Updated: December 2, 2011
I really do not know why I happen to have a soft spot for Solaris, which is no more, may it rest in peace. But for some reason, I always felt it could be as good as Linux. But then, release after release, it never quite is. Then, there's the so called wasted-effort dilemma. If you happen to take an operating system for a testdrive, and it fails you two hours later on, should you scrap the whole project or write whatever you find, no matter how bad it is?
Nexenta Core Platform is an OpenSolaris-based system with a Ubuntu application base and the flexible and powerful APT package management. Sounds like a marvelous idea. But then, I have already tested another such system, with little success. Well, a man must never lose hope. Let's see what Nexenta 3.0 can or can't do. Expectations are high, the fear even higher.
Booting and all that
You get a simple GRUB and then you're straight into the installation, no live experience. This is not a good thing if you like to battle-test your hardware compatibility. Moreover, Nexenta wants to install itself on the entire disk, so woe any other operating system you may have there. For this reason, I did not perform a physical installation and went for a virtual machine instead.
The installation is text-based, with a long, protracted wizard that will ask you every conceivable question. It feels a bit like 2005. Combined with the GRUB menu, which reads Hardy in the menu entries and Debian in the logo at the bottom, you get a feeling something is wrong here. First, a three-year-old application base might not be that bad, buy why? It's not like you're committing to a century of legacy support like RedHat does for its customers. Second, why is Debian mentioned separately?
Never mind that, questions, questions.
Then, you're waiting for the installation to complete. And it is a very long wait. At a certain point, when the progress bar refused to budge from zero percent for some twenty minutes, I considered halting the system and ending the test, but then it started inching slowly. All in all, the installation took almost two hours, which is a terribly long time for a system that neatly fits into a CD image.
Once the installation was complete, I rebooted.
No GUI for me!
Nexenta boot eventually ended up in a command-line interface. All right. Trying to start runlevel 5 rebooted the system, so apparently, things are a bit different than what I expected. No matter. I went online and started reading.
It seems Nexenta installs without a graphical interface, somewhat like the Ubuntu server. But Gnome and Xfce are available in the repositories. Only getting them was impossible, since I received a handful of 404 errors when using apt. The repositories are either misconfigured or missing altogether. This meant I was not going to be able to install the desktop and do some proper testing that people at home need, but given the experience so far, this does not seem like a great loss.
Well, at this stage, I realized going back to 1934 is not really how i envisioned that particular Saturday afternoon, so I ended the experiment and wrote this article. Hardly inspiring, most likely a waste of time, but it's a review nonetheless.
Nexenta is by far the worst experience I've had with Solaris forks. In fact, it is probably even worse than OpenSolaris 2008.05, which says a lot about Nexenta. And since Oracle has officially assassinated the project, you're much better off with OpenIndiana. It's not as friendly as Linux, popular, portable or anything alike, but it does show steady signs of progress, it works, and there might be something of value for the desktop user one day.
On the other hand, Nexenta is a confusing amalgamation of core concepts from different operating system spheres, resulting in an alpha-quality integration. If this were a dead project, I would not have bothered, but based on news articles, dates and release numbers, it seems as if things are being done, which is all the more confusing given the end result. All this brings me to my initial dilemma, whether one should write a review even if the findings are almost entirely negative. I guess the answer is yes. I've done that on several occasions, including Linux distributions, so the Solaris forks should be no exception. It may sound like bashing, but it's in fact the reality.
Nexenta is not a usable product. It saddens me to say that, but it lacks everything the common user would ever want or need. Moreover, in a way, it also puts another bullet in the corpse of a dream that UNIX forks might make a meaningful stand in the operating system market. If you're into open-source and alike, then stick with Linux.
Well, that would be all. Stay safe.