To make that happen, NetBSD is asking its industry partners, users, and anyone with spare change to contribute US$60,000. Matt Thomas, of NetBSD's core group, says the money will allow for "network performance improvements and embedded and realtime optimization," meaning NetBSD can finally move onto specialized hardware, an area NetBSD has struggled with in the past.
But is the ultimate goal of $60,000 appropriate for the BSD family's middle child? Is NetBSD a good long-term investment of that kind of money? Is NetBSD even worth the nearly $8,000 raised so far? Why invest in a bankrupt operating system?
To answer any of those questions, we need to identify NetBSD's target audience, though that is about as clear as obfuscated kernel code since NetBSD focuses on tiny or rare hardware. It's still mainly optimized for the VAX and Motorola 68k platforms and has problems handling over 512 MiB of RAM, so NetBSD's not for anyone developing on cutting-edge hardware. They're pretty squarely stuck in 32-bit land, so NetBSD is also not for anyone interested in high-end servers or even low-range workstations.
This all goes back to the fact that the NetBSD team was a splinter of developers from the FreeBSD team who were unhappy with the mainstream track the operating system had taken. They took some code from FreeBSD and vowed to bring it "back to its roots," reintegrated some of the 386BSD project, and continued tinkering in contentment.
So a bunch of tinkerers and code-hoarders on antiquated hardware serving their own interests doesn't resemble anything with real commercial interest. And to further the point, anyone with a real interest in a professional BSD would either choose FreeBSD or Mac OS X. Clearly, then, NetBSD is focused on noncommercial hobby-hacking and research. So does the research ever trickle down—or up, for the matter—into other projects?
According to the last several FreeBSD audits, the answer is an unqualified no. Of the almost 4 GiB of FreeBSD source code, just under 1%, some 40 MiB, of code was in-flow from NetBSD. That means that basically nothing from NetBSD has either been put or taken back by the FreeBSD project. That belies a lack of need, since FreeBSD is more or less like NetBSD on steroids.
This clearly demonstrates that there is a lack of professionalism on the NetBSD team's part: you might think they'd want to share their stuff back, but they simply haven't. In fact, they even deleted sendmail from their source code over a political tiff. Wtf!
To test out what this means in the real world, I installed both NetBSD 5.0.1 and FreeBSD 8.0, the latest respective production releases, on my 2.93 GHz HyperThreaded octocore workstation with 32 GiB RAM.
FreeBSD installed quickly, ran eve faster, and never crashed while supporting all of my hardware. NetBSD hung on install, ran sluggishly, and had no support for any of my cards or peripherals. In fact, it only saw eight of the sixteen logical HyperThreaded cores and 4 GiB RAM. I wanted to throw the machine out the window after an hour of running NetBSD.
Forget games or serving anything too. FreeBSD excelled at serving, since its threading model matches mysql natively. It started both KDE and GNOME in a heartbeat. NetBSD's threading model is old and outdated and complex POS sites barely trickled into my browser. FreeBSD was also able to run some pretty impressive OpenGL games while NetBSD fell down once again and made me shake my head in frustration. NetBSD was a truly wretched experience.
If this wasn't enough, even one of its four original developers says that NetBSD sucks! With such a ringing endorsement, it's really time to question what is going on and why anyone should take NetBSD seriously anymore.
On a positive note, at least NetBSD is not OpenBSD, an even more obscure fork run by a megalomaniacal narcissist named Theo de Raadt who personally harasses and stalks anyone who doesn't agree with him and his coding choices. But when the best point for NetBSD is that it's not something worse, it's hard to say that NetBSD is worth anything at all.
And there are other, better options. Neither Apple nor the FreeBSD Foundation are asking for tens of thousands of dollars in handouts. Download and install FreeBSD for free or shell out a trifling US$30 for Mac OS X—both products just work, unlike the travesty that is NetBSD.
In the end, the only sensible choice is to not donate to the NetBSD foundation. Supporting this moribund operating system is not worth the money—save yourself the trouble and avoid the sinking ship that is NetBSD.