It's my first time ever reformatting and I want to do this right. A friend of mine gave me the 8.1 disc1 iso file and said that's all I need, but I'm a little confused on how to reboot with it. Also, I'm not exactly sure what I should do before reformatting to make sure that all of my files are going to be readable. Does anyone know of any simple beginner guides that could get me through this tonight?
Installing a new operating system, especially on a MacBook, is an extremely dangerous operation. You are risking losing all of your data and rendering your computer inoperable.
You state that you do not know how to boot from a CD, and you seem to misunderstand what the process of formatting does, or how it relates to re-OSing your computer.
I would recommend using the existing MacOS X install, and looking at the built in unix features. The operating system is much prettier, and nicer to the end user - and it includes almost all of the FreeBSD functionality out of the box (what's not there, you can easily obtain from the web).
I attempted to install PC-BSD on my Macbook Pro 13" Early 2011 Intel Sandy Bridge/HD 3000 i3. PC-BSD is in fact FreeBSD 7.2 in disguise with a GUI installer and features applications that can be downloaded as pre-compiled binaries (PBI). Installation was unsuccessful due to the motherboard and other components not being supported by the kernel. But Mac OS X is after all a certified (BSD-based)UNIX built on closed and open source components. The open source part is the Darwin kernel which contains FreeBSD code among other things. The aqua interface and quartz graphics layers are pure Apple.
I would recommended using MacPorts to port over yours favourite FreeBSD applications to OS X. It's a simple command-line tool that will compile and build applications for you. I found this to be the best solution for me anyway.
Is it not true that I can transfer backed up files back to to my computer and reboot Snow Leopard from an external drive if I change my mind? I understand that these two operating systems are fundamentally similar but I am learning GNU right now and I want to get more involved with Open Source software. My next computer will not be a macintosh, so I would like to get familiar with other GUIs. Plus I really like the aesthetic qualities of KDE. I am asking for help finding the resources to do this without damaging my computer. I was not born knowing how to externally boot a computer.
Sorry for posting this as an answer, I don't have commenting privileges on this board.
PS: Using time machine will store all of my files correct? Is there anything else I should do to be safe?