StormOS Hail Beta - A very stormy experience


Updated: August 30, 2010

On paper, StormOS is an excellent technological concept: it is based on Nexenta, which itself is based on Solaris, and packaged with Ubuntu user-land and package management system. In theory, you get Ubuntu-like behavior on top of a UNIX kernel. Sounds like a healthy marriage.

But can it really be the magic blending of the super-advanced ZFS filesystem, the advanced Solaris dual-architecture and the simplest package manager? Can it compare with Linux seamless live CD experience and hardware detection? What about the default choice of the Xfce desktop? How does it fare in the overall scheme of things?

Teaser

Today, I'll answer all these. Join me me for a ride of the storm - no pun intended. And remember, this is still a Beta! Things may break or not work at all!

StormOS - The reality

Unfortunately, StormOS does not live to its concept. While the live CD presented me with a simple GRUB menu on every one of my laptops, the operating system did not boot. The boot sequence would always hang on the initialization of the wired network adapter and fail. A message that read something like: timeout waiting for X adapter to initialize.

This forced me to try StormOS as a virtual machine, which means no Wireless, no fancy desktop effects, no real chance to see how well the system behaves on real hardware.

But even with a virtual machine as target platform, things did not go smoothly.

Live CD took many minutes to boot. And then, the first error:

Error

I have no idea way Xfce Trash service is, but this does not seem like a good way of greeting the user. This could also be an Xfce issue.

Either way, I had a live desktop, only the Xfce desktop manager did not start properly and the top and bottom panels were missing, which made for a rather flaky experience. I could open programs and use them, but with no way to see them if they were minimized. The only way to shuffle between them was with Alt+Tab.

Desktop live

The live session did not seem that impressive. The application start time and response was sluggish, which is the same phenomenon I encountered with Open Solaris. This has to do with the ZFS filesystem, which favors lots of RAM and takes time indexing and whatnot.

Lacking the panels, plus the startup error, plus the slow response, I decided to reboot and start the installation instead. There's no way to install the system from within the live session and you have to reboot and go back to GRUB menu.

GRUB

Like Solaris, StormOS uses dual-architecture, which adapts itself to the platform.

Installation

Installation is a text-driven wizard, which will seem somewhat out of place for Linux users or even people accustomed to Open Solaris. Furthermore, some of the questions were funny and a little odd, like the select a continent/ocean thingie:

Ocean

The partition wizard did not let me choose individual partitions. Again, this could be purely my own UNIX noobness or lack of attention to detail, but when it comes to simplicity, the installer has a lot to be desired.

Partitioning

Installing

After the installation

I was hoping the Trash Service error would be gone, but it was there, after the installation, too. However, this time I had the top and bottom panels.

Desktop error again

And the desktop:

Desktop

Applications

The basic set is pretty decent. You get Firefox, although an older version, GIMP. And there's Synaptic. No OpenOffice, although you do get AbiWord. There's Rhythmbox for music, but there was no way I could grab the test files since Samba sharing did not work, a typical Xfce problem.

Apps

Multimedia

I only did one check here. I fired up Firefox and tried to watch a Youtube clip. Firefox popped the missing plugin message. Trying to install the plugin using the browser wizard does not work. Next, I searched for Flash in the repositories, without success.

No Flash

At this point I gave up. Having gotten used to simplicity and transparency of multimedia use on Linux machines, this flash [sic] of archaic pain was too much for me, considering all the other problems I've encountered.

StormOS did not love me.

Other

There is no icon for network locations in the Places menu, which really, really annoys me. This is a pure Xfce issue and can't begin to imagine why it's so difficult to have the network sharing functionality included in the menus.

When it comes to being friendly, simple, intuitive, beautiful, and functional, Xfce lacks severely in all these areas compared to Gnome and KDE, the only advantage being lighter use of system resources, which frankly, should not be an issue if you're planning on using the ZFS filesystem. Anyone with 256MB RAM will NOT be using ZFS, so the question what kind of desktop manager you use is meaningless. Similarly, if you want to make good use of ZFS, then with 16GB RAM, it does not matter what desktop you use.

All in all, Hail is a very appropriate name for this operating system.

Conclusion

StormOS Hail, in its current form, is not a very usable operating system. It lacks so many features that people take for granted. The hardware detection and initialization is very poor, failing to boot on no less three different hardware platforms; I think this is probably the worst result I've seen so far. The live desktop was slow and buggy. The installation was old-fashioned and not very friendly. The installed desktop functioned well, but it was spartan and uninspiring.

If you want a non-Linux operating system, then Open Solaris makes more sense, although Oracle seem to have killed it, thank you corporate zombies. You get a properly functioning, beautiful Gnome desktop, decent but not perfect hardware detection and the ability to install the machine from the live session. The package management will be more difficult and less intuitive than Synaptic, but this is the only shortcoming compared to what StormOS offers.

StormOS might grow into a superb solution, the best of all worlds, but it's far from being that yet. There are too many bugs, the Xfce desktop is a geeky choice. Xfce has too many configuration and customization menus and never cooperated well with Samba shares. Plus, it looks a little pale compared to Gnome or KDE. In 2010, Xfce should be a decision made out of dire necessity, not a choice.

And I shall be testing Nexenta sometime soon.

Take care!

Cheers.

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