OpenSolaris: What Ubuntu wants to be when it grows up

OpenSolaris: What Ubuntu wants to be when it grows up

Summary: What would Ubuntu be like if it were an OS for grown-ups?This week at its CommunityOne event in San Francisco, Sun will release its May 2008 build of OpenSolaris (2008.


OpenSolaris 2008.05 Release “Project Indiana”

What would Ubuntu be like if it were an OS for grown-ups?

This week at its CommunityOne event in San Francisco, Sun will release its May 2008 build of OpenSolaris (2008.05) the Open Source operating system based on the source code of the Solaris 10 enterprise UNIX OS, the first to be designated with "Production" support offerings. While very much community software and not yet at the level of polish for end-user adoption that many of the latest Linux distributions are now enjoying -- shows promise and enormous potential as an enterprise-class UNIX desktop and server with an Ubuntu-like flavor.

(See screenshot gallery of OpenSolaris 2008.05 Release installation and UI.)

Also: Commercial Open Solaris Ships (Paula Rooney)

Founded as an Open Source project by Sun Microsystems in June of 2005, and originally created as a clearing house for releasing CDDL licensed Solaris code for others (such as Nexenta and Sine Nomine) to produce Solaris-compatible operating systems, OpenSolaris recently refocused its efforts in the last year and launched Project Indiana, Sun's equivalent to Red Hat's Fedora or Novell's OpenSUSE -- where leading and bleeding edge enhancements to Solaris 10 can be tested and proofed by the Open Source community at large. To give Indiana some legitimacy, Sun hired Debian GNU/Linux founder Ian Murdock to lead the project, in the hopes that his Linux roots and community ties would improve OpenSolaris adoption.

Open Source UNIX x86-compatible operating systems are nothing new. The various BSD OSes have had a loyal but niche following for years. FreeBSD , NetBSD and OpenBSD are the major derivatives. Not surprisingly, ideological differences and personality clashes between FreeBSD's founders and contributors have created fractionalization and compatibility issues between the various BSDs, which has confused the landscape and limited BSD's adoption. To further complicate matters, Apple has even released the source code of Mac OS X's BSD-based UNIX core as the "Darwin" project and an installable distribution for Darwin even exists as GNU Darwin.

Despite a loyal following among research academia, vertical systems integrators and some Internet service providers, the BSDs never really caught with end users like Linux has. To further add to BSD's woe, no BSD-based OS has made significant inroads into the enterprise - only the System V based UNIX OSes, such as Sun's Solaris, IBM's AIX and HP's HP-UX now occupy that coveted mid-range and high-end space. Before pursuing its litigious path of self-destruction, even SCO's UnixWare and OpenServer System V OSes for x86 had some decent vertical penetration into the retail industry. And before they abandoned their native IRIX System V platform for Linux, SGI also had a large toehold in the supercomputing and CGI industry.

Still, OpenSolaris is the first and only System V-based UNIX to have been released into Open Source. However, it uses the CDDL license, a MPL-derivative which is incompatible with the GNU GPLv2 license that Linux uses. This has prevented Solaris source code from co-mingling with Linux, and has also set up a virtual "Mirror Mirror" universe of OpenSolaris developers that don't really cooperate with the general Linux population at large. As a result, porting and packaging efforts of major Open Source projects and software to Solaris have been relatively slow when compared to the many releases and fast adoption of the various Linux distributions. However, there has been some recent indication that Sun might release Solaris into GPLv3, which would cause a watershed of activity on the platform, as many packages and projects which run on Linux distributions are going in that direction as well. While somewhat wishful thinking but not completely out of the question, a GPLv2 release of Solaris would eventually bring about true "Unixfication" of the two platforms.

OpenSolaris 2008.05All this history aside, I'm very impressed with the OpenSolaris 2008.05 release -- clearly, Ubuntu's success has rubbed off on the OpenSolaris crowd, and thus it has adopted a lot of that Linux distribution's look and feel. End-users for the most part should feel right at home with OpenSolaris, with its up-to-date GNOME 2.22 interface, the very same that powers Ubuntu Hardy Heron's. The installation system boots as a Live CD, just like Ubuntu, and installs with only a few mouse clicks. Many new configuration applets and end-user programs have been added, making Solaris a much more "livable" environment than its big brother, Solaris 10. Firefox, the most current and stable version has been pre-installed and is even capable of running sites that use Adobe Flash. I had no problems with videos on YouTube and Google Video, or manipulating photos on Picnik or Adobe Photoshop Express. Battlestar Galactica replays on the Sci-Fi channel rewind website ran just fine too.

