Archive for May, 2008

OpenSolaris 2008.05

May 29, 2008

Two installations of OpenSolaris 2008.05

General thoughts and impressions

After a long wait Project Indiana released there stable distribution, OpenSolaris OS. I tried both the in-preview199 and in-preview2 so I had rather high expectations on the final product. I headed over to and downloaded the os200805.iso file. Burned the CD and booted. So far so good.

The install process is smooth, as you’re booted into a fully working X environment, which has all the standard Gnome programs/tools you might expect and further more: A web browser, a device driver utility to check hardware compatability and an ‘install OpenSolaris’ option.

The installer takes you through initial config, such as setting up root password, adding a user and setting time zone and keyboard layout. The partioner is a bit narrowminded to my taste, as it only
allows to create Solaris partions or ‘unused space’. It would also be nice if there was an option not to toggle the boot flag ‘on’ for the solaris partion.

The regular boot process works nicely, although it would be very nice with a graphical boot progress screen. Think Apple’s white standard or some nice from the GNU/Linux camp. It should at least be possible to change resulotion of the console.

The package manager in OpenSolaris is a bit unintuitve for me coming from a GNU/Linux background (mostly Gentoo, occasional Ubuntu just for testing). The packages have kinda’ strange, enterprisy naming scheme which makes it pretty tricky searching for them. The GUI makes things
a lot easier, but personally i would have liked OpenSolaris to go with apt (synaptic), yast or portage (not in any specified order), since they are stable, flexible and foremost have a lot more packages to offer. But I guess this choice is due to the legendary Solaris backward compatability. And probably also due to the fact of integration with ZFS. It’s really nice with the boot environment
concept, but I wish that the beadm command would leave my partion setup alone. It tends to toggle the bootable flag and set it to on for the solaris partion.

I found it a bit amusing and annoying that to install top you first need to add an authority (another package repository) to the package manager and then ‘pkg install IPSFWtop’ (depending on which external package repository you choose. A Unix without top?!

I would have liked to see a version of OpenSolaris shipping with KDE too, as I’m not that fond of Gnome. I guess I’m just one of those guys 😉

Technical stuff

Even though I might sound a bit sceptic I’m really rather impressed with OpenSolaris 2008.05. There is great potential here. Some things exists here that I really miss in Linux, such as ZFS, DTrace and last but not least the seamsless integration of 64/32 bit apps. No more ‘Can I boot this OS on this machine?’

Even though ZFS is close to breaking one of the fundamental UNIX rules (let one program do one thing, but really well) it does so on purpose. The integration of a volume manager in the filesystem allows for some really innovative stuff. All in all ZFS is pretty revolutionary and should probably make almost all other FS’s run away and hide. I however found one thing that annoyed me a bit. If you assemble a raidz array of four drives and then have the possibility to add four more drives it turns out that zfs can’t add them to the same raid. It does however create a new raidz array and then adds that to the storage pool. With Linux software raid 5 it is possible to extend the array with new drives.

DTrace is a bit over my head as a daily user but I can see that it has its uses, especially for developers. Actually a lot of them. From now on I would say that a UNIX or UNIX-like system is not complete without a working DTrace implementation.

All in all there are some really spectacular things in the Solaris codebase. Just today I read how a developer used a SUN LDOM Guest to work on an implementation of GRUB on Sparc.

I did install OpenSolaris on two machines. What follows is some machine/install specific issuses/thoughts.

Desktop, older hardware
The hardware:

2.53 GHz Intel Pentium 4 cpu
512 MB ram
60 GB hdd (gave 16 GB to OpenSolaris)
nVidia Geforce 4 4600ti graphics card
Creative Labs Soudblaster Audigy sound card
Generic ps2 keyboard
Logitech MouseMan Wheel usb mouse
Onboard Intel Pro 100 ethernet card.

The install process feels rather sluggish, it took me about 90 minutes from the time i powered on my computer to the restart. A comparable binary linux distro uses no more than 30 min (actually the Ubuntu Hardy Heron 8.04 finished in 21 minutes, with me having do the partitioning manualy so to not erase the OpenSolaris OS), but it’s a one time thing so I guess one can live with it.

