Live Media installer
By Dave Miner on Jun 19, 2007
A bit over a week ago I pushed out an update to the OpenSolaris Live Media project which a few people have asked about, so I figured I'd answer them here.
Since we opened the project in August last year, most of the work for a few months was basically just maintenance, updating the construction kit to keep it functioning as OpenSolaris kept evolving around it. Some of those updates were easier than others; Gnome 2.16 in particular presented a few challenges (which turn out to have been useful to understand, as we're now dealing with some of them all over again in the Dwarf Caiman project as it modifies the current install miniroot so that it's capable of running a GTK-based install GUI).
The past few months, though, have seen the project start to evolve more rapidly. In March, we added the ability to generate flash memory images, which place an entire Solaris Express release on a 2 GB memory stick. This really helps the pace of development, as now we're not stuck exclusively using a read-only piece of media which has to be completely rebuilt to make even the smallest change. April brought improved networking support in the form of NWAM, and May's update added the WiFi drivers, while all along the improvements in the X server and drivers have continued to improve the display support options.
The most recent update, though, gets to
the reason I initiated this project: using it as an environment for
an installer. Truth be told, this installer is really primitive, not
as functional or easy to use as what Belenix
or Nexenta or Solaris
offers; you first have to partition and slice out disk space using
format (so it's definitely an
advanced user process at present), but once that's done, the
installer's synopsis is simply:
<ufs | zfs> <root slice> <swap slice>
Let 'er rip, and you'll have a complete
installation of Solaris Express; on my test laptop (Toshiba Tecra M5)
it takes about 20 minutes with a UFS root, 15 minutes with ZFS. The
script is quite simple:
zfs create to generate the root file system, a series
cpio's to copy the files to the new root, undo the
customizations that make the live image work, generate the
configure GRUB, and finally run
sys-unconfig so that the
usual Solaris configuration procedures will run on first boot.
The primitive nature of this installer is something we're well on the way to addressing already; I've hooked it up as the back-end to the new GUI from Dwarf Caiman I mentioned above, and we've done successful installs with it to a half-dozen or so different machines. It also includes Moinak's work to optimize the DVD layout, so DVD boot times to reach the Gnome desktop are down to roughly five minutes rather than the nearly 15 that's been the case up 'til now. I'll be pushing those changes out as soon as I've cleaned them up a bit.
Which leaves the question that at least a couple of people asked: how does this relate to Caiman, or Project Indiana? Indiana's goals are well-aligned with the initial portions of our plans for Caiman all along (a project I've been calling “Slim Install”), so I look at this experiment as providing a demonstrable prototype of what Indiana's installer could look like to a user. The major challenge is in cutting down the Live Media image to fit in a CD; right now it's a bit more than twice the 700 MB limit we'd have for a CD. There are plenty of other big problems to be solved in many areas to build an open, maintainable installation and software maintenance system for the OpenSolaris family of distros, but at least now we've got something tangible to show for the graphical installer.