OpenSolaris 2009.06: Getting Better All The Time

OpenSolaris 2009.06: Getting Better All The Time

Summary: The June 2009 (2009.06) release of OpenSolaris provides a solid Open Source GNOME desktop experience like that of a modern Linux distribution combined with the scalability and stability of UNIX.


OpenSolaris 2009.06 Desktop Experience

The June 2009 (2009.06) release of OpenSolaris provides a solid Open Source GNOME desktop experience like that of a modern Linux distribution combined with the scalability and stability of UNIX.

Over the weekend, I had the chance to take a look at Sun Microsystems' latest OpenSolaris 2009.06, which it released during last week's JavaOne conference. The last time I had a look at OpenSolaris, it was just over a year ago, back in May of 2008.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

Much as it is with community Linux releases such as Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora or OpenSUSE, OpenSolaris 2009.06 is an evolutionary, rather than a revolutionary improvement over the initial 2008.05 build. All the major open source packages have been refreshed, as it is to be expected, and for the most part, OpenSolaris provides a comparable user experience to most Linux distributions.

As with the previous release, OpenSolaris 2009.06 is delivered as a live CD image, so you can boot and use the operating system from a CD without having to actually install it on your system, as it is with Linux distributions like Ubuntu. For the most part, installing OpenSolaris is just like installing Ubuntu -- boot the system with a CD, and from the default desktop, click on the "Install OpenSolaris" icon, which launches a wizard based install. After installation, the OS boots from a GRUB-based bootloader, just like Ubuntu Linux.

Also See: OpenSolaris 2009.06 Gallery

Also Read: OpenSolaris, What Ubuntu Wants to be When it Grows Up

Link: What's New in OpenSolaris 2009.06

So if OpenSolaris works just like a Linux desktop OS, why not just use Linux? That's a complex question to answer.

Linux excels primarily because it is adaptable to many system configurations and can run on the lowest power, embedded CPU architectures like handheld devices and USB keychains all the way up to virtual instances on mainframes. Its wide array of hardware and device support and versatility makes it the veritable Swiss Army Knife or the Leatherman of Open Source operating systems.

However, the Linux Kernel and accompanying userland binaries that form modern Linux distributions were developed using toolsets and code entirely in the the Open Source world, using source contributed from thousands of developers, and was designed over time to emulate the functionality of UNIX without using actual UNIX source code, so the maturity level and reliablity of the code in the Linux kernel and the accompanying libraries and toolsets varies considerably. This is not to say that the code that Linux uses is inferior, but the Linux codebase is significantly newer -- as in under development in a much shorter timespan -- than that of UNIX overall, which started in the late 1960s.

OpenSolaris, while also an Open Source operating system like Linux, comes from a commercial UNIX pedigree and blends both mature UNIX SVR4 kernel code developed by Sun Microsystems for its Solaris 10 enterprise server OS that was originally proprietary (now Open Source under a combination of licenses including CDDL and LGPL) with a similar mix of Open Source tools and binaries that Linux uses. So in a sense, it is the best of both worlds.

Where Linux excels at adaptability to many different computing architectures and has broad device support, Solaris excels in stability and scalability -- it is able to run on much larger monolithic systems, on servers with dozens of processors with up to 32 cores apeice. Its enterprise-proven 128-bit Zettabyte File System outperforms and outclasses any Open Source file system driver which currently exists in production status on any Linux-based OS,  and its mature and fast networking stack (now with full network virtualization support with Project Crossbow) makes it ideally suited for enterprise server applications. In addition to full support for 32-bit x86 and 64-bit AMD64 and x86-64 chips, and Sun SPARC processors (new in this release), OpenSolaris 2009.06 also sports one of the first kernels on any OS to support all the extensions in Intel's most newest Nehalem 64-bit microarchitecture in the latest Xeon 5500 processors.

