Wednesday Feb 27, 2008

More desktop related tidbits for Solaris

Two new nice tools for enhancing your Solaris desktop!

A new version (9,0,115,0) of the Flashplayer 9 plugin for Sparc and x86 is now out for public consumption. Besides the bug/security fixes the big addition the support for standard H.264 and AAC codecs - for more detail check out this blog. The plugin will be bundled with Build 84or 85 of Solaris Express but of course you don't have to wait.

The other tool is a publicly available SecondLife viewer for Solaris x86 (both S10 and Nevada/OpenSolaris - we have access to sparc builds internally that will hopefully be made public soon). The bits can be downloaded from here. More details about the build and tips if you are interested in rolling your own biaries from source can be reviewed on Dana's blog.

Wednesday Jul 11, 2007

Flash 9 for Solaris Sparc and x86 is in the house!

Finally! After a long gestation period the Flashplayer 9 plugin for Sparc and x86 is now out for public consumption. Leon Sha and other at Sun have done a great job working with Adobe to make this important technology available for Solaris. The Flash 7 plugin while usable had many issues particularly with intensive SWF files and had poor A/V sync on video. Of course even beyond the missing out on the features you only get with the later releases many sites over the last year have been requiring Flash 8 or 9 so even worse Solaris users were locked out. As a result many of us have had this at the top of our wish list (of course Adobe Reader for x86 is running a distant second).

I've been playing with the betas now since January and they have steadily improved to the point where now content at YouTube or classic animations like Maatkara, Genryu's Blade, and Xiao Xiao work extremely well now. The plugin will be bundled with Build 69 of Solaris Express but of course you don't have to wait. Happy browsing...

Saturday Jun 04, 2005

The Solaris Express Plunge: Nevada Style...Part 3

My adventures configuring Solaris Express on my Toshiba Tecra M2 continue with good results. As mentioned before I'm currently on build 14 which incorporates the newboot architecture that leverages a modified GRUB - what an improvement over the ancient DCA boot stuff we had before. Since we now use ACPICA all sorts of goodness is right around the corner like better power management. I modifed my splash screen a bit from the stock one we currently provide by adding the new Solaris logo to the lower right corner (you can click on the images to see the larger versions).

My Solaris setup boots pretty fast - I'd say after Grub gets out of the way it takes 25 to 30 secs for services to be available and another 10 seconds or so to get to my GDM login screen (by default we still enable dtlogin vs GDM).

I've got a nice commandline and GUI (Ginetmenu) writen by a Sun employee available to deal with networking which has been a bit of a pain to manage on laptops in the past (who wants to remember and type all the ifconfig options every time you switch networks). I have my Centrino wireless interface up and running using a beta driver developed by our counterparts in China. You can see interface iwi0 which corresponds to my Intel Pro wireless 220BG gear in the list of available interfaces.

From there I can easily setup a static IP, DHCP, DHCP w/NIS, etc. for a selected interface. You can the see the screenshots and the before and after ifconfig -a outputs.

Once I have the Cisco based VPN client or our IPSEC pilot solution up and running my need to boot into XP will go down dramatically.

Unfortunately most everything I mention above is not publicly available just yet but they should be soon in an upcoming Solaris Express release. What is publicly available is the new nVidia driver for Solaris 10 on x86/x64. While it officially supports only the Quadro series of cards it will work nicely with other nVidia gear like the GeForce based video in my laptop. I should have it installed over the next few days and will spin up Project Looking Glass if I have the time.

As far as a mobile user experience goes the setup isn't as seemless as using XP but I will have an environment that gives me nearly everything I need to function day to day. Of course the flip side is I will be able to do things I can't do anywhere else (zones, dtrace, SMF, mobile SunRay server, etc.) which is a great tradeoff. Build 16 became available yesterday and I'll probably install it late next week once I fully document everything I did to get build 14 to a nice state of affairs.

We've still got some work to do but as I mentioned before within a year a Solaris only laptop won't be so far fetched as it was in the past.

More to come...

Friday May 13, 2005

The Solaris Express Plunge: Nevada Style...Part 2

First let me say self-inflicted last minute installs are a bitch. As mentioned in my last post I finally took care of enough pre-work to finally rebuild my laptop. While I mentioned the extra motivation to rebuild was the presentations being done at my customer what I didn't say was that my laptop was going to be used by our Communications Area VP and a Solaris Product Marketing manager. So beyond the fact that I wanted to have to latest and greatest bits rocking and rolling (my previous beta build 62 was ancient) it would really have been a personal defeat for me to have our folks talking about the virtues of Solaris while Windows XP was really driving the projector - not that there's anything wrong with that. That said I knew I was talking a risk starting an install at 1:00 AM of a new Solaris Express build that just incorporated the new boot architecture and slew of other goodies (sorry only available internally thus far).

