A wide variety of embedded systems and appliances leverage some BSD variant, from open source projects like FreeNAS, to EqualLogic SAN Array controllers. EqualLogic uses NetBSD, though, not FreeBSD. NetBSD's licensing model, performance, and extreme portability have brought it everywhere from SAN arrays to network switching to the International Space Station, yet it enjoys a fraction of the recognition that Linux has. Oh, and it runs Apple's Airport Extreme and Time Capsule.
But back to FreeBSD. There used to be a saying -- at least I've said it many times -- that my workstations run Linux, my servers run FreeBSD. Sure, it's quicker to build a Linux box, do a "yum install x y z" and toss it out into the wild as a fully functional server, but the extra time required to really get a FreeBSD box tuned will come back in spades through performance and stability metrics. You'll get more out of the hardware, be that virtual or physical, than you will on a generic Linux binary installation. (Note: Yes, you can use pkg_add to add binary packages à la .deb and .rpm, but where's the fun in that?)
Speaking of virtualization, build up a single FreeBSD instance and clone away. You get the benefits of FreeBSD with the ramp-up speed only virtualization can provide. It's a win-win.
Sadly, though, I don't expect to see FreeBSD making significant inroads against Linux or Windows. Aside from being Unix-like, it's a very different beast from, say, Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Linux admins who have never touched a BSD box will find themselves in what may appear to be a fun-house-mirror OS where things are not quite as they seem; it can be frustrating to grok the concepts behind things like /etc/rc.conf and the ports collection. It's easy enough to try, though: Just download a bootonly ISO of FreeBSD 8.2 from ftp.freebsd.org (32-bit or 64-bit) and use the ftp-driven installation. It's not as pretty as the Red Hat Anaconda GUI, but it's still quick and easy.
Once you've ridden the learning curve and spent some time actually getting to know the innards, you may decide you'd be better off running FreeBSD on the next set of Web servers, SMTP relays, or application servers you build. FreeBSD is funny like that. I blame the Beastie.
This story, "Why aren't you using FreeBSD?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.