Sun Microsystems' OpenSolaris 2008.11 includes improvements around software package management and incorporating community packaging efforts. The updates to the free Solaris-based OS shows that Sun will not follow IBM and HP in letting Linux take over the platform space once dominated by Unix.
OpenSolaris 2008.11, the second major release of Sun Microsystems'
freely-licensed, Solaris-based operating system, hit the Web late last
year packed with feature enhancements that illustrate that Sun isn't
about to cede the platform stage to Linux, as brothers-in-Unix such as
IBM's AIX and Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX have done.
Taking a cue from popular Linux distributions, Sun's OpenSolaris
improvements center around a bolstered software package management
framework that includes both client-side tools for installing and
updating applications, and back-end facilities for channeling community
packaging efforts into the project.
In my tests, I found Sun's package management framework, which is
anchored by the still-young Image Packaging System, much improved from
the facilities that shipped with Solaris 10. However, while Sun is on
the right track here, I found the software tools less streamlined and
the breadth of available software packages less broad than what I've
come to expect from Linux distributions such as Ubuntu.
The other key area in which OpenSolaris shows both improvement and
the need for further improvement is in the repackaging of Sun's
industry-leading, server-focused technologies for use in more
general-purpose scenarios. One of the most eye-catching features of
OpenSolaris 2008.11 is its new Time Slider tool, which wraps the
snapshotting capabilities of Sun's ZFS file system in an elegant and
useful tool for accessing previous versions of files and directories on
For OpenSolaris to vie successfully for larger mind share among the
Linux/Unix developer community at which it is aimed, Sun must expose
more of Solaris' unique functionality in the way that the company has
done with Time Slider.
For instance, no matter how well Sun and the OpenSolaris community
organize their software packaging efforts, there will be a significant
amount of software that won't run on Solaris. It's possible to run
Linux software from OpenSolaris using the platform's branded containers
feature, but this Linux-on-Solaris option, called BrandZ, requires a
significant amount of fiddling to get up and running.
For those interested in learning more about Sun's platform,
OpenSolaris can serve well as a desktop or notebook workstation,
provided that the system supports your hardware. The distribution's
installer disk is a LiveCD that makes it easy to test whether
OpenSolaris supports your gear with very little investment.
OpenSolaris includes most of the default desktop software that ships
with a Linux distribution, including the Firefox 3 Web browser,
OpenOffice.org 3 productivity suite, and the GNOME desktop environment,
with its range of included applications.
As with the Linux-based distributions from which OpenSolaris takes
its organizational cues, OpenSolaris can also be used as a server
operating system, running applications downloaded through IPS,
installed via the traditional Solaris SVR4 package system, or compiled
directly on the machine.
OpenSolaris is freely downloadable from opensolaris.com,
but for those who wish to deploy OpenSolaris in production settings,
Sun offers commercial support for the distribution in two levels:
essential support, which starts at $324 per system per year, and
production support, which starts at $2,160 per system per year. You can
find the details of these support subscriptions here.
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. Jason's 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 email@example.com.