Quick Steps to an OpenBSD Desktop

*Well, to a Graphical User Interface (GUI) on OpenBSD

This document refers to OpenBSD 3.x and has additional notes up to release 4.1. The main difference between versions is:

So, if you are thinking about using OpenBSD with XOrg, say release 3.9 with XOrg, then refer to notes [XOrg]. If you want XFree86, the follow notes for 3.x.


If you must have a GUI, for whatever reason. In my case, people at the office cannot use a terminal. Don't worry, there is an easy solution. The catch, you will have implement it using the terminal (with this guide).

This can be done out of the box or with some extended configration. The default vga configuration presents a xterm console and works with 256 colours.

Getting the necessary sets for X

From a fresh install

If you are doing a fresh install, i.e. in the middle of installing from your CD-ROM; then answer like this:

Do you expect to run the X Window System [y]?


The following sets are available for extraction.

Enter filename, `list', `all', or `done'.

You may de-select a set by prepending a '-' to its name.

Then you should select at least `xbase', `xetc', `xshare', `xfont', `xserv'.

If you are already operational, don't re-install! Do this:

Either mount your CD (mount /dev/cd0a /mnt) or download the packages from http:// spargel.kd85.com/ftp/pub/OpenBSD/4.1/i386/. Change the `4.1' to the release you are working on, say `3.9'.

Making sure that you are ready for installation

From OpenBSD 3.9 to 4.1 (not sure about previous ones), check if machdep.allowaperture is set to 2 in your /etc/sysctl.conf file. If not, change it. You can use sysctl -w machdep.allowaperture=2 to activate it without rebooting.
For older releases of OpenBSD check if kern.machdep is set to 1 in your /etc/sysctl.conf file. If not, change it. You can use sysctl -w kern.machdep=1 to activate it without rebooting.
* I won't discuss why it is `1' instead of `2'. Too long for what we are trying to do.

Get a working configuration file

[XOrg] XOrg uses the /etc/X11/xorg.conf configuration file.
[XF86] XFree86 uses the /etc/X11/XF86config configuration file.

The standard configuration file is setup for vga and can only do 256 colours. It could do more than fine for doing configuring, but if you want to use a nice desktop, you will need to select the right display driver. And produces extremely light desktop that is suitable for kernel hacking. If you don't like it you should install another environment like xfce4, KDE, GNOME,.... (NOT covered here).

For keyboard and mouse there is almost noting to do.
If you want to use your windows keys, you have to select a 105 keys keyboard.

Most easy is to use the graphical configuration utility, which if yo u get it running your work is mostly done.
[XOrg] XOrg uses the graphical configuration utility /usr/X11R6/bin/xorgcfg or you may use its command line utility /usr/X11R6/bin/xorgconfig.
[XF86] XFree86 uses the graphical configuration utility /usr/X11R6/bin/xf86cfg or you may use its command line utility /usr/X11R6/xf86config3.

Be aware that the old X server is also present with its programs and utilities. Please, do NOT mix X systems unless you know what you are doing. Use either XOrg or XF86, not both.

You can start X manualy typing X or xinit. I use startx which also loads the desktop environment.
NOTE: You can kill the X server with "ctl+alt+BckSp" if it's not working well.

I you have a working X server, you can install or choose another windows manager. By default fvwm is used. For this you have to edit /etc/X11/xdm/Xsession and add lines like the ones shown below to get a list of window managers in your display manager. This configuration file belongs to xdm and is also used by other display managers.

after failsafe and before "esac"

kde | default)
    xterm &

Add xdm_flags="" to /etc/rc.conf.local, or you can also edit xdm_flags in /etc/rc.conf from NO to "". There are different opinions about both methods. The first is more convenient with upgrades. You can also use another display manager such as kdm or gdm (for KDE and GNOME). These steps are explained in other guides.

It is better to not run X as root. It is better to never run as root at all and use sudo instead. So once you created another user, you will have to use that account to log in.

Some steps to configure a normal user.

Create an account with /sbin/adduser or /sbin/useradd Make sure you add yourself to the group "wheel", this neccesery to use sudo. You could also add yourself to the "operators" group to get access to most devices on your system.

To use sudo you have to edit /etc/sudoers and uncomment

# Uncomment to allow people in group wheel to run all commands
# %wheel ALL=(ALL) ALL

# Same thing without a password

* Please check for spelling and grammatical errors.

Just a few comments from autors wich can be deleted eventually
original comment from William Backman@:
"Enjoy. It is what I do, perhaps I am crazy. I hope that by putting this out there, people will improve it and show me a better way."

comment from first extender Renzo Fabriek@:
"This has been done (hopefully in a good way), and William Backman@ his words have lost their way in the added content. He has asked for it :)"
If you have things to add or correct please mail it to me at "rfabriek [at] spymac [dot] com" or use the adres mentioned on "openbdsupport.org"

Updating so that the lesser intuitive and adventurous can use a great OS.
Diego Arimany, "darimany[at]SitioDeLideres[dot]com"