OpenSolaris meets Mac OS X in Munich

Last Wednesday, Wolfgang and I had the honor to present at "Mac Treff München", Munich's local Mac User Group. There are quite a few touching points between OpenSolaris and Mac OS X, such as ZFS, DTrace and VirtualBox, we thought it would be a good idea to contact them out of our Munich OpenSolaris User Group and talk a little bit about OpenSolaris.

Breaking the Ice

We were a little bit nervous about what would happen. Do Mac people care about the innards of a different, seemingls non-GUIsh OS? Are they just fanboys or are they open to other people's technologies? Will talking about redundancy, BFU, probes and virtualization bore them to death?

Fortunately, the 30-40 people that attended the event proved to be a very nice, open and tolerant group. They let us talk about OpenSolaris in General including some of the nitty-grittyness of the development process, before we started talking about the features that are more interesting to Mac users. We then talked about ZFS, DTrace and VirtualBox:

ZFS for Mac OS X (or not (yet)?)

Explaining the principles behind ZFS to people who are only used to draging'n'dropping icons, shooting photos or video and using computers to get work done, without having to care about what happens inside, is not easy. We concentrated on getting the basics of the tree structure, copy-on-write, check-summing and using redundancy to self-heal while using real world examples and metaphors to illustrate the principles. Here's the deal: If you have lots of important data (photos, recording, videos, anyone?) and care about it (content creators...), then you need to be concerned about data availability and integrity. ZFS solves that, it's that simple. A little animation in the slides were quite helpful in explaining that, too :).

The bad news is that ZFS seems to have vanished from all of Apple's communication about the upcoming Mac OS X Snow Leopard release. That's really bad, because many developers and end-users were looking forward to take advantage of it.

The good news is that there are still ways to take advantage of ZFS as a Mac User: Run an OpenSolaris file server for archiving your data or using it as a TimeMachine store, or even run a small OpenSolaris ZFS Server inside your Mac through VirtualBox.

DTrace: A Mac Developer/Admin's Heaven, Albeit in Jails

Next, we dove a little bit into DTrace and how it makes the OS really transparent for admins, developers and users. In addition to the dtrace(1) command, Apple created a nice GUI called "Instruments" as part of their XCode development environment that leverages the DTrace infrastructure to collect useful data about your application in realtime.

Alas, as with ZFS, there's another downer, and this time it's more subtle: While you can enjoy the power of DTrace in Mac OS X now, it's still kinda crippled, as Adam Leventhal pointed out: Processes can escape the eyes of DTrace at will, which counters the absolute observability idea of DTrace quite massively. Yes, there are valid reasons for both sides of the debate, but IMHO, legal things should be enforced using legal means, and software should be treated as software, meaning it is not a reliable way of enforcing any license contracts - with or without powerful tools such as DTrace.

OpenSolaris for all: VirtualBox

Finally, a free present to the Mac OS X community: VirtualBox. I still get emails asking me to spend 80+ dollars on some virtualization software for my Mac. There are at least two choices in that price range: VMware Workstation and Parallels. Well, the good news is that you can save your 80 bucks and use VirtualBox instead.

This may not be new to you, since as a reader of my blog you've likely heard of VirtualBox before, but it's always amazing for me to see how slowly these things spread. So, after reading this article, do your Mac friends a favour and tell them they can save precious money buy just downloading VirtualBox instead of spending money on other virtualization solutions for the Mac. It's really that simple.

Indeed, this was the part where the attendees took most of their notes, and asked a lot of questions about (ZFS being a close first in terms of discussion/questions).


After our presentations, a lot of users came up and asked questions about how to install OpenSolaris on their hardware and on VirtualBox. Some even asked where to buy professional services for installing them an OpenSolaris ZFS fileserver in their company. The capabilities of ZFS clearly struck some chords inside the Mac OS X community, which is no wonder: If you have lots of Audio/Video/Photo data and care about quality and availability, then there's no way around FS.

I used this event as an excuse to try out keynote, which worked quite well for me, especially because it helped me create some easy to understand animations about the mechanics of ZFS. I also liked the automatic guides a lot which help you position elements on your slides very easily and seem to guess very well what your layout intentions were. I'd love the OpenOffice folks to check out Keynote's guides and see if they can come up with something similar. So, here's a Keynote version of my "OpenSolaris for Mac Users" slides as well as a PDF version (both in German) for you to check out and re-use if you like.

Update: Wolfgang's introductory slides are now available for download as well and Klaus, the organizer of the event, posted a review in the Mac Treff München Blog with some pictures, too.


you said:
"to take advantage of ZFS as a Mac User: Run an OpenSolaris file server for archiving your data"
Did you really tested it? i did, and it failed due to characters like "space" or "/" in filenames, characters massively used by normals mac users. It seems the limitation is due to CIFS, is there another way to do it? And don't reply nfs, it'snt a solution. linux servers integrate netatalk for appleshare protocols, it seems this is the only way at the moment. And netatalk isn't in opensolaris.

Posted by gerard on June 15, 2009 at 06:34 AM CEST #

Hi Gerard,

I'm running an OpenSolaris server at home and export the ZFS file systems through the OpenSolaris built-in CIFS service. I can mount the directory on my Mac as if it was coming from a Windows server. I just created a folder with spaces in the filename and another one with / and even quotes in it, which seemed to work.

I did see some confusion on the ACL side, but that happens mainly when you try to access the files from the Solaris side and have to adjust permissions, which is easy to do.

What kind of problems did you have? What setup have you tried?


Posted by Constantin Gonzalez on June 15, 2009 at 06:49 AM CEST #

Hi Gerard,

another thing: Yes, running netatalk on Solaris would be the better solution. Right now, there don't seem to be pre-built packages, but here's a set of instructions that seem to work:

These instructions look very good as well:

I haven't tried using netatalk myself yet because the CIFS service worked "good enough", but I may try it in the future.

Hope this helps,

Posted by Constantin Gonzalez on June 15, 2009 at 07:01 AM CEST #

i think you don't see the problem because you're an engineer. Try with a directory from a secretary's machine, where people tend to use many characters we never use in solaris filenames. I remembered (but not for sure) some characters as in "document 26/3/03"
orf accents as in é,ç, à, ...

Posted by gerard on June 15, 2009 at 08:08 AM CEST #

Hi Gerard,

maybe this was with an earlier version of the Solaris CIFS file service and/or there are some settings that need to be fixed. I just tried again with German Umlauts such as ä and ß and it worked.

Have you looked at using netatalk on Solaris yet?

Posted by Constantin Gonzalez on June 15, 2009 at 08:28 AM CEST #

-What is good in Open Solaris?
-Is something good more?
-Big question...

Posted by Andrius Burlega on June 29, 2009 at 03:44 PM CEST #

Hi Andrius,

thanks for reading my blog.

There are a lot of good things in OpenSolaris that differentiate it from Linux, other Unix variants and operating systems. A few examples:

- Stability
- Scalability (from 1 core to hundreds of cores and TB of RAM)
- Driver support and quality, especially for server-grade hardware
- Features such as ZFS, DTrace, Zones, Resource Management, Crossbow virtualized networking, COMSTAR I/O virtualization, Service Management Facility (SMF), Fault Management Architecture (FMA), In-Kernel-CIFS-Service and many more.
- Open Licensing model: The CDDL allows developers to decide how their code is to be licensed, whereas GPL doesn't.

I suggest you take a look at the following article:

Posted by Constantin Gonzalez on June 30, 2009 at 05:02 AM CEST #

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