Solaris' merits in the enterprise space are well known. However, how does it stack up as a desktop OS when compared to mature projects such as Ubuntu, OpenSUSE and Fedora?

Certainly, from a pure GUI and basic app standpoint, OpenSolaris is on parity with any of the other contenders, because it comes with the same software used on its Linux brethren -- the latest GNOME, the most current browser (possibly even bleeding edge, as the Firefox in OpenSolaris is 3.1 beta 3)  a recent 2.24 build of the Evolution mail client, Pidgin Instant Messenger 2.5.5 and OpenOffice 3.0 (installable through the Package Manager application).

OpenSolaris' GNOME also supports the COMPIZ 3D compositing window manager for supported 3D accelerated video hardware that is compatible with Solaris, which has greatly been improved from previous versions -- now virtually all of the major nVidia, ATI and Intel graphics chipsets are supported with native vendor drivers.

OpenSolaris has also added some interesting ZFS filesystem snapshot support to the GNOME Nautilus filemanager, which allows you to go back in time to a previous version of a user's home directory in the event files get deleted. If you're going to outfit a powerful workstation with an Open Source OS for in-house Java or web software development, OpenSolaris would be an excellent choice.

However, while I wouldn't hesitate to recommend OpenSolaris to a UNIX-head or a power user with prior Linux experience, OpenSolaris is still a bit a way from declaring itself a major competitor to Ubuntu, OpenSUSE or Fedora as a mainstream community Open Source OS for regular end-users. While I generally found the browsing experience to be fine with Solaris, and I was able to make sites such as Vimeo, YouTube, Hulu and CBS TV sites stream video content smoothly, I had to do a manual install of Adobe's Flash 10 plugin, requiring some footwork at the Solaris command shell to extract the necessary library object file and move it to the /usr/lib/firefox/plugins directory. (EDIT: This apparently can be avoided by installing Flash after the fact using the Package Manager. However, I would reccomend to the OpenSolaris team that Firefox's default "Plugin missing, click here to download" messages be replaced with something more helpful.)

I also noticed some significant performance issues with the Solaris implementation of Flash 10 when several embedded flash video objects tried to load on a single web page simultaneously, effectively rendering Firefox unusable and completely hogging the processor on my Dell Inspiron 530 with 4GB of RAM and an nVidia GeForce 8500 GT, my regular Windows 7 and Linux desktop testing system. Either this is an architectural issue with the Flash 10 implementation on Solaris or it's a minor bug which needs to be addressed by Adobe, but it was still a showstopper if I tried to load the Tech Broiler homepage in OpenSolaris. This problem doesn't happen in Linux or Windows with the same version of the browser, so it's definitely not a page coding issue.

For playing regular multimedia files, OpenSolaris comes with the Totem media player and appropriate browser plugin support to enable playback of embedded media, which out of the box is fairly useless unless you pay for Fluendo codecs which cost 28 Euros. OpenSolaris provides full support for the Codeina Web Shop which allows you to purchase these (legal) plugins so you can play .AVI, .MP3, and different MPEG formats including Xvid. I didn't bother to go through with the purchase, but I have to assume it works. Alternatively I unsuccessfully tried to install mplayer and VideoLAN's VLC from external repositories using OpenSolaris' 2009.06 improved GUI Package Manager, but they appear either to be out of date with the current OpenSolaris build or the repositories are down.

Which brings us to the matter of overall software support. From a 3rd-party software repository package support perspective, OpenSolaris 2009.06 is more or less at the same level as it was a year ago -- woefully behind that of the Linux distributions. This is to be expected, as the amount of developer participation in the OpenSolaris project pales to that of Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora and OpenSUSE. While some of these issues can be mitigated via the use of virtualization tools such as VirtualBox, which enables Linux and Windows to run under OpenSolaris as virtual machines, it bears the question -- why not just run Linux as a workstation instead If you want access to all those Open Source tools?

