Visual Panels in OpenSolaris 2008.05

For a while I've been working on a project to ease OpenSolaris configuration called Visual Panels (with Steve and Tony, and a great deal of patience, insight, and fastidiously gathered data from Jaime). I'm happy to say that — as of the May 2008 release — it is now available in the Indiana IPS repository. Installing it takes at most three steps (as root):

  # pkg refresh
  # pkg install OSOLvpanels
  # svcadm restart manifest-import

The first step is unnecessary if you've refreshed since installing OpenSolaris 2008.05. The last would be if IPS supported SMF. \*pokes Stephen\*

If you are logged into Gnome, Visual Panels will be available as soon as you install the package and restart manifest-import. Though we started out by creating a console that contained the various sources of configuration, our usability testing showed the inconsistency with Gnome's presentation was confusing. So for the time being, we have "broken out" the panels as individual applications. Under System->Administration, you will now see:

  • "Apache Web Server"

  • "Core Files"

  • "Services"

  • "Shared Folders"

(Actually, the last two were there before and are silently hijacked when VP is installed.)

I feel like I should say more: perhaps go on a meandering, screenshot-appointed tour of every nook and cranny, or provide a cookbook of detailed instructions on how to do common things in VP. But after a very enlightening usability study where we started users off at the login screen and let them fend for themselves, I also feel like I should shut up and see what people's raw reactions are. The former (at least the meandering part) should be done eventually, but I will save it for another day. To avoid a flood of similar complaintscomments, though, I'll mention a few things you might run into that are on my short list of things to fix:

  • Role support. Support for roles came in the 11th hour when we discovered that root is a role on Indiana1. So when you want to log in using the root role (or any role), you have to re-specify your username and user password, in addition to the role name and password. Yuck.

  • Visual footprint. When you have a console, your components not only have a similar look and feel (a good thing), but often have a similar size (not a good thing). Because of their console ancestry, the Visual Panels apps unfortunately have a large visual footprint, and need to go on a diet.

  • Shared Folders. We've been struggling to get the right balance between flexibility and simplicity, and still aren't there yet. And then there are the bugs.

  • Start up speed. Starting a Visual Panels control panel takes a few seconds. It's easy to say that this is because we're using Java, but the truth is we have a lot performance work to do. (Launching more VP-based control panels after the first window is open, on the other hand, should be pretty quick.)

  • Documentation. Unfortunately, Java Help isn't yet in Indiana, so the online help our doc writer worked hard to produce is unavailable. When Java Help shows up, you should be able to just install the package and VP will detect and use it automatically. We plan on putting HTML versions up on the Visual Panels page shortly as a stop-gap.

Yes, there is also a long list.

Stay tuned for more about how VP works and what we're doing with it. (I promise my next post will come before another 2 years flash by.) And please let us know what you think. None of this is set in stone, so feedback, ideas, help, etc. are all greatly appreciated.


1...only if you create a non-root login during the installation process. Guess who was always installing without creating a non-root login?

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You also seem to need a reboot once you've installed vpanels, as it wouldn't work until I did this on my system.

Posted by andrewk8 on May 07, 2008 at 06:36 AM PDT #

The 'svcadm restart manifest-import' should make a reboot unnecessary, though it will take a few seconds for it and its effects to complete. Can you elaborate on the symptoms you observed?

A related problem I've heard is that Gnome may not pick up the new menu entries right away; my guess is a simple relogin (or perhaps killing gnome-panel?) would solve that problem.

Posted by Dave on May 07, 2008 at 08:01 AM PDT #

The`svcadm restart manifest-import` worked just fine for me. No reboot required. Running in VirtualBox. Nice layout. I didn't notice any slow performance from java.

I think maybe some more status of what modules are loaded in apache are needed. And I'm sure there can be some more improvements on other configurable items in the http.conf file, i.e proxy redirects, scripting locations etc. But not a big deal right now.

In all nice work. I take it this is to replace smc which I like Visual Panels much more than smc.
I suspect something along the lines of disk management or zpool manaagement in the future.
That would really be nice.

Just when I thought this project was just about dead it comes back with a good show.


Posted by Bob Palowoda on May 07, 2008 at 05:18 PM PDT #

Thanks for the kind words, Bob.

The nice thing about the Apache panel is it's fairly solid: it just
does what it claims to do. But, as you noticed, things like module
support are pretty light on functionality.

I agree ZFS configuration would be a great thing to include.
Especially in Indiana -- where the world is ZFS -- being able to
configure ZFS directly from the desktop is arguably essential.

Posted by Dave on May 08, 2008 at 10:11 AM PDT #

Random comments:

Feels odd that the "Services" panel is at the same conceptual level as all the others, given that the others all let you configure one or more of those services.

Breadcrumbs (kind of pointless in this dialog) and "Go Back" buttons are necessary evils in web apps, but shouldn't be seen in regular desktop dialogs.

