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Unix Operating Systems Software Sun Microsystems Linux

OpenSolaris From a Linux Admin and User Perspective 370

MSa writes "How does OpenSolaris, Sun's effort to free its big-iron OS, fare from a Linux user's point of view? Is it merely a passable curiosity right now, or is it truly worth installing? Linux Format takes OpenSolaris for a test drive, examining the similarities and differences between the OS and a typical Linux distro. If you want to sample the mighty ZFS filesystem, OpenSolaris is definitely the way to go."
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OpenSolaris From a Linux Admin and User Perspective

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  • Ever since the demise of SGI I haven't looked at anything but Linux / BSD, but this makes me wonder if there is maybe life for Solaris after all.

    Would be nice if this was more geared towards the server end of things, which is where I would expect you'd deploy solaris much sooner than on the desktop.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 19, 2008 @10:42AM (#24658493)

      What do you mean, the demise of SG-1? The Apophis was defeated and the replicators contained.

      Oh, SGI. Sorry.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      I've been a sys admin for FreeBSD and Linux machines for a computer club for a few years now. We've had one Solaris machine in the lineup for a long while (its three PSUs loudly exploded while debugging the hw yesterday). And I must say that it is a robust OS on robust hardware; we've never had to look at it much: it just worked (really, it did). Though I never got the hang of it. The OS has some oddities here and there, stuff you need to know that are specific to the OS.
    • by alancdavis ( 677086 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2008 @12:16PM (#24659973)
      The review didn't address desktop vs. server and as a "lightweight" review doesn't look any deeper than the distro package for answers to the questions and objections raised.
      OpenSolaris works well as a server OS - that /is/ it's heritage. It's easier to run OpenSolaris headless and on a serial console than any of the *BSD and Linux distros that I've used over the years. All of the "standard" server packages are available to run web and net services out of the box. For truly lights-out server rooms it's still necessary to choose hardware that implements some sort of remote power cycle or remote system monitor capability.
      The ZFS filesystem is interesting for desktop installations - it does allow seamless use of the 1-2 terabyte desktop disk configurations that are now possible. ZFS was designed for the datacenter - eliminating the need for the time-honored but fragile combination of journaling filesystem over software volume manager (usually over HW RAID). It's the first real innovation in filesystem architecture since journaling filesystems were developed.
      Additional software packages are available from 3 well-known (in the Solaris community, at least) sites. Sun has it's own freeware site, and [] [] []

      The package manager for is their own, the others use the standard Solaris pkgadd commands. The package naming convention is a long-standing convention - each vendor uses a different prefix, making it easy to differentiate the source of packages.
      OpenSolaris commands, where Sun hasn't replaced stock UNIX commands with their own, reflect SVR5 standard rather than the more Linux-ish BSD syntax.
      One of the places where Sun has replaced "normal" functionality is the init process. SMF is Sun's attempt at fixing the long-standing problems and in-efficiencies of the BSD or SVR5 init process. Apple has launchd, there's openrc and gentoo's baselayout that all have similar goals. SMF works well and there's a fair amount of support on the net for integrating non-distro apps.
      One of the "why OpenSolaris" answers is that there is value in running the same OS on the desktop as on the server. For Solaris shops OpenSolaris on the x86* servers provides a common platform that enables system management efficiencies to be extended.
      • by C0vardeAn0nim0 ( 232451 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2008 @02:08PM (#24661779) Journal

        The ZFS filesystem is interesting for desktop installations - it does allow seamless use of the 1-2 terabyte desktop disk configurations that are now possible. ZFS was designed for the datacenter - eliminating the need for the time-honored but fragile combination of journaling filesystem over software volume manager (usually over HW RAID).
        It's the first real innovation in filesystem architecture since journaling filesystems were developed.

        just karma whoring here, but it's important to mention that pretty much everything ZFS has to offer was already available on tru64's advFS: []

        it's a shame HP killed this fine unix to keep that abominable HP-UX, so kudos to sun for bringing back the functionality of tru64 back to the datacentre AND the desktop.

        hmmm, i wonder if my notebook (presario v6210) is compatible with opensolaris...

