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OpenSolaris 2008.05 is robust and ready

By Gary Sims on September 16, 2008 (4:00:00 PM)

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Sun has been getting serious about opening up its software for a few years now. OpenSolaris, an open source Unix operating system like Linux and BSD, released in May, is its latest foray into the open source arena. I found OpenSolaris to be a production-ready OS that works equally well on desktops and servers.

OpenSolaris is released under Sun's Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL), which isn't compatible with the GNU Public License (GPL) used by Linux. This means that lots of the technology in OpenSolaris won't be making its way into Linux any day soon. Also, OpenSolaris isn't 100% free, as some components are available only in binary form under the OpenSolaris Binary License.

Installation

OpenSolaris comes as a live CD, which means it can be booted directly from CD without needing to be installed first. Once booted it can be installed to the hard disk. I downloaded it and burned the ISO image onto a CD, then booted up my test machine. You will need a modern AMD or Intel CPU and at least 512MB of memory to boot and run OpenSolaris.

Booting is painless. You need to answer only two questions -- what keyboard you have and what desktop language you want -- before the desktop appears. OpenSolaris uses the GNOME desktop environment, and this release comes with GNOME 2.20.2.

If you just want to play with OpenSolaris a bit, you can do that straight away and everything will run from the CD. I wanted to install OpenSolaris, so to do that I used the "Install OpenSolaris" tool on the desktop.

Installation is handled by a graphical installer. You need to select where OpenSolaris will be installed (noting that all data on the specified partition or disk will be erased), your time zone, the default language support, and locale-specific date formats. Finally, you need to set a root password, create one user account, and give the host a name. Sun have a lot of documentation to guide you through the installation process, including documents on installing OpenSolaris under VirtualBox and how to make a dual boot system.

Using it

The default installation of OpenSolaris contains several well-known applications, including Firefox (2.0.0.14), Thunderbird (2.0.0.12) and the GIMP (2.4.1), but surprisingly neither OpenOffice.org nor Sun's Star Office is included.

To install an additional application you need to use the Package Manager, available from System -> Administration -> Package Manager). The OpenSolaris package repository contains more than 10,000 packages, including compilers, the Apache Web server, MySQL database, and PHP. It was while I was attempting to install OpenOffice.org that I came across my first hiccup.

By default OpenSolaris uses a service called Network Auto Magic, which configures the network interface automatically and tries to get an address via DHCP. On my home network it did that much, but for some reason it didn't pick up my DNS servers. This meant that Package Manager couldn't resolve the names of servers and so couldn't connect to the Internet.

To resolve this I had to added name servers to /etc/resolv.conf and copy /etc/nsswitch.dns to /etc/nsswitch.conf. Once DNS was working I was able to install OpenOffice.org easily.

Unique features

OpenSolaris comes with some unique technologies, such as ZFS and DTrace, which can make it an attractive option for business.

The Zetabyte File System (ZFS) is a powerful file system designed for high storage capacities. It goes beyond filesystems like ext3 and NTFS by combining a filesystem, volume management, and RAID into one package.

DTrace is a system tracing tool that enables you to explore your system to understand how it works, track down performance problems across many layers of software, or locate the cause of aberrant behavior. You can learn more about it in the Solaris Dynamic Tracing Guide.

The question is why?

As I was using OpenSolaris, I asked myself, why would I want to use this rather than Linux? On the desktop, I don't think their is much of a convincing answer. OpenSolaris uses GNOME, as does Linux (if you want it), so the user experience isn't going to be much different. The available applications are similar, with all the popular open source applications available on both. OpenSolaris does try to support a large range of hardware and includes support for Nvidia graphics cards. It also provides a Device Driver Utility to try resolve driver problems.

In the server space, the argument is slightly different because of ZFS and DTrace. Without them, the verdict would be similar to that of the desktop, since all the major network services are available on both Linux and OpenSolaris, including newer technologies such as iSCSI and Xen. But ZFS isn't really available for Linux (unless you want the FUSE implementation), and ZFS in other operating systems, such as FreeBSD, is still considered experimental. ZFS support makes OpenSolaris an interesting proposition.

Commercial support and the future

If you plan to use OpenSolaris in business, chances are you'll want support from Sun. Currently the company offers commercial support for up to 18 months on any OpenSolaris release. By contrast, Canonical provide commercial support for Ubuntu Long Term Support versions for three years for desktops and five years for servers. Sun's support interval may not be sufficient for some organizations, but it is a reasonable offering.

The next release of OpenSolaris, scheduled for November, promises such features as network installs, GNOME 2.24, KDE 4.1 as an alternative desktop environment, and infrastructure to turn any OpenSolaris host into a iSCSI target. The 2008.11 release should also offer improvements in the Web stacks available from the online repository. There are plans to provide the 10 most popular Web development frameworks (such as Rails and Django), provide the 10 most popular content management frameworks (including Zope, Plone, Joomla!, Drupal, and SilverStripe), and offer other similar frameworks for wiki and blogging.

Conclusion

By releasing OpenSolaris under a license that isn't compatible with the GPL, Sun has made sure that certain key technologies will remain the purview of Solaris. If you are an open source purist, you might not like the way OpenSolaris is licensed and packaged, but if you are more pragmatic, OpenSolaris is a good choice, especially for use on a server.

Gary Sims has a degree in Business Information Systems from a British university. He worked for 10 years as a software engineer and is now a freelance Linux consultant and writer.

