FreeBSD is a free and open-source Unix-like operating system descended from the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD), which was based on Research Unix. The first version of FreeBSD was released in 1993. In 2005, FreeBSD was the most popular open-source BSD operating system, accounting for more than three-quarters of all installed BSD systems.

The Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) was an operating system based on Research Unix, developed and distributed by the Computer Systems Research Group (CSRG) at the University of California, Berkeley. Today, "BSD" often refers to its descendants, such as FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, or DragonFly BSD, and systems based on those descendants.

BSD was initially called Berkeley Unix because it was based on the source code of the original Unix developed at Bell Labs. In the 1980s, BSD was widely adopted by workstation vendors in the form of proprietary Unix variants such as DEC Ultrix and Sun Microsystems SunOS due to its permissive licensing and familiarity to many technology company founders and engineers.

FreeBSD has a software repository of over 26,000 applications that are developed by third parties. Examples include: windowing systems, web browsers, email clients, office suites and so forth. In general, the project itself does not develop this software, only the framework to allow these programs to be installed, which is known as the Ports collection. Applications may either be compiled from source ("ports"), provided their licensing terms allow this, or downloaded as pre-compiled binaries ("packages"). The Ports collection supports the current and stable branches of FreeBSD. Older releases are not supported and may or may not work correctly with an up-to-date Ports collection.

FreeBSD is developed by a volunteer team located around the world. The developers use the Internet for all communication and many have not met each other in person. In addition to local user groups sponsored and attended by users, an annual conference, called BSDcon, is held by USENIX. BSDcon is not FreeBSD-specific so it deals with the technical aspects of all BSD-derived operating systems, including OpenBSD and NetBSD. In addition to BSDcon, three other annual conferences, EuroBSDCon, AsiaBSDCon and BSDCan take place in Europe, Japan and Canada respectively.

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