Sunday Aug 19, 2007

Deconstructing Solaris

Solaris is an unending source of amusement for me, possibly because I am rather easily amused. First I backed off from using the Java Desktop System in favor of the simpler FVWM window manager. Then tonight I thought, hmmm, why not try running with no window manager at all?

I'm actually kind of surprised that it worked. I logged into a Solaris failsafe session, which gave me a command line in a terminal emulator, but no desktop. Then, from the command line I just typed "Firefox", and here I am, typing in my blog. I can't move the browser window around, and there are no buttons to resize it or  minimize it. I can't even get back to the command line without closing Firefox. Now I see why people invented window managers.

But I can still write my blog quite nicely in a browser window that fills most of the screen. Sort of a minimalist, Zen-like Solaris experience.

This is way cool. I feel a bit like a medical student learning anatomy by dissecting a cadaver. I'm learning about Solaris by deconstructing it piece by piece.

Friday Aug 17, 2007

A little trick with FVWM

I was having a problem using the FVWM window manager that I had installed on OpenSolaris. Each time I opened a window from the command line, I had to open a new terminal window, because I was losing the shell prompt with each application I opened.  Thanks to Deborah and Eric Ray's Visual Quickstart Guide to UNIX, I've now figured out how to avoid this problem. For each new application you open from the command line, add an ampersand (&) after the name of the program, as in

bash 3.00$ firefox &

This runs the job in the background, at least as far as the command line is concerned, so it gives you another command prompt when the application opens. However, from the user's point of view, the "background" job can be interacted with in its own window like any application. I'm typing this blog entry in Firefox in its own window, and my command line is ready and waiting for any applications I care to request. I just have to remember to add the ampersand for each new one I open!

Saturday Aug 11, 2007

Weird and wonderful Solaris variety

One of the weirdest and coolest things about Solaris, at least to me, is that there are so many different ways to interact with it. Instead of presenting a single face to the world, like Windows or Mac OS, Solaris is a hydra with a hundred heads, and you can talk to any one of them -- or even create a new one. Case in point -- as I write this post I'm using Roller, but I didn't open the Java Desktop System to do it. I'm writing the post in a window that I opened in FVWM, one of the dozens of alternate window managers that UNIX and Linux have spawned. I downloaded FVWM from Blastwave.org yesterday, and followed instructions I found on a blog by Sun's own Brendan Gregg to get it running. Thanks, Brendan!

Why would I want to do this? I guess it's the same reason that sometimes I like to look at my email using Pine, and sometimes I like to speak Spanish. The freedom to choose one's mode of communication is something very basic. They can build the best monolithic desktop system on the planet, like the one I was fooling around with down at the Apple store today, but there are still going to be a lot of shadetree mechanics like me that are going to want to roll our own, and you'll find us down at the corner of Solaris Avenue and Linux Street, here in UNIX Town.

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davidleetodd

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