They all need a lot of GNOME HIG love. (I assume they're really Java apps, but a Java app designed for the GNOME desktop ought to look and feel like a GNOME app.)

File menu looks odd on its own, and is redundant.


A scrolling dialog (Virtual Hosts). Yuck. This isn't a web page, dialogs should \*never\* need scrollbars.

Search filter should search the service names and descriptions (as seen in the Properties dialog) as well as just the "svc:/blah/whatever" part.

What's the benefit of the icon view? Seeing a hundred identical icons with virtually-identical truncated labels is no good to anyone.

Posted by guest on May 09, 2008 at 02:07 AM PDT #

Tried once. Could see the UI.
Then tried to setup a static IP on my machine...
Could not at all (diable nwan, using the network UI to change ip+machine name. reboot: no luck)
So going back to DHCP with nwam, and now I cannot login to visual panel, even if I also enter the root role and the root password and my name and my passowrd.

Tried to put the new machine name just to see if someting is cached:
got infinite error dialog with
"verifing newmachinename s trusted..."
message (see the typo!!!) verifing not verifying
Clicked can

So bottom line I am stuck:
" unable to get the cert chain: connection refused"

This is hell, really...

ps: the package dep also brings 100s of other packages.. Why?

How do I recover this mess?

Posted by guest on May 12, 2008 at 06:51 AM PDT #

@Anonymous 1:

To quickly propose an analogy, the relationship between the other
panels and the services panel is similar to the relationship between
your lightswitches and your fusebox. You don't get to one through
the other, and they are frequently found next to each other. Most of
the time the user should be using lightswitches, but if something
goes wrong, a trip to the fusebox might be necessary. (This analogy
obviously breaks down when you look beyond the user experience --
lightswitches don't control the state of your circuit breakers.)

The breadcrumbs do seem unnecessary for simple dialogs in the absence
of a console, but for more complex ones they are still handy. My
more general concern in this area is the total amount of real estate
used by the common header material.

The "Go back" button has felt bad ever since I put it there. I don't
consider the close-window button (read: opening a second window when
looking at an object) to be an improvement, though. One possibility
I'd like to explore is an objects/object "two shot", where we have an
abbreviated objects view on the left and an object's details on the

The File menu isn't supposed to be alone; unfortunately, it has been
abandoned by the Help menu that can't be shown because Java Help
isn't yet available in OpenSolaris. Its redundancy also bothers me,
but we also need to consider the user expectation that major
functionality be accessible through menus, as well as its
accessibility benefits.

The scrollbars on dialogs are closely related to the fixed-size
footprint problem I mentioned in my original post. In general,
though, the problem is that the windows are too large; I've never
seen the Apache panel grow scrollbars unless I explicitly shrink the
window. Is your concern that the window size should be fitted to the
content, or that there is too much content to reasonably fit on your
screen at your font size?

Good suggestion on the search filter.

The icon view sucks with two straws. As you note, the labels are
useless. We'll be fixing that. The icon view is included for
consistency with other object views. i.e. its presence isn't
considered a feature so much as its absence would be considered a
bug. That said, service icons are badged when in a bad state, which
does make the icon view nice for getting a feel for system health

Thanks for the feedback. If you want to continue the discussion, I
recommend (but won't insist on), as
email is a better medium for longer conversations.

Posted by Dave on May 12, 2008 at 08:37 AM PDT #

@Anonymous 2:

The network configuration UI is still the default one provided by
Gnome, so I'm afraid I can't help you there. I recommend raising
your concerns and questions on how to get your system working again
on desktop-discuss or nwam-discuss.

The connection error you ran into is a result of how the default
configuration -- for security reasons -- only listens to connections
over the loopback network interface. A connection to "localhost"
will succeed, but a connection to localhost's machine name will
fail. We definitely need a better error message in this case. I am
curious about the "infinite" error, though. Could you elaborate on
what you're seeing?

If you're starting with an OpenSolaris 2008.05 system, installing
OSOLvpanels should only pull in 7 packages: OSOLvpanels itself, the 2
Cacao packages, 2 packages needed by Cacao, and 2 Apache packages
(which we'd like to get rid of: see the blog post). Could your
machine be running an earlier release? If so, "pkg install" may have
upgraded the transitive closure of all dependencies of OSOLvpanels.
This could also have contributed to malfunctions you are seeing.

Posted by Dave on May 12, 2008 at 08:38 AM PDT #

@Anonymous 2:

Sounds like the server component is malfunctioning. Search for
common-agent-container-{number} in the output of 'svcs -a'; there
should be one, and it should be online.

If it's not running, that's the problem right there. If it is,
/var/cacao/instances/default/logs/cacao.0 will be helpful in
diagnosing the problem.

I don't know why it would be malfunctioning, unless you did in fact
inadvertently upgrade from a pre-2008.05 build (IPS package
dependencies are hit-and-miss at the moment).

