Tuesday May 06, 2008

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.

Footnotes:

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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