Updated: June 16, 2017
I don't want to brag or sound like a badass, but sometimes I like to play it risky. Like trying to run and test a UNIX operating system. This is easier said than done, because the market offerings are far and few in between, and you have to sample carefully.
One of the candidates is OpenIndiana, which I've tested a good six years ago, as a DistroWatch feature story. It wasn't very noob friendly, but it did fairly well, given the circumstances. Fast forward to 2017, I want to see whether UNIX has any viable merit for the desktop masses. This time, our scapegoat is OpenIndiana 2017.04 Hipster, the dev branch.
Hardware choice & live session
I wasn't really willing to deploy OpenIndiana on my Lenovo G50 machine, because I wasn't entirely sure how ZFS would handle the disk with sixteen partitions and a complex multi-boot setup. Also, I wasn't sure if Hipster would work well with UEFI, so I decided to start humble. A virtual machine test, to begin with.
VirtualBox was a no-go for some reason, but it did work with VMware Player. Eventually, I did get into the live session, featuring a humble 1280x1024px resolution and no immediate integration.
There wasn't much to do in the live session really. There isn't even a program to open an MP3 file, so I decided to skip any in-depth testing and just go forth with the installation procedure. Don't worry, we'll talk about all the necessary bits and pieces soon.
I let the system eat the entire disk, waited for about an hour for the procedure to complete, and then rebooted. OpenIndiana did not automatically log into a graphic session, for some reason. I had the command line, and I had to type startx to get going. This did not happen on subsequent boots. Anyway, I had my desktop, and it was time to begin fiddling.
Raiders of the Lost UNIX
You get a relatively reserved, humble MATE desktop, with hints of the SunOS color scheme. Let's not forget that OpenIndiana came to be as a result of Oracle stopping development on OpenSolaris. If you compare the two, many years down the line, the differences aren't that big, and that isn't really a good sign.
This one turned out to be much easier than I expected. I just mounted the ISO, copied and extracted the tar.gz archive, executed the install script, and the VMware Tools were configured correctly. However, I still had only a 4:3 aspect ratio screen, and no mouse integration. I guess it's as good as it gets.
The default set is very slim, very basic. Firefox, Thunderbird, but no music player, no office suite, very rudimentary. So I started wondering, all right, how does one go about pimping their Hipster the same way they would do that with a typical Linux distro?
Package management & new software
This turned out to be quite weird. And more hostile than the Build 148 test. Trying to search for MP3 software did nothing. There's no GUI for this, at all. It's been removed, and it's not coming back, so you need to use the command-line pkg tool. Then, you also need to enable additional repositories (called publishers), before you can do any meaningful installations. Very nerdy, very annoying.
I decided to add the encumbered repo - which has some proprietary software like VLC, and the separate repo for LibreOffice, available both with the 4.x and 5.x builds. All too much hassle for something that is so simple and given in Linux.
pfexec pkg set-publisher -O http://pkg.openindiana.org/hipster-encumbered hipster-encumbered
pfexec pkg set-publisher -G '*' -g http://sfe.opencsw.org/localhostoih localhostoih #new OpenIndiana Hipster
Then, I tried to install LibreOffice, but it complained:
pkg install: No matching version of desktop/application/libreoffice4-desktop-int can be installed:
Reason: No version matching 'require' dependency email@example.com.
151.1.8:20161028T214000Z can be installed
Eventually, I figured I needed to manually satisfy some dependencies, after which the procedure worked fine. You cannot have both version 4.x and 5.x at the same time, so you must remove one. At the very least, you can run multiple transactions at the same time.
pfexec pkg install pkg://localhostoih/library/g++/icu pkg://localhostoih/system/library/g++/boost libreoffice4-desktop-int libreoffice4
pkg install -v libreoffice52 libreoffice52-desktop-int
The update process also seems to have worked fine, and I also added several other tools and utilities that were missing from the rather nude, spartan default set, like dconf-editor, which I needed to tweak the desktop. I was able to add new icons and themes, but the system area did not respect my choice of Faba and Moka, so there's a bit of inconsistency in what you're trying to achieve. It feels raw, and it's fun doing when you're testing, but this is absolutely intolerable for any sort of production setup.