        • just karma whoring here, but it's important to mention that pretty much everything ZFS has to offer was already available on tru64's advFS: [] []

          As much as I love tru64, I think it really is time to put this myth to bed. AdvFS is a good solid filesystem and cluster aware too, but it's no ZFS. AdvFS doesn't do any form of RAID other than concatenating disks into disk pools (domains) which can then be populated by filesets (AdvFS speak for filesystems) that share th

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I think that's kind of harsh - comparing Solaris to Irix. In the first place, Irix was never meant to be more than a workstation OS, and it was crufty and crappy enough that you'd never want to run it on big iron. Solaris, on the other hand, even with its roots in workstations, has always run well on the largest servers. While the Irix/Linux comparison might be valid for desktops and small servers, a better camparison for Solaris might be HP-UX, as they're both more aimed at the data center than the desktop
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by fm6 ( 162816 )

        Irix was never meant to be more than a workstation OS...

        Say what? SGI sold servers too. In the late 90s it was their main business. The email server at AOL used to be an SGI Origin — running IRIX.

        SGI's business was an is (they still exist, albeit as a very tiny supercomputer/server vendor) high performance computing. Doing HPC with workstations and doing it with servers and supercomputers is not all that different. And until they shifted from MIPS to x64 and Itanium, all their systems ran IRIX.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 19Buck ( 517176 )
      "Would be nice if this was more geared towards the server end of things"
      in that case what you want is Solaris 10, not OpenSolaris
  • Nexenta (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Enderandrew ( 866215 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .werdnaredne.> on Tuesday August 19, 2008 @10:37AM (#24658443) Homepage Journal

    I'd try Nexenta, except I don't really want to use the Ubuntu repositories for my Linux packages. I'd prefer something with a good KDE desktop.

    I'd consider it for a web-server box to test how the kernel handles I/O.

    • There is also 'glusterfs', which has some pretty impressive specs.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I'd prefer something with a good KDE desktop.

      What, exactly, don't you like about Kubuntu?

      Or is that not among the packages ported? Because to bootstrap from ubuntu-minimal to kubuntu is fairly easy.

      • Re:Nexenta (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Enderandrew ( 866215 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .werdnaredne.> on Tuesday August 19, 2008 @10:48AM (#24658613) Homepage Journal

        Someone asked me this question recently. And for the sixth time I answered with a laundry list of things I didn't like about it. Agian, I was modded Troll for stating I don't like Ubuntu/Kubuntu, and then people got all in a huff.

        Like I always say, it is marketed at a certain target audience, and it isn't me.

        I suggest that you try out a really good KDE desktop (Arch's KDEMod, Sabayon, openSUSE 11, etc) and the differences should be immediately apparent to you.

        As far as whether or not the KDE packages are available in Nexenta, I'm not sure actually.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by KillerBob ( 217953 )

          You might also want to try Zenwalk... it's an XFCE desktop out of the box, but there's KDE packages in the repository... I don't actually have kdebase installed on my system (the only things from KDE that I actually use are Konqueror and Kopete, which are in the kdenetwork package, and work without kdebase), but it's actually a stock, unmodified, compiled from source package that, if it's anything like every other package on the system, is about as close to what the KDE devs want it to behave/look like that

  • by jhfry ( 829244 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2008 @10:43AM (#24658533)

    I love that Sun open sourced it, however I think that the greatest benifit is not that it's open but that the technologies it offers are available to be reproduced on other nix os's. The biggest issue I have with OpenSolaris is that it's still a single vendor OS. If it forks a few times and actually develops a culture and some competition between vendors than I think it will be more appealing.

    That's actually what I hate and love about linux. It's a fragmented and ineffecient community, but because it's fragmented I don't have to worry that it's going away any time soon.