Posted by Dave on May 13, 2008 at 06:13 AM PDT #

@Anonymous 2:

Blog comments aren't the best place for huge log files; I've removed
the ones you've posted.

Sifting through Cacao's log output, I see: pigalle: pigalle

Which is a result of not being able to resolve your own hostname. It
sounds like your efforts to configure your networking aren't yet

This error is nonetheless irritating as I'm pretty sure it is
occurring in code that is (perhaps implicitly) referencing
localhost. I'll be filing a bug as soon as I can find out who's to

Posted by Dave on May 13, 2008 at 10:33 AM PDT #

$ ping pigalle
pigalle is alive

So JMX must be looking at network setup in a different way. I guess this is the area VP needs to invest a lot: ease of use, better error handling, and ease of configuration.


Posted by guest on May 14, 2008 at 03:00 AM PDT #

More on the issue: If I enter the IP address in the "Host:" field, I have the same c'onnection refused ' error message.

(with and without the root/passwd entries

Posted by guest on May 14, 2008 at 04:09 AM PDT #


How are you resolving the name pigalle? Was it resolvable when Cacao
started? (It's possible your machine is still misconfigured and you
just happen to be getting it from NIS or DNS right now).

This certainly highlights a need for better error reporting and
diagnosis. Unfortunately, the problems you're running into are in
Cacao and the JDK -- we haven't even started running VP code when the
server fails -- so it is unlikely we'll be able to fix it.

(Except to help make network configuration easier :)

As to the WRT entering the hostname or IP address:

a) If the server isn't starting correctly, you won't be able to
connect to it.

b) Even if the server is starting correctly, you won't be able to
connect to it using your hostname or non-loopback IP address
unless you've changed how it is listening to the network.

Posted by Dave on May 14, 2008 at 07:22 AM PDT #

Hi Dave, from another Dave, just found this after hunting high and low for SMC in OpenSolaris 2008.05...looks very, very nice! I haven't been able to find a straight answer anywhere (even on the sysadmin OpenSolaris forum), but is this to say that SMC has been removed from OpenSolaris 2008.05? If it is still present, then I have no idea how to launch it anymore.

One thing I read about when mucking around with Solaris 10 (before jumping ship to OpenSolaris) was using SMC to create multiple users from a text file or similar, and applying a template with predefined rights, groups etc. I don't know if this is doable using the CLI, and if SMC is now history it would be nice to see this functionality in VisualPanels. The users and groups tool in GNOME doesn't appear to do this.

To be honest I thought the junky old SMC GUI in Solaris 10 had a certain charm about it, and it was nice having some sort of GUI-based one-stop-shop for admin tasks. I do like the sleek appearance of VP much more however!

Posted by Dave on May 21, 2008 at 07:49 PM PDT #


I'm happy to hear you're pleased with Visual Panels!

It isn't so much that SMC has been removed from OpenSolaris, as that it
hasn't been added to OpenSolaris. Given the legal due-diligence
required to open source each piece of previously closed software, it's
easier to view the process as building a new product from the pieces of
the old one as/if they become available. The exact future of SMC has
yet to be decided.

Thanks for the SMC use case; we're looking at adding User/Group
functionality to Visual Panels, and the ability to bulk create users is
something we should consider.

Posted by Dave on May 27, 2008 at 10:54 AM PDT #

Might be my inexperience with opensolaris, might be because I was still running the stock 2008.05 install rather than the latest svn90, but installing the visual panels caused my machine to become unbootable. The GRUB loader warned about not finding the correct kernel, and gave up. Couldn't even get to a console login, so had to wipe the boot drive and reinstall from scratch. Not a huge problem (was a test machine), but a warning for others!

Posted by matt on June 21, 2008 at 02:57 AM PDT #


For starters, I apologize for the catastrophic impact installing Visual
Panels had on your system.

I talked to the pkg guys at lunch today, and apparently there is a bug
in the original pkg command that ships with 2008.05. What probably
happened when you installed OSOLvpanels is you got the latest version
from build 90 or 91 instead of the build 86 version that corresponds to
2008.05. This, in turn, pulled in its build 90 or 91 dependencies,
effectively doing a partial upgrade of your whole system. As if that
wasn't enough, even a proper upgrade (done using 'pkg image-update')
from 86 to 90 results in a non-bootable system unless you subsequently
take a couple manual steps.

There are a few work-arounds for this problem. In increasing order of
impact (but possibly decreasing in difficulty):

1) Explicitly install the build 86 Visual Panels, 'OSOLvpanels@0.5.11-0.86'.

2) Upgrade to the latest version of the build 86 package commands,
which I'm told have been fixed in this regard.

3) Upgrade to build 90+ first.

If you have questions about the bug and its workarounds, pkg-discuss is
the best place to ask -- I'm unfortunately not a packaging expert.

Posted by Dave on June 23, 2008 at 07:32 AM PDT #

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