I did have some issues, however, getting Adobe's Acrobat reader installed, as they haven't built an x86 Solaris version yet -- only for SPARC. OpenSolaris provides an Open Source alternative to Acrobat in the form of evince. My suggested solution to the SPARC to x86 problem -- one which is going to plague Solaris x86 for some time until all of this package stuff is rationalized -- is that Sun should bulk license Transitive's QuickTransit software, from the guys who built the PowerPC to x86 "Rosetta" compatibility layer for Mac OS X. In fact, I'd get them to quick port an Ubuntu Linux to Solaris X86 version for OpenSolaris and have that installed as well.

Beauty is not only skin-deep. OpenSolaris employs the very same enterprise-proven high-performance Solaris 10 kernel that powers the biggest and baddest Sun boxes, and has the stability and monolithic scalability to match, something that commodity Linux desktops and servers -- while far more stable and sprightly than Windows OSes -- lack in comparison. In addition to the Solaris 10 kernel, OpenSolaris makes use of Sun's advanced 128-bit Zetabyte File System or ZFS, which permits "pooling" of storage on networked Solaris-based systems, as well as Solaris 10's native "containers" for OS-based high performance virtualization. Like its Linux cousins, OpenSolaris and Solaris 10 is also Xen-hypervisor enabled as both a virtualization domain and guest.

As a separate free download, Sun also provides VirtualBox (which was recently acquired as a result of the Innotek purchase) as host-based virtualization for Linux and Windows compatibility, similar to VMWare's Workstation 6.

With all these advanced enterprise UNIX features though, OpenSolaris still isn't quite as polished as its Linux cousins. For example, to get something as simple as SAMBA working, it requires creating a ZFS storage pool in the command line interface and executing a bunch of Solarisy-mumbo jumbo in addition to downloading SAMBA thru the OpenSolaris package manager, IPS (IPS is similar to other network aware package managers such as Debian's and Ubuntu's aptitude, or Fedora's YUM). On Ubuntu or any other Linux distribution, this is as simple as making an edit to /etc/samba/smb.conf and restarting the /etc/init.d/samba daemon. This is even easier to with most Linux-based configuration GUI's where you don't even need to touch the command line to make basic stuff work.

Additionally a lack of compiled packages when compared to Linux can also can make for a frustrating experience. While IPS is an excellent system and the Package Manager GUI on OpenSolaris is workable (although I would have preferred they ported the Debian/Ubuntu package GUI, Synaptic, instead of reinventing the wheel with a 1.0 flaky interface) and the pkg command itself is pretty robust -- the main OpenSolaris repository only has about 1200 unique packages on it, which is a pittance compared to what is available for Ubuntu, OpenSUSE or Fedora. While 3rd-party IPS repositories such as Sunfreeware and BlastWave are sprouting up, it will take a long time for OpenSolaris to gain comparable inertia and an end-user following until the system is at package parity with popular Linux distributions.

Nevertheless, OpenSolaris 2008.05 is a major milestone release for the project and their efforts should be commended. I've upgraded one of my servers to the system and I look forward to tracking further bi-annual milestone releases of the fledgling Open Source OS.

What's your take on OpenSolaris? Talk Back and let me know.

Topics: Operating Systems, Linux, Open Source


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • OpenSolaris at ZDNet open source

    I just posted a piece abou tthis at Open Source but I was not under the impression that this is aimed at the desktop market at all -- only the server side.
    • Get yourself a copy of VirtualBox 1.9...

      Create a virtual partition, download the iso, point the CD-ROM to it and boot that puppy up Dana! (downloading from sun's bittorrent now...)

      Get on it Man! ;)
      D T Schmitz
      • Correction: That's VirtualBox 1.6

        D T Schmitz
  • RE: OpenSolaris: What Ubuntu wants to be when it grows up

    Finally someone understands what a real unix OS is supposed to be like and not a hacked up clone such as linux.
    Loverock Davidson
    • OMG it's Loverock Davidson again

      Oh the humanity!
      D T Schmitz
      • OMG!!

        ITS ME!
        Loverock Davidson
    • I've loved solaris for years

      but it looks like OpenSolaris is the Ubuntu clone at least from the screenshots I've seen. Can I install it on my sparc 20?
      • Ubuntu clone?

        I think not! OpenSolaris has the corproate backing from a real Unix provider which means you can expect the stability and security of unix. You can't get that kind of hope with ubuntu.
        Loverock Davidson
        • Stability is a relative term...

          Compared to windoze, Ubuntu is like Gibraltar, so I disagree that it is unstable. I, for one, like Ubuntu and its derivatives. For people coming away from M$, it's a great thing. And it works on old equipment.

          I just tried Open Solaris on an old box which Ubuntu 8.04 handled well, and Open Solaris choked, regrettably. However, it works fine on newer hardware in my lab. I am putting it through some forensic paces now, and hope to have more to share at a later time.

          Ubuntu has a lot more support than Open Solaris due to its licensing. So it makes no sense that Open Solaris is the "grown up" version of Ubuntu linux. It's more likely that the team at Sun saw the light and took a few cues from Ubuntu or other distros for styling. Of course, this is just my opinion.
          • Reading TFA...