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on OpenSolaris 2008.05 is robust and ready

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OpenSolaris 2008.05 is robust and ready

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 83.241.11.135] on September 16, 2008 05:31 PM
It is possible to use ZFS under FreeBSD 7, it's still not stable enough, BUT it is possible, meaning, OpenSolaris ain't the only system to support it

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Re: OpenSolaris 2008.05 is robust and ready

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.126.58.211] on September 18, 2008 02:38 AM
I'd wait until FreeBSD 7.1 or the more capable 8.0 until I could consider ZFS support stable. As for other systems, I believe that Apple is going to support it in Snow Leopard.

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OpenSolaris 2008.05 is robust and ready

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.168.4.66] on September 16, 2008 08:26 PM
I can't even boot it on my PC with "maintenance mode" message come out. I don't think I can use it even if I wanted to. This is simply dissapointing. Stable but less features.

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OpenSolaris - stable device driver solution?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.105.99.48] on September 17, 2008 03:24 AM
Is it true that drivers written for open solaris' device driver scheme can be expected to work for every version of open solaris? I would consider that to be _huge_ feature. There would be no need to compile a driver for the specific version/distribution and you could be sure that the software you own or write would have a terrific lifespan without any reworking/recompiling/repackaging. It would be easier to install software as well.

You all know that linux will never have that ability...

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Re: OpenSolaris - stable device driver solution?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 194.158.241.118] on September 23, 2008 11:33 AM
"Is it true that drivers written for open solaris' device driver scheme can be expected to work for every version of open solaris?"

Yes. Not only are the drivers forward and backward compatible (thanks to DDI - "Driver Development Interface"), but the ABI ("Application Binary Interface") is backwards compatible as well, meaning that one can run binaries over twenty years old on a modern Solaris release.

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OpenSolaris 2008.05 is robust and ready

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.34.24.136] on September 17, 2008 04:58 AM
Don't use OpenSolaris until Sun gets off its @$$ and releases it under the GPLv3 like they've said they would.

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Re: OpenSolaris 2008.05 is robust and ready

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.62.165.183] on September 18, 2008 02:14 PM
They never said they would release it under GPLv3, and why should it matter unless you are a GPL religious zealot. If this is you, then stick with Linux and pretend the rest of the world doesn't exist. If you are pragmatic and open to the possibility that there are other OS out there that offer BETTER features despite not being tagged with a GPL license, then you might find some real value in OpenSolaris or OS/X or whatever else comes along.

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Re: OpenSolaris 2008.05 is robust and ready

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 194.158.241.118] on September 23, 2008 11:37 AM
They never did say that, only that they were "considering it".

And as a member of the Solaris community, I sincerely hope OpenSolaris stays under CDDL. It's not as fascist of a license as GPL licenses are.

The OpenSolaris community already vehemently debated the issue, and decided that GPL licenses would not be a good fit for OpenSolaris.
Plus, we already have great synergy and partnership with our colleagues in the BSD communities, CDDL never seems to hurt them.

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OpenSolaris 2008.05 is robust and ready

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 189.42.228.115] on September 17, 2008 03:25 PM
Can I play WoW in it?

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OpenSolaris 2008.05 is robust and ready

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 217.166.81.170] on September 18, 2008 03:25 PM
Don't wine about WoW, it rots your brain, drinkings better for you, might drop an epic lay.

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OpenSolaris 2008.05 is robust and ready

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 63.228.49.15] on September 19, 2008 01:44 PM
"They never said they would release it under GPLv3, and why should it matter unless you are a GPL religious zealot."

http://www.linux-watch.com/news/NS8979755794.html

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OpenSolaris 2008.05 is robust and ready

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 81.172.33.111] on September 20, 2008 04:05 PM
"If you are an open source purist, you might not like the way OpenSolaris is licensed and packaged, but if you are more pragmatic..."

┬┐Open source purist?, ┬┐more pragmatic? I'm a free software user and the most pragmatic person ever, even more than you, so confuse and wrong about terms as free, open, purist or pragmartic... need to come back to primary school?

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OpenSolaris 2008.05 is robust and ready

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.168.77.64] on September 29, 2008 10:30 AM
Ah yes, give me support for ATL1 network adapter (like, on ASUS P5K mobos), and I would use OpenSolaris gladly! So far, this hardware is Linux (or Windows)-only.

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OpenSolaris 2008.05 is robust and ready

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 201.37.236.220] on October 03, 2008 02:08 AM
I'm analyzing OpenSolaris 2008.05 under VMware under OpenSUSE 11, and I can say that OpenSolaris is great for the development platform I use: Apache, Tomcat, PostgreSQL, PHP, jEdit and Netbeans, I'm really liking it's organization, the directory structure and everything else,

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OpenSolaris 2008.05 is robust and ready

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 80.126.111.181] on October 09, 2008 12:24 AM
The reasons Sun picked the CDDL may not have much to do with Linux at all. There seems to be an increasing number of Linux users who have never taken an interest in any other UNIX or any other license model and think there's nothing else besides the Linux kernel and the GNU toolset. UNIX has been around much, much longer than Linux and, as the perl guys say: There's More Than One Way To Do It. Diversity is a Good Thing, as it gives us choice. I've been running Linux since 1994, but I find it great fun to play around with (Open)Solaris and learn to appreciate the differences.

Other reasons to try OpenSolaris: it's quite solid, helps you understand portability, learn about concepts like POSIX, improves your shell scripting skills beyond GNU userland tools (not all greps grep alike). Don't be afraid to try something new, your Linux skills transfer easily and there's plenty of documentation around :)

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