A clone of openindiana exists and has been updated and activated.
On the next boot the Boot Environment openindiana-1 will be
mounted on '/'. Reboot when ready to switch to this updated BE.
Well, Wireless and Bluetooth are out of question, but Samba sharing did work fine, even though the file manager never seemed to be able to remember the credentials, and I had to input them every single time. The printer tool did detect the network device, not the Samba one, but it didn't really know what it was. Average, I'd say.
Apps & media (eventually)
After some semi-rigorous work, updates and tweaks, the system did have a semblance of usability. It's hard to judge, given the virtual setting, but it was doing the basics. However, never forget we do take these for granted with most Linux distros.
MP3, good. HD video, no sweat, but screenshots come blank. Youtube, HTML5, no issues. Ah but wait! You cannot play media files from remote shares, like Samba. VLC has not been compiled with all the necessary access modules. So only local content.
This is a very nice feature - the whole built-in versioning in the awesome ZFS. Shame this could not be ported to Ubuntu. This is probably the main reason why you'd want to use Solaris or OpenIndiana, but then again, it makes sense in the server environment, not at home.
Eventually, I got a few nice details sorted out, but then, it doesn't feel as shiny or as happy as it can be. You can feel this is a project rolling on inertia, and that it had sort of peaked, in interest and quality, several years back. My own attempts to make it work didn't bear any special, exotic fruit.
Hardware compatibility, stability
Again, hard to judge. By default, OpenIndiana does come with the Nvidia settings applet, but then I'm not sure about the installation of drivers. Even in the virtual machine, not everything was perfect, like the graphics stack and mouse support, for instance. All my recent attempts to use UNIX on physical hardware turned out somewhat tricky. Just take a look at my Lumina and PC-BSD 10 reviews. However, it was stable, without any crashes or bugs.
OpenIndiana has never been a lightweight player, and ZFS has its own penalty. It's impossible to compare a virtual machine to a physical system, but I'd hazard that it would not be as sprightly as a typical Linux. However, this is also an incomplete statement. You'd mostly see a lot of IO activity during startup and shutdown, and during updates, less so in day-to-day usage. MATE also seems like an okay choice, but it is not realized with enough flair to compete with other, more modern desktop environments.
Not much has changed in terms of progress, compared to my 2011 test. Once again, you need to setup root and your own user separately, and you should choose strong passwords. I didn't, so when I tried to do things as root, I couldn't. The pfexec mechanism mimics sudo, but you can use sudo as well, and then, you will need to fix your passwords, if you go for a simple combo, in order to be able to do system administration tasks. This is rather awkward.
Firefox complained about not being the default browser, but it was!
I find the test today somewhat sad. Sure, I did accomplish what I needed, but it gave me no joy, and no hope that this operating system can even even remotely compare against any Linux. Even CentOS is lightyears ahead. In the server environment, it may have its uses, but it completely misses the mark on the desktop.
Package management, applications, it all just feels raw, alien, unfriendly. What do you do if there are problems with drivers, or hardware? Where do you find the latest apps, and this isn't just an act of mercy by a volunteer? What about compatibility on actual hardware. The fact I was not willing to commit my test laptop also tells something.
You can master and tame OpenIndiana, to a level. But it is mostly a futile exercise in obstinacy. All of the stuff we've done above are more or less a given in Linux, and have been so since about 2007. It's like driving an old car and trying to match its abilities to new, modern technology. Unless you're into antiques, it's not really worth it.
The worst part, I guess, isn't the specifics. That can be sorted. It's the absolute lack of progress since 2011, in the desktop space. Underneath it may be wonders, but if you cannot use the system, then it's worthless. Lots of the stuff from the previous version have been removed, made less accessible, but we get nothing new in return. So it is nerdier and harder than before, and that's a grim sign of a future that has no place on the desktop. This seems to be true with other operating systems in this family, too. Just not worth the effort. Stick with Linux. Grade wise, 4/10. We're done.