Install OpenBSD as Desktop using Gnome 2.20

Note that this is written from memory and not during an actial install so there may be some details that don’t fully match reality. But it should anyhow provide an overview of an typical install.



OpenBSD supports many many hardware configurations, but not all. See e.g. Supported hardware on i386 if you want to be sure. E.g. I have had problems using NVidia graphics chipsets. NVidia is known for not supplying any hardware documentation so you should avoid them to be sure. 3D acceleration is neither supported.

The hardware used in this setup is the following;

  • VIA EPIA-EK8000EG, Luke/800Mhz, Mini-ITX DDR-400, SATA, VGA, 2xLAN, Fanless
  • Seagate Momentus 5400.3 80GB 5400rpm 8MB 2.5” S-ATA
  • Kingston ValueRAM KVR400X64C3A/1024 1024Mb DDR-DIMM PC3200 400MHz CL3 184pin

This is a completely fanless solution and the performance is not in the top end. But it seems to work fine with Gnome and basic usage. When using OpenBSD you realize that much information can be received from dmesg output.


One way of making sure that the hardware is compatible is to run a OpenBSD Live CD e.g. BSDAnywhere. For this you ofcouse neen a CD drive. I use a Plextor (the best!) drive for this purpose. I have had problems with the cheapest CD/DVD drives so I don’t recommend that.

Base install of OpenBSD

First you need to do the base install of OpenBSD. The easiest way is to buy the latest and greatest OpenBSD CD set which includes a bootable CD and some brief install instructions to get you going.

The base install is rather simple and very quick (when done a few times). You only need to decide the harddisk partitioning, basic network settings, locale and some other things. I have partitioned the harddisk the following way.

This machine was primarily setup as a webserver so I wouldn’t recommend the same partitioning. E.g. /var/ is probably too big for a normal desktop machine and /usr/ too small. I have e.g. gnome, xfce, openoffice, firefox, thunderbird, ruby, mysql etc. installed on this machine.

$ df -h  
Filesystem     Size    Used   Avail Capacity  Mounted on
/dev/wd0a      2.0G    283M    1.6G    15%    /
/dev/wd0h     43.8G   28.0M   41.6G     0%    /home
/dev/wd0d      2.0G   22.0K    1.9G     0%    /tmp
/dev/wd0g      4.9G    3.7G    974M    80%    /usr
/dev/wd0e     19.7G   49.3M   18.7G     0%    /var

Also the install instrucions on is great. I would recommend to read them through once before you start.

It is important that you install all sets when X is going to be installed. When used as a server (with no X) you may choose to exclude the x* sets.

I assume that the base install worked ok and you are logged in as root.

The default editor in OpenBSD is vi which I’m not comfortable with. So the first thing I do is to install nano editor via pre-compiled packages. See packages and ports to learn more about this excellent system.

# export PKG_PATH=
# pkg_add nano-2.0.7

Now you are able to configure you system. Start by adding this PKG_PATH environment variable in your .profile. It will become very useful as you are going to install a number of packages.

After completing base install you have a very basic X install. Next step is to install gnome desktop.


Before installing gnome you should make sure that works. Try this by running

# startx

If you are lucky X just starts up and you will we a basic X windowing system (in this case fvwm). If there is some problem you can terminate X by hitting CTRL-ALT-Backspace. Also here a good starting point is the OpenBSD FAQ to resolve any issues.

I was lucky so I can continue to next step.

Install Gnome

You may choose to install gnome in basic shell or in X environment. I realized that the keyboardlayout wasn’t configured correctly when I was in X. Set keyboard map as follows.

setxkbmap -layout "se"

See man setxkbmap for more options.

Next you need to install the gnome packages. This is really simple but takes a minute to complete. Gnome is not the smallest desktop environment.

pkg_add gnome-session-2.20.3p1
pkg_add gdm-2.20.2p1

During package install some important install notes are displayed which are required to complete the install. For instance a short tip on how to start gdm at boot is one of these messages. If you have lost the messages you can see all install messages for all installed packages using pkg_info command.

pkg_info -aM

This is really enough to run gnome. Try it!


Now you can install other useful packages in a full featured Gnome environmen.

pkg_add gnome-desktop-2.20.3p0
pkg_add gnome-media-2.20.1p0
pkg_add gnome-panel-2.20.2p2
pkg_add gnome-terminal-2.18.4p0
pkg_add mozilla-firefox-
pkg_add mozilla-thunderbird-
pkg_add openoffice-2.3.1p0
pkg_add evince-2.20.2p0
pkg_add gedit-2.20.4
pkg_add gedit-plugins-2.20.0p1
pkg_add transmission-1.05p0.tgz

Remember to check the install messages. Good luck !

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