There is also the issue that many Open Source developers have in the past been uncomfortable with the fact that while OpenSolaris uses many of the same GPL, Apache and Mozilla-licensed components in its userland as Linux distributions, the base Solaris operating system is licensed under CDDL, an Open Source license that is completely incompatible with the GPL, the software license used for the Linux kernel and many other popular Open Source software packages.

This is actually an area where I hope that Oracle with its purchase of Sun Microsystems can swoop in and do some serious good -- if OpenSolaris was licensed under GPLv3 instead of CDDL, and the OpenSolaris project was given 501c3 not-for-profit status as an independent entity from Oracle/Sun, I think we'd see many of Ubuntu and Debian's packages ported to Solaris much quicker, this closing a lot of the compatibility gap between Solaris and Linux and making a worthwhile desktop alternative for power-users and end-users alike. That being said, OpenSolaris has recently launched the Source Juicer site, an initiative that is roughly analogous to OpenSUSE's Build Service for Linux, which in theory will allow source packages and binaries to be built and added to the official repositories much faster.

OpenSolaris 2009.06 is indeed a significant release for the project and is an excellent enterprise workstation and server OS, and I'm looking forward to tracking future progress of the developers working on it, particularly when Oracle decides what it's going to do with it going forward and how it will manage the project compared to Sun.

Have you played with the latest OpenSolaris 2009.06 release yet? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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Topics: Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software


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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  • Watch Out Microsoft: Coming at ya from all sides!

    Nobody can tell me otherwise, OpenSolaris is a thing of beauty--ZFS, ZFS Slider, Dtrace, Containers, GNOME Nimbus interface, xVM Hypervisor LDOMS, and new CrossBar Network Virtualization.

    There's some serious $hit going on here I wish were in Linux.

    Where Solaris (merges OpenSolaris) and Linux will go ultimately nobody knows, but it won't be a boring ride.

    Watch Out Microsoft!
    • You really need to get a life.

      Seriously. There was nothing about MS in this blog yet here you are dragging them in.
    • And this has pertinence to this article how? I will

      help (because you obviously need it). It doesn't na-da...schelps like you give Linux a bad name...
      US Is ! Europe-ThankGod!
  • RE: OpenSolaris 2009.06: Getting Better All The Time


    Great article. Very, very informative. What I like best, is how you called attention to the differences between the CDDL and GPL(S). (I'm a software copyright nerd)

    I would like to add a footnote about Common Development and Distribution Licenses, GNU General Public License(s), and others, that address users, more than the licenses themselves.

    My group, Sadien (a software compliance and risk management group), witnesses those who overlook the licensee aspects of "free software" on a regular basis.

    The important thing to remember with ALL software (Linux, Microsoft, Sun, Oracle, etc) is that "free software is not license-free software." (Yes, Microsoft does have a few free applications.)

    Too many times, Sadien is called in on issues regarding usage, distribution, derivative creation, etc, on "free" and/or open-source software, only to be put in the position of having to explain to the parties, that they are violating a license agreement.

    Long story short... never assume you're "OK!" (That old saying, "Assumptions make an ass of u & me")

    Before anyone begins usage or modification of any software... they should have solid answers to the following questions:

    1. From where did the software come? Internet? Disk?
    2. Who actually owns the code? A company? A coder? The public?
    3. What type of licensing is involved? Commercial? Private? GPL? CDDL?
    4. What are the terms of usage? Free? Fee?
    5. Do I have to share the code I create?
    6. What are the terms of sharing that code?
    7. Can I sell the code? Can I sell products that include the code?
    8. Do I contractually have the right to use the software?
    9. Do I contractually have the right to modify the software?

    To all you coders... look before you leap. It may take a few minutes to find the answers above... but trust me... it is well worth the effort.

    Again, great article.

    Sadien Staff
    Sadien, Inc.

