Contributed by Jordan K. Hubbard <jkh@FreeBSD.org>.
The FreeBSD project had its genesis in the early part of 1993, partially as an outgrowth of the ``Unofficial 386BSD Patchkit'' by the patchkit's last 3 coordinators: Nate Williams, Rod Grimes and myself.
Our original goal was to produce an intermediate snapshot of 386BSD in order to fix a number of problems with it that the patchkit mechanism just was not capable of solving. Some of you may remember the early working title for the project being ``386BSD 0.5'' or ``386BSD Interim'' in reference to that fact.
386BSD was Bill Jolitz's operating system, which had been up to that point suffering rather severely from almost a year's worth of neglect. As the patchkit swelled ever more uncomfortably with each passing day, we were in unanimous agreement that something had to be done and decided to try and assist Bill by providing this interim ``cleanup'' snapshot. Those plans came to a rude halt when Bill Jolitz suddenly decided to withdraw his sanction from the project and without any clear indication of what would be done instead.
It did not take us long to decide that the goal remained worthwhile, even without Bill's support, and so we adopted the name ``FreeBSD'', coined by David Greenman. Our initial objectives were set after consulting with the system's current users and, once it became clear that the project was on the road to perhaps even becoming a reality, I contacted Walnut Creek CDROM with an eye towards improving FreeBSD's distribution channels for those many unfortunates without easy access to the Internet. Walnut Creek CDROM not only supported the idea of distributing FreeBSD on CD but went so far as to provide the project with a machine to work on and a fast Internet connection. Without Walnut Creek CDROM's almost unprecedented degree of faith in what was, at the time, a completely unknown project, it is quite unlikely that FreeBSD would have gotten as far, as fast, as it has today.
The first CDROM (and general net-wide) distribution was FreeBSD 1.0, released in December of 1993. This was based on the 4.3BSD-Lite (``Net/2'') tape from U.C. Berkeley, with many components also provided by 386BSD and the Free Software Foundation. It was a fairly reasonable success for a first offering, and we followed it with the highly successful FreeBSD 1.1 release in May of 1994.
Around this time, some rather unexpected storm clouds formed on the horizon as Novell and U.C. Berkeley settled their long-running lawsuit over the legal status of the Berkeley Net/2 tape. A condition of that settlement was U.C. Berkeley's concession that large parts of Net/2 were ``encumbered'' code and the property of Novell, who had in turn acquired it from AT&T some time previously. What Berkeley got in return was Novell's ``blessing'' that the 4.4BSD-Lite release, when it was finally released, would be declared unencumbered and all existing Net/2 users would be strongly encouraged to switch. This included FreeBSD, and the project was given until the end of July 1994 to stop shipping its own Net/2 based product. Under the terms of that agreement, the project was allowed one last release before the deadline, that release being FreeBSD 18.104.22.168.
FreeBSD then set about the arduous task of literally re-inventing itself from a completely new and rather incomplete set of 4.4BSD-Lite bits. The ``Lite'' releases were light in part because Berkeley's CSRG had removed large chunks of code required for actually constructing a bootable running system (due to various legal requirements) and the fact that the Intel port of 4.4 was highly incomplete. It took the project until November of 1994 to make this transition, at which point it released FreeBSD 2.0 to the net and on CDROM (in late December). Despite being still more than a little rough around the edges, the release was a significant success and was followed by the more robust and easier to install FreeBSD 2.0.5 release in June of 1995.
We released FreeBSD 2.1.5 in August of 1996, and it appeared to be popular enough among the ISP and commercial communities that another release along the 2.1-STABLE branch was merited. This was FreeBSD 22.214.171.124, released in February 1997 and capping the end of mainstream development on 2.1-STABLE. Now in maintenance mode, only security enhancements and other critical bug fixes will be done on this branch (RELENG_2_1_0).
FreeBSD 2.2 was branched from the development mainline (``-CURRENT'') in November 1996 as the RELENG_2_2 branch, and the first full release (2.2.1) was released in April, 1997. Further releases along the 2.2 branch were done in the Summer and Fall of '97, the last of which (2.2.8) appeared in November, 1998. The first official 3.0 release appeared in October, 1998 and spelled the beginning of the end for the 2.2 branch.
The tree branched again on Jan 20, 1999, leading to the 4.0-CURRENT and 3.X-STABLE branches. From 3.X-STABLE, 3.1 was released on February 15th, 1999 and 3.2 on May 15, 1999. The most current release on this branch is 3.3, which was released on September 16th, 1999.
Long term development projects continue to take place in the 4.0-CURRENT branch, and SNAPshot releases of 4.0 on CDROM (and, of course, on the net) are continually made available as work progresses.