    • Very insightful. One of the things I've always said was a strenght of OSS was that it provided redundancy of that nature. Even if one fork/project of a given set of code fails, if the idea is worthy it will live on.

    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      but that the technologies it offers are available to be reproduced on other nix os's.

      So why is ZFS for Linux not yet out of Beta?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jhfry ( 829244 )

        Because in order for it to operate optimally it must be part of the kernel, and Linus and crew refuse to put it in the kernel due to licensing issues.

        It runs fine in userland with fuse, but it's slow.

        • Clarification (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Enderandrew ( 866215 )

          Sun has not yet released ZFS an openSolaris under GPLv3, which is the first step.

          Next, the Linux kernel would need to be GPLv3.

          Linus can relicense all of his contributions to GPLv3, but then the kernel can not include any code currently licensed GPLv2. So actually, every developer who contributed code and maintained copyright on that code would have to be contacted, and all of them would have to agree to relicense the code.

          Unlike many other projects where people contributed under "GPLv2 or later", the Linu

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Kjella ( 173770 )

      I love that Sun open sourced it, however I think that the greatest benifit is not that it's open but that the technologies it offers are available to be reproduced on other nix os's.

      Except the small detail that the CDDL is incompatible with the GPL, so you won't see things like Linux kernel-based ZFS. From what I've understood running it through FUSE (userspace) isn't all that great. I do understand why Sun doesn't want Linux to take all its crown jewels, but it's still annoying.

      • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2008 @11:25AM (#24659169) Journal

        He said 'other nix os's' not 'Linux'. The GPL may be incompatible with the CDDL, but the BSDL isn't, and bits of Solaris, such as ZFS and DTrace, have found their way into FreeBSD.

        Saying the CDDL is incompatible with the GPL is misleading - the CDDL doesn't say anything about code not explicitly released under it. It is the GPL which imposes constraints on third-party code. If Linux used a more permissive license then it would be able to use OpenSolaris code, and OpenSolaris would be able to use Linux code just as it used to use a lot of BSD code back in the SunOS days.

  • I thought the ZFS on the "free" version was crippled down to 1 TB.

  • I put up Sun's free VirtualBox VM environment on a MacBook Pro, and both OpenSolaris and Solaris 10 Intel were worthless. Both achieved speeds reminiscent of PearPC.

    XP worked OK. Ubuntu was fine.

    You'd think if you were going to release a VM, at least you'd make sure your flagship OS would run on it at speeds that would compare favorably to a 20-year-old Amiga.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Danathar ( 267989 )

      The OS X version of Virtual box does not support (yet) any of the processor specific virtual machine extensions that speed things up considerably.

  • ZFS rocks (Score:3, Interesting)

    by larry bagina ( 561269 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2008 @10:49AM (#24658625) Journal
    ZFS kicks ass. Sun really raised the bar with it. There are some other FSs in development (Hammer, btrfs, etc), but they don't have the full integration that ZFS does. Maybe eventually, someone will write a patch so ZFS is just a patch and recompile away in Linux (although that approach is what made minix suck back in the day). Heh, minix will probably have ZFS support before Linux does.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Enderandrew ( 866215 )

      Someone likely could easily issue ZFS as patch directly for the kernel as opposed to in FUSE. The problem is that it would be illegal to use it a such because of the license. Sun has talked about making it all GPLv3 if Linux takes their kernel GPLv3 as well. Linux would gain native ZFS in their kernel, but Sun would gain every device driver from Linux.

      The problem is that too many individuals that you can't even contact own individual copyrights in the Linux kernel. It isn't just going to up and change t

      • It depends: if it's the ZFS specification that's CDDL licensed you're screwed as kernel space goes. However, if it's only Sun's software that writes a ZFS file system (the ZFS drivers and toolchain) it's possible that an alternative implementation of ZFS could be created. Sun have said they're 'investigating' a Linux port [].