First scare of the night was forgetting the new boot architecture in Solaris likes the BIOS to be PnP friendly like modern operating systems (thank god Solaris is finally getting up to snuff in some critical areas - more on that later). I've been scanning all the relevant internal mailing lists so I quickly recovered from that slip and the installation via DVD went smoothly (finally with DMA now set to on by default the installation speed is on par with our peers). I thought I would be in bed easily by 3 AM, catch 6 hrs of sleep, run to pick up some materials from a VAR partner for the event, head to martial arts class, and have my laptop all ready to go well before showtime. Boy was that wishful thinking...

The first problem was after the Solaris bits got installed and I rebooted. Solaris Express for x86/x64 now uses a modified GRUB as it's boot loader - our GRUB implementation understands UFS file systems so we can read a GRUB configuration file as well as kick start a kernel on a slice within a primary disk partition. Upon the reboot my laptop stalled at the grub prompt. Right away I knew something was wrong with my menu.lst configuration file so I booted from the DVD again into single user mode and mounted the partition to see what got installed. My menu.lst file had nothing but comments in it thus the stall since GRUB had no idea what to do. So I fired up vi, reviewed the comments, and put what I thought was the right configuration to boot either Solaris or XP. My first mistake was bringing too much from my previous menu.lst configuration (GRUB from JDS that managed a triple-boot setup). I added the following then rebooted:

title Solaris Nevada Build 14
   root (hd0,2,0)
   kernel /platform/i86pc/multiboot
   module /platform/i86pc/boot_archive
title Windows XP
   root (hd0,0)
   makeactive
   chainloader +1

which got me in trouble. I first tried to boot into XP to make sure my existing setup didn't get trashed - I wanted to know immediately I didn't have a boat anchor on my hands. XP booted successfully and things looked sane so I rebooted so I could switch to my new Solaris install. Brick wall number 2: upon reboot no GRUB menu was presented - my laptop booted right into XP. For the life of me I couldn't figure out what the hell ws going on since my menu.lst configuration wasn't drastically different from my previous setup but unfortunately I'm not a Jedi in the ways of GRUB. After banging my head against the wall I gave up at 5:30 AM and hit the sack. Three hours later I went at it again. Fortunately you can count on Sun folks lurking on aliases 24 hrs a day and got got help from Casper Dik no less. I didn't need the makeactive command in my XP section of the menu.lst configuration. Thats makes sense but it's not clear to me why I was instructed have it in my preivous configuration which worked flawlessly but I'll investigate that another day.

So now I was back to rebooting and GRUB was back but it couldn't get Solaris booted. After more banging my head against the wall another Sun co-worker showed me the light. My GRUB root command in Solaris section of the menu.lst configuration was malformed but I say I was a victim of one of Sun's major DNA flaws (more on that later). The default menu.lst we install should be commented better. Everyone here in my office I show the current menu.lst comment to

    root (hd<disk no>,<partition no>,x)    --x = Solaris root slice

thinks something like this

    root (hd0,1,0)        \* WRONG \*

would be the correct GRUB command rather than this

    root (hd0,1,a)        \* RIGHT \*

Sun needs to do a better job making things more clear for first timers in this arena. IMHO Sun makes great stuff but we make it more difficult than our peers to get to the goods. All I know is that if I'm tripping on stuff like this I know paying customers are going to run into walls with far more negative reprecussions. Simply commenting the file better and adding examples for how other operating systems should be configured to boot would save a ton of headaches for customer and our support folks but Sun for some reason historically doesn't have a good history of doing this. As a result I'm starting a new category in my blog that is going to be dedicated to giving advice to Sun on how to better focus our resources to solve problems that we should have never had in the first place ;-).

In the end the speed bumps were overcome, I got the materials from our VAR partner, broke the speed limit getting to my customer, and I got my laptop up to snuff 5 minutes before our folks started to present. And now you don't have to ask why my nickname is still "curtain time"...

Monday May 09, 2005

The Solaris Express Plunge: Nevada Style...

So tonight is the night. Yes I know it took longer than expected to get to this point but life is like that as I'm sure you all know. My need to upgrade is being driven by a series of Sun presentations to my customer this week. While I could get by with the current setup I've been delaying upgrading to the latest Solaris bits long enough.

As I mentioned before I have a company issued Toshiba Tecra M2 (1.7 GHz Pentium M, 1 GB Ram, and 80 GB HD) that currently has Solaris 10 Beta build 62, JDS 2 (linux), and XP. Given I need to minimize any potential downtime I'm doing the right thing by backing up my system. In the past I've used Partimage from the System Rescue CD but support for NTFS and USF file systems isn't fully baked yet. Partimage does have the nice feature of only dealing with the used blocks within a filesystem which can reduce the size of backups but the downside is that partimage must fully understand a filesystem. I didn't want to take too many chances this time around so fortunately I stumbled upon g4u which basically does a bit for bit copy of a disk or partition without regard to the underlying file systems. The handy feature of both of these tools is that they can pump the resulting image to a ftp server, NFS mount, or local partition.