    • License discussion, article is unclear about CDDL and GPL

      For what it's worth, I do wish the article had been more clear about license compatibilities. It is, in fact, the GPL which is incompatible with the CDDL, not the other way around (as the article implies). This is by design in the GPL.

      I know this has long been debated and there are lots of people who have just given up, but I think it's unfortunate that CDDL hadn't been given a chance.

      While it's hard to do due to copyright being distributed, I believe it's possible for any GPL code to declare linking exceptions, allowing for compatibility with CDDL if it wanted to.

      - Matt
  • Follow-up to Schmitz comment

    Mr. Schmitz, I liked your enthusiasm, well said. What makes this country great... is the freedom of choice. The ability to choose one product, vs another to perform the same work. It's what free enterprise is all about. Whether you're a Linux fan, or Mircosoft guru, the point is you can always choose something new.

    G.C. Hutson
    Chief Executive
    Sadien, Inc.
    • You are just too funny and transparent

  • RE: OpenSolaris 2009.06: Getting Better All The Time

    I hope they provide more hardware support. I have just tried the LiveCD and the audio is not detected, else works perfectly. Wifi is instant! But why a beta build of Firefox?

    If only I could have godly coding powers and understanding of OS architectures, I would really love to help developing.

    • For better audio support...

      For better audio support right now, recommend you install the latest
      'boomer' beta tarball:

      This has only just integrated into the Solaris development builds, so it'll
      be there out of the box in the next OpenSolaris release. (In the
      meantime, it should show up in the repository
      at some point before then.)
      • Thanks

        I would look to it then. I will try it on.

  • Wow unix at is best

    i start using this little baby and wow ..///

    OK its should a few more appz here and there but ....
  • RE: OpenSolaris 2009.06: Getting Better All The Time

    It's got definite promise as a desktop, despite it's pretty lengthy system installation and boot-up times(I'm typing this in OpenSolaris via VirtualBox, btw). I agree with Quebec-french that it could use more apps in the package manager, but for basic desktop tasks(web, email and office docs) it's a good system to try out. It's a keeper on my virtual hard drive.
    Tony Agudo
  • Thank you for this article

    Excellent review... I bought a Toshiba with OSOL preinstalled but the networking didn't work out of the box. It does now with the new release. Unfortunately, as an end user and not a tech guy, I won't be able to take advantage of the features in which OSOL really shines, but I appreciate what Sun is doing. I have high hopes for Solaris, Sun, and Oracle.
  • RE: OpenSolaris 2009.06: Getting Better All The Time

    Flash is available in the repositry
    after registrion
  • RE: OpenSolaris 2009.06: Getting Better All The Time

    "So if OpenSolaris works just like a Linux desktop OS, why not just use Linux?
    That?s a difficult question to answer."

    That's because you're asking the wrong question. What you really meant was,
    "So if OpenSolaris works just like a Linux desktop OS, why not just use

    That's a much easier question to answer :)
  • RE: OpenSolaris 2009.06: Getting Better All The Time

    There's no need to do a manual install of Flash 10 as described here. It's
    available from the package repository, but that repo does
    require registration because the packages it contains have different licensing
    arrangements to the default repository.
  • Number of packages available

    Not really true that support is "roughly the same as it was a year ago"... there
    are hundreds more packages in the repos now than there were for the 2008.05

    That's certainly still not as many as your average Linux distro, but the good
    news is that, OpenSolaris recently launched the Source Juicer project, which
    makes it *way* easier for people to contribute new software. Anyone who
    knows how to write a spec file can now contribute a package to OpenSolaris.
  • I run Solaris daily.

    And have for years. For that very reason I wouldn't touch
    AIX with a 20 foot pole robotically controlled from
    behind the safety of a 4' thick lead wall.
  • OK, what's in it for me?

    I'm a typical end user, home user if you will. Ubuntu and openSUSE fit me perfectly; both OS'es run flawlessly, reliable and stable on my computers.