        I've used Solaris (I ordered the DVD over the Internet) and I like it: it's no slower than, say, Kubuntu (KDE4), in VirtualBox, and I love ZFS. Unfortunately, I've misplaced the DVD, and a

      • Actually, it would be completely legal to use it. It would be illegal to distribute it, because it would be a derived work of the Linux kernel and the kernel is under a license which imposes a strict set of constraints on the third-party code you are allowed to link it with. Linux device drivers tend to be an unreadable mess (not helped at all by the fact that they often include changes to update them to new in-kernel APIs by people who have not looked at the overall design of the driver). FreeBSD has a
      • by fatboy ( 6851 )

        Someone likely could easily issue ZFS as patch directly for the kernel as opposed to in FUSE. The problem is that it would be illegal to use it a such because of the license.

        I don't think the problem would be "using it", it would be with distributing it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by caseih ( 160668 )

      ZFS does have issues with NFS though. In particular NFS writes can lock up the client. Hopefully this issue will be fixed soon. it's not really ZFS's fault; it's NFS's fault. Yet no other FS has this issue, so I'm sure a workaround could be done. In the meantime there are times when the NFS clients on our 12 TB ZFS (Solaris 10) system are unusable.

      ZFS will never come to Linux while the license remains incompatible with the GPL. I predict that one day Sun will relicense it, but not before they've really

  • Sure, it's Open Source and everything. But the problem is that complex programs like this are often designed with a top-down instead of a bottom-up approach. I mean, this isn't a bazaar, it's a cathedral. Oh, and OpenSolaris is not GPL. *buzz*

    There's still one company responsible and only that company will make the changes, because the codebase is so huge that it's a pain in the *** to maintain. Well, eventually many open source projects end up like that, with a huge codebase and with a company. BUT, this w

  • Sun is battling hard to break into the open source operating system world with OpenSolaris. Juliet Kemp takes it for a test-drive, sampling its unique features and seeing how it fares against Linux...

    OpenSolaris is an open-source project based on (some of) the Solaris operating system code, and sponsored by Sun, but being developed independently. The main aim of the project is to create a downloadable codebase. Currently, though, there's a Live CD/install image available which gives you a full OpenSolaris d

  • Excerpts from the article:

    "... I found OpenSolaris significantly slower than Ubuntu or OpenSUSE..."

    "There are fewer packages available than for a mainstream Linux distro, although they do have over a thousand (and certainly enough for a fully-functioning system). The package naming is slightly odd; package names begin with a handful of capital letters (eg SUNW or FSW)."

    "ZFS is transactional, meaning that the filesystem is always consistent (so fsck or equivalent isn't used or needed), and snapshots are intentionally both easy and cheap in terms of disk space."

    "I'm very impressed with the concepts behind ZFS, but I'm also concerned that cross-functionality with Linux is limited."

    "I did find it frustrating to have to relearn commands that I've been using without thinking for years now (eg ifconfig), and right now I'm not convinced that for me it's worth the mental effort, especially given the relative scarcity of external software available."
  • I had a box with a drive with an empty primary partition at the beginning and Linux on a few extended partitions at the end. The OpenSolaris install documentation and the installer itself promised not to touch the existing extended partitions. Which it didn't. It did, however, wipe the partition table so I could not find my extended partitions and had to restore from backups.

    I will not be using OpenSolaris anytime soon.

  • That's because the Linux folks were worried about the pending USG/CSRG lawsuit so they reimplemented TCP instead of using the BSD TCP stack and utilities like almost everyone else (including Microsoft) did.

    Just about any non-Linux UNIX implementation is going to have the BSD TCP.

    On the upside the lawsuit did set SCO up the bomb. Oh, it wasn't the only thing by any means (did they actually do ANYTHING right in that lawsuit?), but one of the side effects of the USG/CSRG lawsuit was that a lot of early UNIX code code was open-sourced. Including some of the SCO claimed were examples of "infringing code" in Linux. Come on, folks, wasn't it great to have Dennis Ritchie himself point that out?