Mouse and keyboard work flawlessly. Graphics works, but no 3D acceleration. I really would like to have the installer set up proper support for my nVidia card. As it turns out it probably did, only my
card was to old. The shipped drivers do not support Geforce 4 cards. So I had do work a bit for 3D, see below. The only thing not working is my pretty standard Creative Labs SB Audigy sound
card. Sound is nice, so I would like for it to work. Seems like it should be supported through the oss package.

How I got 3D working:
After restart I found the ‘nvidia-settings’ program, which failed with not finding a xorg.conf and sugested running nvidia-xconfig, which created a new xorg.conf in /etc/X11/. Upon restart I had no X. Notvery nice 😦 So I had to remove the file by hand and then parse /var/log/Xorg.0.log to get the default config-file and move it to a proper location. Then head to nVidia’s site and download the legacy nVidia drivers, uninstall the default nVidia drivers and then install the downloaded drivers. Now I have 3D working, yay! I wonder how the support for ATI cards are. Since the and mesa packages shipped are pretty old by now I don’t think there is support for mesa hardware acceleration in there yet (need version >7). It would be very nice if the IPS tree containd a NVDAgraphicslegacy for users of old nVidia cards.

The bootup time is acceptable at 58 seconds to the login screen from grub menu, but not as quick as ubuntu which uses 38 seconds.

Ubuntu nicely enough brings me a GUI with a massive 70 updates, and another GUI helping me set up nVidia proprietary drivers. So OpenSolaris falls a bit short on the useability front in comparison.

Laptop, newer hardware

To be fair to OpenSolaris I installed it on my laptop, which is a Lenovo Thinkpad t61p 8891-CTO with the following hardware:
2.00GHz Intel Core2 Duo
3GB Ram
80 GB HDD (gave 21 GB to OpenSolaris)
nVidia Quadro FX 570M 128MB
Intel hd audio

The install here was a bit quicker, at only 37 min. Unfortunatly I don’t have another spare partition to install Ubuntu on for comparison ( I already have Gentoo and Windows Vista on there + the 21 Gb partion OpenSolaris now uses)

Here the nVidia drivers work out of the box so enabling desktop effects work perfectly. Without beeing able to benchmark it I dare say that OpenSolaris/Compiz is far more responsive than Linux/Compiz, although the flawed nVidia driver architecture shows its true colors, it takes 2 seconds to maximize a window… Without desktop effects activated it’s instantaneus.

The audio is still a no go, so I downloaded the oss package from 4Front Technologies as suggested by different sources. Installation went smooth, but resulted in a very high beep. Only hitting the mute button makes it go silent. A reboot didn’t help, still a loud beep. So still some work to be done there.

Since this is a laptop power managemnet is crucial. So I tried to get CPU frequency scaling working, which according to
should be pretty simple. Well, it doesn’t work 😦 It would also be nice with working suspend/resume, but that does not seem to be available either.

The Synaptics touchpad weren’t detected, so no scrolling, but it works as a regular touchpad.

The wireless works out of the box, even with wpa. Nice work! Unfortunatly there seems to be some dns resolving issuses on reboots. To get things working again I have to do something like
‘pfexec svcadm restart nwam’ wait a few seconds and then it works again. Or plug and unplug the ethernet cable. Why not use NetworkManager? It’s pretty stable.


All in all I’m not really sure what to think about this release, or rather who it’s intended for. It’s an easy way to test a Solaris based OS, but not really an alternative to a full Linux Distro. There’s not
enough hardware support nor is there enough packages around. If you’re developing for Solaris I guess it’s a good base, and then you probably know the package naming scheme by heart so that wont give you any problems either but nor would a normal Solaris 10 install daunt you.

I probably wont start to use it as my main OS in the forseeable future, but if I had servers in need for a stable OS I wouldn’t hesistate trusting OpenSolaris to get the work done. And if I had a company I’d seriously consider using it as OS for desktop usage as well.

Why wont I use it as my main OS: Well, it does lack fully working power management and suspend/resume, many of the programs I use on a daily bases are not in IPS (and I don’t really have time to build all of them) and it shipps with GNOME only.