By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2005-03-14 Print this article Print

With distinctive, well-implemented new system administration features, widened platform support and an aggressive licensing model, Sun Microsystems Inc.s Solaris 10 is a bold bid to reassert the relevance of the Unix stalwart.

eWEEK Labs tested the general-availability release of Solaris 10, as well as several of the beta releases that preceded it, and were convinced that the new Sun operating system has what it takes not only to prove a solid upgrade for current Solaris installations but also to merit consideration at sites where Solaris wasnt previously an option.

Solaris wider suitability is due, in large part, to Suns broader platform support: Solaris 10 runs on Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s AMD64 and Intel Corp.s EM64T (Extended Memory 64 Technology) x86 platforms, as well as on Suns UltraSPARC 64-bit and Fujitsu Computer Systems Corp.s SPARC64 platforms.

However, Solaris 10s x86 hardware support is not as broad as that of Linux and Windows, so the chances of running into problems installing Solaris 10 on hardware thats not on Suns hardware compatibility lists (www.sun.com/bigadmin/hcl) are greater. While installing Solaris 10 on one of our test systems, for example, we were delayed by an unsupported DVD drive, which we had to swap out for another before proceeding.

After nearly ditching the x86 version of Solaris in 2002, Sun must address the perception in the market that its not serious about x86. However, all Suns software—from JES (Java Enterprise System) to JDS (Java Desktop System)—currently runs on x86 and x86-64 versions of Solaris. Whats more, most high-profile applications that run on Linux are also available in Solaris-native versions for x86.

Click here to read Labs review of Java Desktop System 2. Sun includes many prominent open-source applications with its Solaris 10 disks, but for other open-source applications—or newer versions of the applications Sun includes—we turned to a volunteer project, blastwave.org, that packages mostly open-source applications for Solaris systems. We fetched precompiled Solaris binaries from Blastwave using the tool pkg-get, which we downloaded from Blastwave and which works much like Debians APT (Advanced Package Tool).

Sun also offers Janus, a tool that lets administrators install and run Linux binaries on Solaris 10. Janus, however, is not part of the initial Solaris 10 release. According to Sun officials, Janus will appear in Solaris 10s first quarterly update, which will be downloadable from www.sun.com/software/solaris/get.jsp. Sun guarantees that Solaris 10 is binary-compatible with previous Solaris releases, which will smooth the migration path at current Solaris shops.

Another big part of Suns push for greater Solaris relevance is the companys aggressive pricing plan: Solaris 10 is free to download and use, and access to security fixes is also free.

So how will Sun make money off Solaris? Its selling annual Solaris support contracts, priced at $360, $240 and $120 per CPU socket per year for premium, standard and basic service, respectively. In addition to direct support, Solaris service-plan subscribers receive access to updates and patches beyond security fixes.

This pricing scheme is compelling—we like the way it forces Sun to provide real value for its support contracts by making these contracts optional, the way Red Hat Inc. used to price its Red Hat Linux distribution before instituting mandatory, per-machine licensing for its enterprise releases.

In addition, Sun has announced plans to distribute a version of Solaris 10 under an open-source license next quarter—meaning that Solaris 10 will continue to be freely available.

Solaris 10 ships with a security framework inherited, in part, from Suns Trusted Solaris product. This enables tighter control of system resources through a permissions system thats more fine-grained than the user-based, discretionary access control scheme traditionally used by Unix and Linux systems.

Traditional Unix permissions remain the default in Solaris 10—the superuser hasnt gone away. However, we could use Solaris 10s User and Process Rights Management features to replace the all-powerful root account with less powerful roles tailored to specific tasks.

Solaris 10 doesnt ship with precreated roles, but it does come with a comprehensive list of rights profiles, such as those for software installation or printer management. All we had to do to create a role was select a name, attach one or more rights profiles to it, and select the users allowed to assume that role. Alternatively, we could assign a rights profile directly to a user.

We could carry out these tasks graphically or on the command line using Solaris Management Console.

Next page: Creating administrative roles.

As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. JasonÔÇÖs coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at jbrooks@eweek.com.

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