    • by lokedhs ( 672255 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2008 @11:54AM (#24659615)
      Actually, Solaris doesn't [] use the BSD TCP stack. They completey replaced the stack in Solaris 10.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by argent ( 18001 )

        Microsoft also replaced the BSD TCP stack, but they kept the same userland commands. They already had a different config command (ipconfig instead of ifconfig)... probably because they had to rewrite that to cooperate with their netbios and other stacks, but ...

        C:\WINDOWS\System32\> strings ftp.exe
        @(#) Copyright (c) 1983 The Regents of the University of California.

  • It's a bit late (Score:4, Interesting)

    by metamatic ( 202216 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2008 @11:07AM (#24658905) Homepage Journal

    I was a Solaris admin back in the early 90s. I preferred SYSV to BSD for a lot of things. But at this point, I'm just not seeing a compelling reason to go back. Sure, ZFS sounds nice, but I don't really want a system that's slower and more RAM-hungry than Linux, and I don't want an OS with a GPL-incompatible license.

    • by Ash-Fox ( 726320 )

      Honestly, with LVM on Linux, I don't really see the benefits of ZFS over it (note: you can get ZFS over fuse on Linux if you really wanted).

      The only thing I ever hear about what's good about Solaris is the fact it has ZFS and dtrace. Both of which I'm not interested in. Seriously, just go look on for information about what's good about Solaris. They come up with the regular buzz words such as 'scalable' etc. But the only meat I ever find is 'ZFS' and 'dtrace'.

  • by doomicon ( 5310 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2008 @11:13AM (#24659003) Homepage Journal

    If your main concern is whether or not it runs KDE? Then stick with Linux.

    • by doomicon ( 5310 )

      If you work in an environment that has the luxury of dismissing products and solutions because they are NOT GPL...

      stick with Linux :-)

  • by nobodylocalhost ( 1343981 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2008 @11:14AM (#24659007)

    Trying to harden Solaris is a nightmare. Mostly because so many packages in the Solaris install are interdependent. It is either install 90% of the packages or install nothing. Why do they even bother breaking the software packages if this is the end result? Getting rid of RPC can create so many problems it isn't even funny. Both BSD and Linux offer the option of only installing the base package and only choose the services you want with little to no other packages to depend on. This however absolutely cannot be the case for solaris because a single needed software package will require you to install nearly all services.

  • I just installed it a couple of weeks ago. Open Solaris starts in a GNOME shell and feels quite like Ubuntu in that way. Main difference is that the booting is much slower, but that's not unreasonable for a server OS that isn't supposed to get rebooted very often. I haven't really used it that much, but mostly it seemed to be okay. (Reference basis is that I'm a heavy Ubuntu user, though my company distro is a custom version of RHEL5, and I've experimented with about half a dozen of the live CD versions.)


  • As someone who uses Linux at home and work, and also uses Solaris at work, I'm very pleased to see what Sun are doing. Solaris is a great operating system and I'm a bit bemused by the attitude that some Slashdotters have of "Why bother when I've got Linux?". I thought we were supposed to be geeks here and fascinated by interesting technology!

    The biggest grumble I usually hear is that the default Solaris commands are not as feature rich as the GNU equivalents. The easy answer is that the GNU tools are most p

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 19, 2008 @11:49AM (#24659545)

    ... between Solaris and Linux in the Enterprise is how they react to abuse - namely stupid people running ton of stupid memory hog applications.

    Where I work we have Solaris 9 and 10 boxes running literally unattended for 600+ days - they are shared boxes, meaning lot many different applications run on the same OS/FS/Memory/CPUs .

    When a particular app goes haywire and starts (many of them are 64-bit apps) - that particular app just gets a NULL back when there is no longer any memory available. The app can hopefully then calm itself down or release some of its caches etc. but the main point is that the other apps are unaffected and so is the OS.