    What could be the advantage for me, in my situation, of using OpenSolaris? This is not a rhetorical question; I have an open mind in this matter.
    • OpenSolaris advantages over linux distros?

      From my experience, and risking backlash from Solaris enthusiasts, I would say there is no advantage for most people to switching, or trying to switch, to OpenSolaris (or other Solaris variants).
      I started to play around with Solaris for Intel (Solaris x86), as it was originally called, back at version 8 (maybe 7 if it actually existed, I forget). There is no question that I felt, at least then, that Solaris had a certain cachet compared to the linux offerings of the time.
      But I can predict that you will almost certainly encounter newer variants of the problems I faced then and continued to encounter with versions 9, 10, and more recently with OpenSolaris, etc., namely that too much of your hardware will not have drivers available for it.
      In the early days (heck even a few months ago) it was a nightmare to find an Ethernet (NIC) card that was useable in Solaris, and then there were more machinations to try to install the drivers you dug up for it. You should also know that the general structure and organization (that is the directory layout, system file configuration and so on, as well as even the drive partitioning system) used in Solaris x86 is very different from linux distros and can be a real headache unless you have worked in Solaris (say for SPARC) for a long time.
      Solaris variants today (and I will add the same observation for such BSD distros as PC-BSD, OpenBSD, etc.) require you to examine their hardware requirements and find or put together a machine that is known to be compatible. Frankly, I gave up on that notion years ago, and the reality is that linuxes, including the Ubuntu family, and I believe OpenSUSE, are now remarkably good at adapting to even some fairly obscure, and diverse hardware. You should anticipate that Solaris/BSDs may very well have trouble with your NIC, possibly your video card, quite likely your sound card, and the list goes on.
      Solaris (and the BSD's) will only install to primary (DOS) partitions, and use a BSD-slice rather than fdisk partitioning system, which is I believe is still invisible to other OS's. Several of the Solaris/BSDs can at least read FAT16/32, maybe NTFS, but as far as I know none can read EXT2/3, so in multiboot systems (like most of mine) the Solaris installation is largely a world unto itself.
      My original experiences with Solaris were in fact on SPARC (actually I guess really Motorola originally -the IPX). In the early 90's, even into the mid 90's, scientific software (I'm talking specifically about freely distributed stuff) was most commonly written for the Solaris environment. There were several apps in my field (molecular biology/phylogeny) that were (and still are) very good, written for OpenWindows (specifically 'xview'). First, Sun abandoned xview at about version 9 (more for political reasons rather than functional ones) and so I first built myself, then found prebuilt, linux xview libraries to allow me to compile and run the Solaris apps I liked. Today, if you are running 32 bit variants of any Debian-based distro (that includes Ubuntu) you can still install from their repositories xview runtime and development libraries.
      From a more general point of view, today, Un*x-like software (I am more familiar with opensourced, freeware) is almost always built first for one or more flavours or linux, and if you want a Solaris binary you will probably have to get the source code and roll it yourself. My more recent experiences with that were usually unpleasant. The reality is that the Debian distro tree lists something like 26k packages, and these span an amazing breadth of applications, including many scientific apps that can't be of much interest to other than a few individuals such as myself. By contrast, when last I checked, the availability of software for Solaris was far more limited, and I'm sure that unless something has changed recently, Solaris derivatives don't have a decent package management system like say 'synaptic' in Ubuntu.
      I will download the most recent OpenSolaris, install it (or try to) but then most likely, as has at least always happened in the past, curse myself for wasting my time. I'm not gloating or happy to say that, because I am a strong proponent of diverse OS options and use many different OSs and variants routinely. I am also I guess somewhat of a geek, albeit a rather long-in-the-tooth geek, but even I have my limits.
      I personally see the Solaris/BSD distributions becoming increasingly marginalized and restricted to limited specific uses because there are too many good alternatives (and that does include Mac OSX).
      David Spencer-20660146163390554490918120654216