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NetBSD is one of the freely redistributable ports of the BSD Unix-like operating system, along with FreeBSD and OpenBSD.

NetBSD and FreeBSD are derivatives of 386BSD, while OpenBSD was a splinter group from NetBSD around the end of 1995. NetBSD was the first open-source BSD derivative to produce a formal release, with 0.8 in May 1993. The current (September 2002) release of NetBSD is version 1.6.

NetBSD has been ported to a vast number of architectures; the NetBSD motto is "Of course it runs NetBSD". The binaries for the 58+ architectures are built from a single source code tree, so feature additions in machine independent areas benefit all platforms immediately, with no re-porting required. Driver development is also machine independent, with the driver for a specific card serving whether that card is in a PCI slot on an i386, Alpha, PowerPC, SPARC, or other architecture with PCI buses. This platform independence helps greatly in developing embedded systems, especially as starting with NetBSD 1.6, the whole toolchain of compilers, assemblers, linkers and other tool fully supports crosscompiling.

NetBSD features its own collection of 3rd party software, the NetBSD Packages Collection, which consists of more than 3.000 packages as of Jan 2003. Installing things like GNOME, KDE, the apache server or perl are just a matter of changing into the right directory and typing "make install". This will fetch sources, unpack, configure, build and install the package such that it can be removed again later. An alternative to compiling everyting is to use a precompiled binary package. Either way, any prerequirements/dependencies will be installed automatically by the packages system, there is no need for manual intervention.

Following its mantra of portability, the NetBSD Packages System has been made portable not only across all the hardware platforms that run NetBSD, but it also works (with the help of some GNU autoconf based bootstrap-pkgsrc system) on many other operating systems like Linux, Solaris, Darwin/MacOS X etc.

A version based on the GNU toolset is currently being developped by Debian as Debian GNU/NetBSD.

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