give up a single kilobyte, because Window Maker gets along very well with KDE and it’s brethren. If you are using one of the environment clients, and still want or need the features it provides, then I have good news: you probably won’t have to give up anything! There is a good chance that Window Maker can manage them. For example, KDE’s file manager, Dolphin, is the backbone of KDE’s desktop environment. Most of KDE’s core file management functions are integrated within Dolphin, and I have found that this is where most of KDE’s power lies. I frequently run Dolphin as a client application from Window Maker, and it runs perfectly. So even when the KDE window manager isn’t running, most of KDE’s best features are easily available as options within the Dolphin file manager. I haven’t done extensive testing, but I have found that GNOME Files, the file manager for GNOME, and Thunar from XFCE, all run well as client programs within Window Maker.


Most official sources for Window Maker include either a Linux instillation package (*rpm or *deb), or a tarball. I first used Window Maker back in my Linux days, and remembered the instillation being fairly straightforward. Users of the BSD series have the option of shaking the port tree, which is what I did:


The first port is the only one you really need. Wmakerconf is a newer tool that adds and refines some configuration options. It isn’t essential, but it has some good uses, and it can’t hurt to have it available. Use the regular “make install clean” routine to install both programs.

One could also use the package instillation route:

pkg install x11-wm/windowmaker
pkg install x11-wm/wmakerconf

Personally, I would recommend going with the port tree “make install clean” method. Package installations usually provide a pre-compiled binary executable. For many application this is fine, but window managers tend to draw on a wide variety of system resources, and a packaged binary may not be the best for your system. By using the port method, you are more likely to get an executable that is tailored to your particular system. It takes a little longer than using a package, but it’s worth the extra effort.

When I first launched Window Maker, it looked something like this:


Note how Spartan the work space is when compared to one of the environment clients. This may be a bit intimidating at first, especially for someone who is used to seeing task bars and icons all over the place. But don’t worry. The configuration tool, called the preferences utility, can make things look better in a hurry.

I’ll talk about this utility in more detail further down, but the ability to change icon sizes is one of the many options it provides. The first thing I did was expand the size of the dock icons (the guys along the bottom and right margins) so that I could actually see them without squinting. Size can be set to something very small, like 8 pixels across, to something ridiculously large like 256 pixels. I just tried different sizes until I found one that my eyes agreed with.

In the upper left corner is the pager. As with most window managers, Window Maker can support multiple work spaces. The means of cycling through your work spaces, often called the pager app, is the paper clip icon. Clicking on this icon will allow you to add, remove, and name work spaces however you want. I usually keep my system between four and eight work spaces, but I understand that one can go as high as 64.

Now that I had the window manager working largely the way I wanted, I could start adding functionality to my custom system. The first thing I wanted was a good terminal program. FreeBSD is, at the end of the day, a variant Unix system, and that means it’s largely driven by a command line. I’m not going to get into the religious wars of command lines versus graphical interfaces. I’m just stating the facts as I see them: the best features of FreeBSD frequently require a command line interface. Fortunately, there are a number of choices in this area. KDE comes with one called Konsole, and Xterm is the “old reliable” of the X-Windows world. Both of these are fine, but I wanted one with some special options for customization. For this I chose RXVT. I had used this terminal program before, and there is even a variation for the Microsoft Windows world which I have in my Windows partition.


This is what a default RXVT terminal looks like. Like any terminal client, it provides a command prompt and very little else. Unix technology has it’s roots in the computer systems of the late 1950’s, where everything was done using a basic text screen. This echo is still apparent in most x-terminals. But again, the best features of Unix are usually tied to the command line. There are many users, especially Unix power users, who control their entire system through x-terminals, and rarely use the features of the GUI. Get to know the command line. It will become your trusted friend.

Getting back to RXVT, it offers a variety of options for screen geometry, colors, fonts, backgrounds images, and so on. It also has several variations, each with different features. The one I chose included unicode support, and is called “urxvt.” I wanted unicode support because sometimes I need to access my work computer from home, where I often deal with materials in non-Western languages in conjunction with on-line translation utilities. Unicode is a must for such work.


URXVT in action, showing some of the options for colors, background images, and fonts. I’ve only scratched the surface of the various options this program has.

RXVT on the ports tree:


The version I use is:


Now that I had a good means of using the command line, I started to add some more features to my Window Maker install. One of the more useful features of Window Maker is what is called the “dock.” A lot of window managers feature a “dock,” which first appeared on the NextStep window manager (I think). It has been incorporated in many GUI systems since then. Even the Macintosh and Windows 10 GUI systems use a form of dock. Almost any application can be attached to the dock, but I prefer to restrict mine to system monitoring tools.

I shook the ports tree and installed these dock applications:

Window Maker network monitor


Window Maker weather






Some of my dock apps, like the clock and the network monitor, have obvious practical use. Others, like the weather reporter and the moon clock, are just for fun.

For other dock applications, visit the dock apps web site for ideas. Or, search “dock apps” in your favorite search engine. There are literally hundreds of dock-able apps out there, so if you know what you’re looking for, you’ll probably find something that will work.

One word of caution for FreeBSD users: before downloading a tarball or instillation package for a dock app, find out if it has been included in the ports tree. Over the years, many of them have been included. If the one you’re looking for is on the tree, then save yourself some trouble and install it from there. It eliminates a lot of guess work, especially when program library files and supporting utilities enter the mix.

Once I had my dock apps in place, I went back to the preferences utility. This utility provides a wide variety of options. It is usually built into the application menu by default (right click on the work space to see the menu), or it has an icon in the dock. This icon usually looks like the Window Maker logo with a wrench or screwdriver over it:

But in case it isn’t in either of these locations, it can usually be found at:


Failing that, the command line tool grep should find it in short order.

Explore the options within the preferences utility, and experiment. Just about every physical characteristic of the GUI can be customized in one way or another, so have fun with it. After such a session of experimentation, I managed to make my work space look exactly the way I wanted it. The result was something like this:


So now I had my own, personalized FreeBSD workstation. Now it was time to actually get to work. For that, I needed to start bringing in applications!

Some Window Maker links: