Beginning with Solaris 10, Sun Microsystems rearranged the development and licensing processes surrounding its flagship operating system to better tap the sort of community participation that has helped lift Linux fairly quickly to prominence. The result was OpenSolaris.
eWEEK Labs recently scoped out the current OpenSolaris environment, spinning up three LiveCD-based OpenSolaris x86 distributions: NexentaOS Alpha 5, Belenix 0.5 and Schillix 0.5.2. We found that none of these systems is ready for production use but that they certainly represent burgeoning development diversity for Solaris. Whats more, these distributions point to intriguing new directions for Solaris, particularly in the case of NexentaOS.
Suns foray into expanded openness began in earnest about a year and a half ago, when Sun released the core of its Solaris operating system under the OSI (Open Source Initiative)-approved CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License). Almost immediately, the first all-free, Solaris-based distribution hit FTP servers. While that distribution, Schillix 0.1, wasnt too much more than a proof of concept, it was a promising sign for the OpenSolaris project.
Today, the chief OpenSolaris distributions are those that Sun maintains itself. Theres Solaris Express, a version of OpenSolaris that tracks the forthcoming Solaris 11 (code-named Nevada). Theres also Solaris Express CE (Community Edition), which also tracks Solaris 11 but is faster-moving. (For instance, at press time, Solaris Express was at Nevada Build 46, and Solaris Express CE was at Nevada Build 49.) Like Solaris 10, both Solaris Express editions are freely downloadable. Neither, however, consists entirely of open-source software. That distinction, for now, belongs to a few Solaris spinoffs.
Solaris Express CE is unsupported; Sun offers Web-based support for Solaris Express for $99 per year. Were pleased that Sun offers a supported version of the in-the-works operating system, as it gives organizations the option of getting early access to new features without forgoing support completely (as is the case with Red Hats Fedora distro).
What wed really like to see is a simpler way to upgrade among Suns test builds—over the Internet and package by package, rather than by downloading four CD images. With Debian GNU/Linux, for example, upgrading from a stable version to a testing version (and even—although not simply—back again) is a fairly easy affair.
NexentaOS—or, as its sometimes called, GNU/Solaris—interestingly combines the Solaris kernel and system core with the userland applications of Canonicals Ubuntu. NexentaOS boots into a GNOME 2.14 desktop that looks just like Ubuntus Dapper Drake, and it comes with most of the same applications as its Linux-driven cousin. Most important, in our opinion, NexentaOS includes Debians software management framework, which is our current favorite on any platform.
During tests, we had good success overall locating the applications we sought from more than 12,000 packages in NexentaOS software repositories. We encountered plenty of snags as well. For example, Mono, the open-source implementation of Microsofts .Net Framework, was available in the repositories, but our favored note-taking application, the Mono-based Tomboy, was not.
However, we found that we could package up a piece of software on NexentaOS by following the same steps we would with Ubuntu. For instance, just as on Ubuntu, “apt-get install build-essential” got us the build tools we needed for Tomboy, and we used the graphical software management tool Synaptic to hunt around for the dependencies we needed to compile. We finished things up by using checkinstall to build a .deb package for installation.
Our Tomboy package compiled but didnt work, which is probably why it wasnt available in the repository. However, NexentaOS closeness to Ubuntu helped us get things done.
We did find that, at least for now, NexentaOS alpha tag is well-deserved. For example, in our tests, GNOME didnt operate reliably: The vital application gnome-session kept crashing, bringing down our GNOME sessions. We could use the Xfce desktop environment without any such issues, but broken dependencies stopped us from installing Xfces great file manager, Thunar.
In addition, there are many places where NexentaOS Linux roots clash with its Solaris core. The GNOME system monitor, for instance, listed all processes running on the system at 100 percent, and the subsystem HAL, on which various desktop-related Linux systems rely, isnt working right now with NexentaOS Solaris engine.
Wed like to see Sun contribute more heavily to the NexentaOS project, specifically in terms of manpower—right now, the projects site (www.nexenta.com) lists Sun as a hardware donor. Helping to solve NexentaOS GNOME-related issues would pay dividends to the official Solaris release, since GNOME is the default desktop environment for Solaris. In addition, once NexentaOS wrinkles are smoothed out, it could give Sun a viable competitor to Windows- and Linux-based desktop operating systems.
Belenix is an OpenSolaris distribution put together by developers in Bangalore, India, and led by Sun employee Moinak Ghosh. Belenix is a LiveCD-based distribution with aspirations of becoming a more complete distribution for regular installation on hard drives.
We tried out the Belenix 0.5 LiveCD in a VMware virtual machine with 1GB of RAM. At boot-up, the system offered to fire up either an Xfce desktop environment or KDE (K Desktop Environment). KDE for Belenix, which will be familiar to anyone who has used KDE, comes with a full range of desktop-type applications and helpfully contains links to various getting-started resources, such as a guide to Solaris DTrace feature.
The Belenix project page at www.belenix.org contains decent documentation and some good general OpenSolaris information. We were interested to read that the projects long-term road map includes plans for Belenix to become a Gentoo-alternate platform. This would make Gentoos large software catalog available to Belenix. For now, once installed on a hard drive, Belenix supports installation of Solaris packages and software installation via NetBSDs Packages Collection, or pkgsrc, tool.
When we checked out Schillix 0.1, the distribution was pretty bare-bones. We ran the LiveCD of the most recent Schillix version, 0.5.2. This latest release offers a GUI option and runs by default the ultra-slim twm window manager. Otherwise, Schillix doesnt seem much changed since its early days.
Schillix development appears to be on the wane: Version 0.5.2 of the distribution came out in April, and the most recent entry in the distros discussion mailing list was from July. Also, there have been no bugs reported since January.
Advanced Technologies Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.