            ... It says they used the same Gnome as Ubuntu.

            I liked your Gibraltar quip. Dead on.

            TFA also mentioned that Sun is considering a GPL v3 release, which would alleviate most of the current incompatibilities.

          • You are right about stability

            but wrong in one part. Sun went to the source and hired the guy behind Debian, the source of Ubuntu and its derivatives.
            And yes, it might look like it's behind Ubuntu in evolution, but the technical sollutions is sooo much better than in linux.
            I say this and still I am a Linux mailing list lurker since 1992 and Debian users since 2000. ;)
          • You are Right

            Unix is years ahead of Linux, Both are great Op systems. This always gets to the , Don't say anything about Linux and the flames start.
            I say again Linux is where it is today because of what is going on here. Someone brings up Unix and says ,look it is a great system and has been used for years to run most of the Big machines in the world , with great affect. And here it go's Some not all though Linux users jump on and say it is not as good. And most have not used it any length of time to even know how and why it works as it does.

            Linux will have a long time to get where Unix is today for what it does. Sun it putting it out in the Free market so it will be used more than on the SPARC units. It is good for all of us, even the Linux users as it will push development ahead faster and quicker , and if they can get together all will win. This in fighting in the Linux world is the main reason it is not used more by Company's. And it will stay this way till who knows when. I feel some just do this so someone will carry on with nothing. If you do not like it , Unix then do not use it. LoL, I still use Linux it is great, but when I put in a large ISP I use Unix, there is a reason for that. Just now Linux has come along in the last few years where it can and will frame out on control at the levels that Unix will do now.
          • Windows XP is pretty rock solid, actually

            People who have not used Windows since the 98 days are under
            the mistaken impression that it is still a blue-screen ridden
            buggy P.O.S.

            I use XP more than 10 hours a day regularly and for the last
            god knows how many years, and I cannot, for the life of me,
            remember when I last saw a blue screen.

            Between XP and OS X (a *nix OS), XP IS ACTUALLY MORE STABLE!
            I use Linux mainly for server purposes via the command line,
            so I can't really comment on Linux desktop stability, but I'm
            not sure how the Linux desktop can be more stable compared to
            the XP desktop when the latter doesn't really crash for me
    • Good old Lovey

      It is just after 5 am here, and I am having a nice cup of tea.
      What have you been on?
      • Me?

        I'm high on life! :) Herbal tea is good too.
        Loverock Davidson
    • Oh Sure!

      Like you have any reason to run a massive anything. When your needs exceed 16 cores, then complain about Linux vs Unix.

      Until then, shut up.

      • Yes,

        and you might actually have a look at it. You might change your mind.
        But still, Linux is usefull for desktop machines. Though desktop machines has use of the technical sollutions from Solaris too.
  • "Not surprisingly..."

    Sun's devastating financial sacrifice could keep the company from being forgotten were the software to live on. But a fork would likely prevent more than niche use, no?!

    Note this sentence about what happened to BSD:

    Not surprisingly, ideological differences and personality clashes between FreeBSD???s founders and contributors have created fractionalization and compatibility issues between the various BSDs, which has confused the landscape and limited BSD???s adoption.

    [End quote.]

    So Sun either keeps the reins on OpenSolaris or "not surprisingly", the project will ... well, disintegrate. At least, that's the implication.

    So why would anyone hope for a further loosening of Sun's ability to keep Solaris on track by changing the license?
    Anton Philidor
    • Yeah

      It's not exactly a financial sacrifice when you look at the 2.3 billion dollar growth between 2006 and 2007. Just another blogger who has no concept of how business works, just wants to beat the open source drum and something else we won't mention.

      Most likely an apple convert as he sees the operating system itself as a major source of revenue, this isn't apple, and they aren't pawning 3000 USD crackerboxes to broke BMW lessees.

      As for the license, you're in no danger there, it's the gpl 2.0 dual, so, the worst that can happen is someone steals the code and writes their own flavour of unix, and sun litigates them out of existence.
      • Hopeful thinking.

        The Comment included statements encouraging Sun to change Solaris to a different license lessening the company's control. Despite the hopeful thinking about compatibility, it's important that Sun could lose the ability to litigate against a fork.

        The growth in Sun's revenue between 2006 and 2007 has not been enough to make the company consistently profitable. And, despite hopeful thinking, it didn't come from open sourcing software.

        The company didn't provide separate totals for software revenues, but one ZDNet columnist indicated an estimate with 8 or 9 digits. That revenue is unlikely to have been replaced by additional services revenue on the surrendered software.

        Sun even urged sales staff to keep obtaining licenses for until the day before any new customers were given the product for free. More hopeful thinking.

        To use your analogy, Sun's beating itself and issuing press releases to tell how satisfied the company is with its experience.
        Anton Philidor