I tested OpenSolaris 2008.11 on a Lenovo Thinkpad T60 with 3GB of RAM
and an ATI X1300 graphics adapter. Support for suspend-to-RAM-aka sleep
mode-is a new feature of OpenSolaris 2008.11, but one that's available
on a limited range of notebook hardware, which apparently did not
include my test machine. Also new in OpenSolaris is support for 3D
acceleration and Compiz graphical eye candy on systems with Nvidia
graphics adapters, but not on ATI systems, such as my test machine.
The system supported my wired Ethernet adapter, an Intel 82573L,
without issue, and for the most part, my Intel 3945ABG wireless adapter
also worked well. However, I did experience some wireless issues with
my somewhat aged home access point-after periods of connectivity of
varying lengths, OpenSolaris would lose its link, requiring me to
restart the system's NWAM (Network Auto Magic) daemon and connect
again. I've experienced no such issues with the same hardware and
access point with Linux and Windows.
As I mentioned earlier, OpenSolaris ships with most of the same
applications that grace the Linux desktop, with the notable exception
of the Tomboy note taking tool (one of my favorite Linux applications)
or any other applications based on Mono, the open-source implementation
of Microsoft's .NET framework. This is too bad, because a fair amount
of the desktop application innovation occurring on Linux is Mono-based.
I found the Firefox 3 installation that ships by default with
OpenSolaris noticeably pokey in its performance-typing status updates
into Twitter, for instance, was practically too sluggish to stand.
Early in my testing, I installed a beta version of Firefox 3.1, which
delivered acceptable performance. Initially, I also missed Mozilla
Prism, the project's site-specific Web browser that I use for keeping
my GMail isolated from the rest of my Web browsing for performance and
security reasons. However, during my tests, Sun produced a build of
Prism that suited my needs.
My experiences with Firefox and Prism on OpenSolaris offer a window
into the current state of software packaging and availability on the
platform, which is marked by a mix of new and old software management
systems, unpackaged tarball binaries, and applications for which no
Solaris version exists.
The poorly-performing version of Firefox that I started out with
came from the OpenSolaris IPS repositories, which work more or less
like the repository systems for Ubuntu or Fedora. I could configure my
system with multiple software repositories, such as those for stable
and development packages, or for contributed packages offered through
the main OpenSolaris project and through the volunteer Blastwave
I could access pre-packaged software either from the command line or
through a graphical client that resembles Ubuntu's Synaptic, but I
couldn't browse through available packages in all of my configured
repositories at once, the way I can on Ubuntu or Fedora. Rather, when I
searched for packages, I had to visit each of my configured
repositories to see if the software I sought was available.
I would have preferred to stick exclusively to software in the
system's IPS repositories, but the faster Firefox 3.1 build was not
available through these channels, but rather in a contributed builds
folder on Mozilla's FTP site.
What's more, the package was not in IPS format, but in Sun's older
SRV4 format, which OpenSolaris still supports. As far as I could
gather, SRV4 packages are unseen by OpenSolaris' IPS system, and
multiple package formats on a single machine lead, in my experience, to
management headaches down the road. The Mozilla Prism build that I
mentioned came in yet another format, a plain tarball that I extracted
and ran from my home directory.
I expect this packaging fragmentation to improve over time-the
current state of Solaris software management has improved dramatically
in just the past year-but a tougher challenge to overcome involves
applications that haven't been ported to run on Solaris at all. As I
write this, the piece of software that comes most quickly to mind is
Google Gears, the offline Web app-enabling software that Google has
just embraced for its GMail service.
As I mentioned earlier, it's possible to run Linux software under
the Solaris kernel using the system's branded containers functionality,
but the feature is no picnic to configure for graphical applications,
and involves: creating a tarball of an existing Linux system;
configuring a branded container, complete with a static IP address
that's bonded to a specific network adapter (an unwelcome proposition
for notebook users who switch frequently between different wired and
wireless networks); and configuring your Linux container and your host
system to allow forwarding X over ssh.
I would like to see the OpenSolaris project streamline the process
of installing and using Linux applications within a branded container,
perhaps by making a bare-bones, relatively up-to-date installation of
CentOS or Ubuntu through the OpenSolaris repositories for the purpose,
and by turning the platform's newly-introduced Crossbow network
virtualization bits to the task of providing the Linux containers with
the network connectivity they require as transparently as possible.
Executive Editor Jason Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.