Open Solaris 2008.05 - Are you kidding me?


Updated: November 27, 2008

This article is a summary of my four-hour experience with Open Solaris 2008.05. How was it? Well, in one word: good. In two words: NOT good.

I know I'm going to get flamed for writing this article, but it's OK. One, it may help some people learn from my example; reap what the other hath sown, they say. Two, if this operating system becomes any better because of my humble effort, then it is worth it. In this article, I'll review the highs and lows of my experimentation with Open Solaris 2008.05, in an honest attempt to get it installed and working on my machine.

Please remember that while I have quite an extensive knowledge of Linux, I know very little about Solaris, which is UNIX based. Yes, the two share the same history, but don't get confused. They are as similar as Windows 3.11 and Windows XP are. Now, I'm a Solaris newb just like you. Still, I'm a Linux System Administrator, love the command line and am willing to get my hands dirty. Even so, can Open Solaris deliver? The simple answer is: no. If you want to know more, please read on.

Live CD

For a strange reason, it was very, very slow. Hence, my entire live CD experience is limited to switching the resolution to something more acceptable to my eyes. This worked fine, though.

Boot screen

Desktop

Resolution

I did notice that my sound card was not detected, which is a complete shame, since I was using the generic ES1371 driver, which probably works even in DOS. But I was hoping to fix that later.

Installation

All in all, it was uneventful and quite similar to what Linux offers, except the partitioning. It was a strange and alien experience. First, I had no idea what devices to pick. There was no notation, nothing. Well, the hard disk was empty. BTW, the last time I tried Open Solaris (version 11, with Java desktop, if I recall), the partitioning step was much friendlier.

Anyhow, I assumed the Partitioner would let me choose. So I decided to create two partitions. I know, I know, this is not Linux, but I'm using the skill and knowledge based on previous cases. If I can create separate partitions in both Windows and Linux, in order to separate the system from documents, why not here?

Partitioning

Partitioning 2

This turned out to be a mistake. There can be only one Solaris partition. I do not know if this is the "limitation" of the ZFS filesystem, which allow you to manage your disks in a sort of highly flexible virtual RAID / LVM with user quotas enabled, but it just is.

Warning

I amended the layout to a single partition and moved on. Another mistake. The installation failed.

Failed

It turns out that I had to format and partition the disk BEFOREHAND, using a command line tool.

Why, oh why? It's no longer 1993. GUI partitioners exists in just about any operating system. Even a simple text, menu-driven tool would have worked, something similar to, let's say Slackware 11.

No, the user is forced to play with format and fdisk commands in the terminal. And you need root permissions. BTW, the root password is: opensolaris.

I tried again, this time selecting Use the whole disk. It worked. Except the installation was slow, taking more than 2 hours. I may be stupid or unlucky - or both - but average Linux distros take 15 minutes to install. Well, it finally completed and I rebooted into the installed system.

First login

Hardware support

My sound driver was not working. Not to worry, there's the Device Driver Utility. It is supposed to tell you what's missing.

Missing driver

Device Driver Utility

The Refresh button will actually lookup for missing drivers on the web, if you have networking enabled. Which I did ... two out of three times. For some reason, the first time after the installation, Open Solaris would not let me network. Trying to manually manage the network threw a warning about reading some manual page. OK ...

Driver found

But my driver was found! I clicked Install Driver. It worked. Only I had no sound. And the Utility again reported the driver was missing. Tried installing again. Did not help. Tried rebooting ...

Where the hell is the reboot button?

Under System, you have the logout and shutdown buttons. No reboot. Tried shutting down. Open Solaris ignored me and waited its desired minute. Instead of shutting down, it dropped to a text console.

After manually rebooting, I still had no sound driver. I also tried powering the Device Driver Utility as root from the terminal, but could not manage to find the name of the binary. On the other hand, Samba sharing with NTFS support was working ... Go figure.

Samba sharing

There it is:

Samba sharing works

Multimedia support

Well, I could not hear anything, but I still gave it a shot. I was told I did not have the codecs. But unlike Linux distros that point you to the right source, I was merely informed of the problem.

After this, I gave up. No sound, no reboot button, slow as hell ... Horrible. Open Solaris is no longer installed on my machine. And until something radical changes, will not be.

Conclusion

Open Solaris combines the best of 2008 with the worst of 1998. On one hand, something as trivial as the driver for ES1371 is missing, whereas you can happily browse the NTFS partitions on remote Windows machines.

The operating system is terribly slow, both during the installation and afterwards. It simply limps on the 512MB given, whereas most Linuxes with Gnome, the same desktop evnironment used here, are fast and responsive. Open Solaris may appeal to the UNIX veterans who might want to give their favorite work tool a bit of fresh looks, but it is definitely not ready for the general public.

I wanted to test the marvels of ZFS, but it seems that step is too far into the future. Until I can reboot my machine like a normal person and have the basic stuff working, there won't be anything advanced worth trying.

Compared to what the market offers, Open Solaris lags an average 3-4 years behind Linux. I do believe lots of the stuff can be solved with lots of reading and lots of painful typing on the command line, buy why bother? I do this for a living, I don't want to do that at home. The average user, even an advanced Linux user, will be intimidated by the partitioning woes and terrified by the lack of (familiar) accessibility to core functions.

For now, truly, Open Solaris has really nothing to offer that you can't get in Linux. It's sad and disappointing. I truly hope these suicide mistakes will be mercilessly crushed in the following releases, so that people can enjoy yet another stable and safe operating system.

That's it. Now take your pitchforks and storm the castle. I'm waiting for the angry mob!

P.S. If you know some magic that I don't, I'll be glad to hear. I'll post your solutions, with due credits of course, under each specific section. The solutions must be human, though.

Cheers.

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