    I would not even begin to think how Linux could handle this. It has this insane notion of handing out virtually any amount of memory to applications whether or not there is actually that much memory and swap available. So when things get out of control the ugly and stupid OOM killer thinks it knows better which app to kill - depending on your luck you could end up with sshd or some other good behaving app being killed to give memory to this bad app.

    That is scary. Arguably this is all fixable within the applications but ground reality is that App developers are incompetent - at least where I work, they are.

    Plus the newer Solaris releases are close to Linux when it comes to performance. So the only incentive to run Linux is hardware support - if you are on non SPARC hardware that is.

    Linux hopefully some day will have a good memory management subsystem soon - less fragmentation, more predictability, good accounting etc. But till that time Solaris for the stupid "Enterprise" .

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by shish ( 588640 )

      I would not even begin to think how Linux could handle this

      Evidently I am somewhat more adventurous, as I will dare to think. My thought is that linux could handle this by having some sort of kernel setting, called, say, "overcommit_memory", classed in the "sys/vm" part of the proc heirachy. I would think that one could alter the behaviour by echoing a setting into it, eg "echo 2 > /proc/sys/vm/overcommit_memory". Incidentally, I think it could work this way because it actually does work this way :P

      A question though -- with overcommit disabled, things like jav

  • Mixed Feelings (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Piranhaa ( 672441 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2008 @02:54PM (#24662441)

    OpenSolaris takes quite a bit of time getting used to IMHO coming from FreeBSD, OpenBSD, and many many versions of Linux. I used it because I wanted ZFS, virtulization, and also to try something new.

    I did move back to FreeBSD after about a week or so since I thought OpenSolaris brought unnecessary learning curves for someone new. Things like 'ps' being different than every other distro, network interface setup and modification is annoying, the number of programs that you can compile outside of their package manager are slim, and overall not very friendly (I don't want to use the GUI, ever). However, I have 4gb of ram and ZFS really should only be run under 64-bit FreeBSD. Qemu doesn't seem to run, Xen isn't even an option for virtulization and WINE doesn't work under 64-bit (these are the main reasons I bought 4gb of ram in the first place).

    ZFS has been running flawlessly on FreeBSD for me thus far, and even the maintainer says he's been using it since her ported it over without a hickup. FreeBSD runs version 6 of ZFS, while OpenSolaris currently runs version 11. It IS true, once you go ZFS you don't go back.

    I refuse to run Linux, for personal and limiting reasons, and FreeBSD won't let me virtualize. It seems that in the next few days I'll be biting the bullet and moving back to OpenSolaris. It is very nice that ZFS is seamlessly integrated and snapshots are automatically created when updating the system. This ensures you can easily roll back or boot back into an older install to test different things.
    All in all OpenSolaris HAS some potential, but their licensing is very wack and limiting. If Sun wants their OS to evolve and take on more users in the community, the licence will really need to be changed.

  • by Red Leader. ( 12916 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2008 @08:50PM (#24667025) Homepage
    I gave Solaris 10 more than a fair shake a few months ago (with an eye on its ZFS support) when I had a hard drive fail. I worked pretty hard at getting it to run and really didn't get very far. Note: I've been using Debian for almost 10 years now -- so I'm pretty biased.

    From what I remember there was an astroturfed Sun-staff-only developer community, little information available online, slow as hell boot time, ZFS boot partition complications, and a broken KDE (the X server didn't work correctly; I have absolutely ZERO problems, even with 3D here in Linux).

    And when I looked ahead to maintaining the system (the VAST BULK of where overhead is spent) I didn't see anything that looked as sane or easy as Debian. No incremental updates, just some arcane BSD-esque 'port' or .tar.gz package system (excusable for the rare unpackaged Perl module, but unacceptable for the whole damn system). I'm quite admittedly not very knowledgeable about BSD and Unix, but damn those systems seem like a bitch to maintain. And Nexenta simply wasn't there yet.

    Solaris 10: pass.

Beware of Programmers who carry screwdrivers. -- Leonard Brandwein