Of course backing up a few partitions on a 80 GB disk means you need space somewhere to put the backup images. My current home workstation is a Sun Blade 100 (yes I'm taking donations to get myself a new Sun Java Workstation W2100z) that only had 2 15GB disks that were nearly full. Fortunately my co-worker gave me 2 80 GB disks so 2 weekends ago I swapped in the new disks and upgraded to Solaris 10. There's a lot of new things to get comfortable with (SMF in particular) but for the most part I'm getting used to the new digs but I could used more PC 133 ECC unbuffered/unregistered RAM to make things a bit more snappy.

So with that first dependency out of the way I used g4u to pump backup images to my now spacious SB100. Now if all hell breaks loose I can quickly restore my laptop to a usable state. The main reason I waited to rebuild my laptop is that I was eagerly awaiting for the new boot architecture to be integrated into Solaris. Unfortunately it won't be in the official Solaris 10 train until update 1 and I didn't want to wait that long. I finally decided to go with build 14 of Solaris Next (codename Nevada) - parts of which will find it's way into Solaris 10 updates. The way things look from the internal discussions on minor hiccups folks have had thus far I'd say a later build will be the one publicly available from the Solaris Express program. The new boot architecture includes GRUB so with the exception of wireless using my internal Centrino setup that was pretty much the last reason for me to keep Linux on my laptop. I'll have GRUB, nVidia drivers (sorry not publicly available yet but coming soon), Palm syncing, and virtual mouse/keyboard input support. I'd say in about 3 to 4 months I'll have just about everything I need to have a viable and stable setup.

So with that said hopefully you'll see me later this week in good spirits with a nice new laptop setup in hand...wish me luck...

Tuesday Apr 12, 2005

Rebuilding my Tecra M2 with Solaris and XP...

Here I am in the middle of my semi-vacation (of course co-workers are asking me for all sorts of stuff even though they know I'm off this week) and I'm thinking about finally getting around to rebuilding my laptop. Given the daily grind I just don't have the luxury of constantly refreshing my laptop. You figure if you want to do things right and back stuff up, etc. you're looking at a day to get a system to the state you want it in (patches, apps, VPN, etc.). You basically have to take a vacation to get a system to that happy place and probably even longer if it's a laptop.

I've got a company issued Toshiba Tecra M2 with a 1.7 GHz Pentium M, 14" 1400x1050 LCD, 80 GB disk, and 1 GB ram - a nice system for all sorts of uses. It comes with XP taking up the whole disk (NTFS) and the recovery CD will wipe the entire disk. When I first built the system I used qtparted to resize the NTFS partition down to 15GB, then patched XP, added the applications I need like StarOffice 7 update 4, then used partimage to build my own XP recovery CD. by doing this I wouldn't have to start from scratch doing rebuilds in the future and I'd have a XP image of a known state if all hell broke lose on that side of the fence as Windows has been known to do from time to time. I installed a beta build of Solaris (build 59) on my 2nd primary partition and Sun's Linux based JDS on the extended partition. The 4th primary partition is used as a shared Fat32 between all the operating systems.

Things worked fairly well but it's just a chore getting things to that happy state. I see folks all the time spending hours getting things up and running and I just can't bring myself to get on the never ending cycle of build, burn, and rebuild. As a result this time out I'm cutting out JDS Linux out of the equation (I'll throw it on another laptop I have for playground and demo purposes) to reduce some of the pain and going with a dual boot scenario of Solaris and XP.

Solaris has come a long way in the x86/x64 arena - ongoing optimizations has improved performance significantly and hardware compatibility has improved quite a bit. It's not up to par with Linux in several areas of drivers, etc. but I'm fairly sure within a year if you don't have too funky of a setup it will be a nice state of affairs. The Solaris Express based build I'm going to use has a new boot architecture that will do away with the only adequate installation/boot mechanisms we currently have on x86/x64. That combined with some forthcoming ACPI bits and wireless drivers the day I can viably go down to just Solaris on my laptop is soon on the horizon.

I'll post some notes about my build process as I make my way to that happy state. While many have gone down this path before it never hurts to have another documented spin on the matter.

Last but not least I mentioned I'd speak on the "matador" concept. On our account team we're famous for having all sorts of metaphore phrases to describe various situations. Being in field sales can very much be like being in a bull fight on a regular basis. Of course to survive the matador uses the red cape to gracefully evade the oncoming charge of the bull. The key word here is grace because you never want to go out like a sucker and look like your running frantically away from pending death. You want to evade and overcome the crazy or hard situations but do it in style. Folks walk away knowing they just gave you their best shot but you were "cool under pressure" and will be ready to fight another day. So if you ever hear one of use say "I just did a matador..." you know we just dodged a bullet with style ;-)

We'll discuss the powerful Jedi mind trick in a future post...
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