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The Nintendo Switch shows us that free software is more than just Linux

The Nintendo Switch shows us that free software is more than just Linux

The Nintendo Switch shows us that free software is more than just Linux

The choice of operating system for the Nintendo Switch may come as a surprise, but it makes perfect sense.

Today’s consoles are practically computers, even sharing the architecture; So it is not surprising that they use very familiar operating systems.

What is the operating system of the Nintendo Switch

It is no secret that the Xbox One has a Windows 10-based operating system, for example. In the last generation we saw other examples, such as the version of Linux for Playstation 3. In contrast, in this generation the system of the penguin stands out for its absence.

It is something that we have been able to verify thanks to the terms of use of the console; Hidden among so much legal trash, there is an area dedicated to the operating system license, and there we find a peculiar name: FreeBSD.

Indeed, the operating system of the Nintendo Switch is a modified and adapted version of FreeBSD, and it is not Linux or any other system. Now, the name may not ring a bell, and for good reason; But that is an injustice, because FreeBSD is one of the most important free systems in the sector.

What is FreeBSD, the free alternative system

Like Linux, FreeBSD is inspired by Unix, a system that already supported multitask and multiple users at the same time before that was in fashion. Over time, Unix gave rise to other operating systems, and possibly sounds the most famous of all, macOS (OS X until recently).

To understand what FreeBSD is (and where the name Free comes from), we have to travel in the mid-1970s, when the University of California at Berkeley received a Unix license. The students took advantage of it to play with the code and modify it as they liked; that’s how i was born Berkeley Unix, better known as BSD, a system that requires a Unix license.

It wasn’t until the late 1980s that BSD became independent from Unix, but it still contained files owned by Unix licensee AT&T. For make BSD really free, Free, it was necessary to create new files to be replaced.

After an unsuccessful intermediate version, in 1993 (two years after Linux) FreeBSD was born. A system very similar to Unix that since then has been used mainly in professional environments and servers.

Key differences between Linux and FreeBSD

FreeBSD is one of the major competitors to Linux, and in some respects it is very similar; but in others it is completely different, and we would be wrong to assume that they are the same.

  • FreeBSD is a complete operating system; whereas Linux is only a kernel to which drivers, user environment applications and programs are added.
  • FreeBSD has a more permissive license than Linux; The BSD license is much simpler and allows you to use free code in non-free software.

Nintendo relies on free software for its new projects

When choosing FreeBSD ,.Nintendo is not required to release the Switch system code. The Linux GPL license would have forced you to publish the code and its possible secrets, but with FreeBSD you only have to enter the license in the terms of use.

An important detail is that this is the first Nintendo console with an operating system not developed by itself; all previous consoles had their own system. Thanks to the adoption of FreeBSD, Nintendo saves the time and work of creating a proper base, and can focus on adding the system’s own functionalities and applications.

This is a stark contrast to the NES Classic Mini, the console with a built-in emulator that runs a version of Linux; in that case, in the terms of use we can find the text of the GPL license.

FreeBSD, the favorite of video game consoles

Nintendo is not the only one to use these free systems. Playstation 4 also uses a FreeBSD based system; After the problems caused by the possibility of installing Linux on the Playstation 3, Sony decided to make the jump to FreeBSD, probably for the same reasons as Nintendo.

Does free software help these companies use FreeBSD? It’s the million dollar question, and one we’ve been asking ourselves for decades; Neither Sony nor Nintendo are obligated to share with the community the achievements they have made using FreeBSD, unlike Linux.

But we cannot deny that two of the three new generation consoles are based on free software; and that is an achievement that years ago we would not have imagined.