Between our ESP32 prokaryotic organisms and our 24/7 Internet-enabled megafauna servers, there exists a vast and loosely-defined ecosystem of things the B2B world likes to call computer appliances. Picture a bespoke Pi 4 packaged up neatly with some Python scripts, a little fancy plastic embossing, and maybe a well-guarded in case you end up in hot water during the (long - very long, stable cash flow for generations long) maintenance contract, and you’re in the ballpark.

This is the little slice of computing heaven I currently live within. In a lot of ways it feels like what I imagine employed hackers of old in the 90s were up to. You can’t feed your data into Grafana, but you can tail -f /var/log/syslog and make a tidy profit off of your long-gestating Bash/Perl scripting skills. You probably can’t terraform destroy && terraform apply, but when was the last time you saw immutable infrastructure done right anyway? Et cetera, et similia.

Hey, you know what’s really dangerous over the 15 to 30 year lifespan of an average B2B computer appliance? Forgetting stuff. Everyone can feel their way around Debian 12, 11, maybe even 10 – but how do you debug a service that is running all the way back on Debian 4? Let’s not even get into the horrors of Windows XP-based appliances, which power more of the world than you want to know.

If only there were a freely-usable set of Unix-like operating systems, with an emphasis on keeping things very, very stable over releases, even more stable than Debian does. Enter the BSDs. Free, Open, Net, take your pick. All of them take a “don’t fix it if it ain’t broken” approach to things, which means someone who started slinging NetBSD installs back in 2007 can probably spin up a well-manicured VM of that 2007 install and reliably make their way around the system, even today, in 2024.

I’ve recently taken to learning OpenBSD for this very reason. And for reasons of security: While having the box not physically connected to the Internet creates an activation energy to doing something nasty with them that 99.9% of ne’er-do-wells will ignore, the remaining 0.1% are likely to be really motivated to want to do this. If they run into OpenBSD, however, their efforts are quite likely to be thwarted just because the blowfish is so darn spiky.