Schillix: OpenSolaris Testing Ground

First shipping OpenSolaris distro, Schillix, shows promise, but Sun has much left to do.

For organizations and individuals invested in the Solaris platform, Sun Microsystems Inc.s OpenSolaris project promises greater flexibility, faster innovation and closer attention to diverse needs through an eventual community of Solaris distributors akin to what Linux now enjoys.

Thanks in large part to the collaboration-maximizing virtues of the open-source development model, Linux has grown from humble, hobbyist-project roots into one of the worlds most prominent operating system platforms—a meteoric rise thats often come at the cost of Linuxs more mature Unix-based relatives.

Nearly a year ago, Sun Microsystems—the proprietor of Solaris, the most vital of these relations—announced its plans to tap into the same community resource pool from which Linux draws its strength by releasing Solaris under an open-source license.

The resulting project, called OpenSolaris, bore its first real fruit earlier this summer with Suns release of a core set of Solaris code under the newly minted CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License), followed by the release of Schillix 0.1, the first OpenSolaris-based distribution.

In the first 10 weeks since Sun began opening Solaris code in earnest, the company has reported 28 OpenSolaris contributions, nine of which have already been integrated into the code base.

Based on eWEEK Labs research on and testing of the OpenSolaris project and Schillix, we can report that while theres much work to be done before well begin seeing OpenSolaris-based distributions that can stand on equal footing with Solaris or with mainstream Linux flavors, the project is off to a very promising start.

We recommend that readers who are interested in OpenSolaris try out Schillix, which is available as a LiveCD and therefore very easy to take for a spin. (LiveCD is a disk from which you can boot and run an operating system without installing anything on your hard drive.) You also can peruse the projects expansive developers reference guide at

OpenSolaris is intended to become the foundation for Solaris moving forward, in a way similar to how Fedora Core forms the basis for Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

However, unlike Fedora Core, the code that constitutes OpenSolaris doesnt yet add up to a complete, ready-to-run operating system. The body of Solaris code that Sun has so far released includes the Solaris kernel, basic networking functionality and a set of other core libraries and commands. The OpenSolaris documentation refers to these pieces as the ON (OS/Net) consolidation.

Because OpenSolaris does not yet include all the components required to make up a complete running system, its necessary to bootstrap into the OpenSolaris code from a compatible system. Right now, the only such system is Suns Solaris Express Community Release, a bleeding-edge development branch of Solaris that is aimed at the next major release of the operating system, Version 11.

During tests, we installed Solaris Express Community Release from the four .iso images on which its delivered. We could then update the release to OpenSolaris either by downloading and installing prebuilt archives or by downloading and installing a mixture of OpenSolaris code and closed-source binaries of ON code that Sun hasnt yet open-sourced. Developers can build the code with the GNU Compiler Collection Version 3.4.3 or Suns own Studio 10 compiler.

Many of the binaries that Sun hasnt yet opened are hardware drivers, but others are key software components. A list on the OpenSolaris Web site includes information on which of these pieces Sun plans to add, such as OpenSSH (Open Secure Shell), and which it doesnt plan to add, such as Smartcard library support and the Korn shell.

The process of sorting out intellectual property snags en route to open-sourcing the code that makes up Solaris has been and continues to be a long one. Theres a road map on the OpenSolaris site that lays out a rough timetable for when additional pieces should be added to the project.

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Right now, the best way to see what is and is not part of OpenSolaris—and to get up and running on OpenSolaris code with a minimum of hassle—is to download and run Schillix, the first and, for now, the only OpenSolaris distribution.

We booted up Schillix on one of our garden-variety Pentium 4 desktops and were presented with a minimal Solaris environment. Schillix doesnt yet ship with any sort of GUI, but we were able to reach the network and compile software on our test system.

After taking the additional step of installing Schillix to our machines hard drive, we were keen to try out some of Solaris flashier new features on Schillix.

DTrace worked as expected, and, at first, the Solaris Zones feature seemed to work as we stepped through the process of configuring a new zone. However, we ran into a roadblock at the stage where the system was to install core files into our new zone. The trouble was that Solaris SVR4 (System VR4) software package system is not yet open source and therefore wasnt included with the system. (Its the packaging system thats responsible for installing files into new zones.)

On the OpenSolaris road map, management tools and a system installer are scheduled to be added almost a year from now. And, according to what weve read in the copious blog, forum and mailing list entries that Suns OpenSolaris engineers produce, its not a sure thing that Sun will be able to open-source its packaging system at all.

Missing package management pieces are a looming problem for OpenSolaris and for any distributions it engenders, and it may be a tricky one to solve.

It would be possible for members of the OpenSolaris community to implement the Solaris package system anew or to replace it with an alternative, but its preferable that whatever solutions Sun and the community arrive at not break compatibility with the current Solaris schemes.

For instance, in our tests with Schillix, we werent able to install software from the excellent Solaris package repository project because of the reliance of those packages on Solaris native package tools—among them the package database that tracks installed software for dependency resolution.

In the Linux world, software packaging is one of the major contributions that community members make, and a successful OpenSolaris will depend on mechanisms being in place to enable this participation.

On our Schillix system, we tried out NetBSDs pkgsrc application, as well as Schillix project lead Jörg Schillers own SPS (The Schily Source Package System), with mixed success. Both programs operate by fetching application code, working out dependencies and compiling code, much like Gentoo Linuxs Portage tool.

Since Suns initial OpenSolaris announcements, there has been talk of a Portage port for Solaris/OpenSolaris, but, so far, the initiative seems to live only in a handful of forum postings.

Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at

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