Solaris and OS X

I loved Tom Yeager's article The next best thing to OS X. As several people have noticed at my talks over the past few months, I no longer carry a Mac laptop. As much as I love the Mac's eye candy, it really hasn't been keeping up as a developer's machine - their attention has clearly been elsewhere. Meanwhile, the Solaris folks have made huge strides in Solaris's usability on a laptop with recent Nevada builds: the latest Gnome is quite lovely. Firefox, Thunderbird and Lightning kick ass. The new installer is totally slick. The nwam (network automagic) service makes network hassles almost totally disappear. And Java, NetBeans and Glassfish go like the wind! It's amazing how fast things run.

And then there are all the cool Solaris goodies to take advantage of. I'm totally addicted to Zones and ZFS. For example: I have my laptop set up with ZFS managing the disk. Then I mirror the laptop's disk onto a USB drive. When I'm wandering around with my laptop disconnected, the filesystem runs in "degraded" mode - which simply means that the mirror isn't up to date - it's as fast as ever. But when I get back to my desk and the USB drive reconnects, ZFS magically updates the mirror and I have an incredibly fast backup. If I want to use backups for going back in time, ZFS snapshots are perfect and fast.

There is one area that's a problem: when I close the lid on my laptop, it keeps right on running. It doesn't suspend. I have to manually shut the system down. I've been bugging the Solaris folks about it for a while: they're working on getting there, but it'll take awhile. In typical Solaris fashion, they're going for a "solve world hunger" scale solution: last week I was at a talk about Tesla, the upcoming power management system. It'll be great when they're done.

And no, I don't use any of the virtualization/multiboot facilities: They all consume more performance and disk space than I'm comfortable with.


And yet in your iText post you write "The major new feature is the ability to export PDF - which I need on non-mac platforms." Guess there's more than eye-candy in that Mac.

Posted by Daniel on October 14, 2007 at 11:14 PM PDT #

I'm curious: why don't you run Solaris on your Mac laptop?

Posted by Glenn on October 15, 2007 at 02:41 AM PDT #

Is it about outdated JDK version that comes with Mac OS X or there is something else that annoys a developer? I personally keep waiting for JDK 6 on Mac and looks like it will last forever.

Posted by Petr on October 15, 2007 at 02:53 AM PDT #

If you need a Solaris SXDE latest build image for VMWare (Mac, Windows, Linux), get it from

Works well with my Mac:) Contains NetBeans 5.5, 5.5.1, Sun Studio, GlassFish V2, JDK 1.5 and JDK 1.6


Posted by Ludo on October 15, 2007 at 03:11 AM PDT #

Love reading your insights on the Solaris/Java world but I have a gripe. Its the embedded quicktime movie. Everytime I click on your link, its takes a while before my computer will even respond. An embedded movie in flash or divx or something like that would be great.

Posted by HC on October 15, 2007 at 03:38 AM PDT #

It's ridiculous how Apple has kept all Java developers behind, and if you remember not long ago in a WWDC Jobs said "We will make the best platform for JAVA developers" mhhh!
I'm using the latest SXDE 9/07 (after a year of using Solaris) under VMware on a MacBook,
and that rock!! It's such a beautiful OS world for developers, love the new Solaris installer along with other goodies,and what makes me satisfied is that it WORKS, is UPDATED and is OPEN!!
SOLARIS is the best serious OS in the world for developers.
Thanks very much SUN!!

Posted by iThreads on October 15, 2007 at 03:42 AM PDT #

I'm on SXDE 9/07 and it surely rocks big time.

It was quite co-incidental, but I was just about to write something similar on my own blog, now that you've mentioned most of what I was about to say, it would be pointless repeating it.

Posted by Mayuresh Kathe on October 15, 2007 at 04:22 AM PDT #

James, could you please tell us some more details about your laptop hardware configuration? I'm curious as to what Solaris x86 will run on these days.

Posted by David Kopp on October 15, 2007 at 04:56 AM PDT #

My mac laptop is currently a brick without the latest JDK and I've moved to ubuntu for java development on a laptop.

Apple needs to get the picture on this. Not only will they miss out on the developers, they'll also miss out on the applications they've developed.

As far as moving to laptop Solaris. . . that's a stretch. Hibernation is the least of the device support issues. . .

Posted by Keith Weinberg on October 15, 2007 at 05:02 AM PDT #

Interesting SUN's take on this, imagine if Microsoft had to implement their own JVM to support for the Win32 platforms where would Java be today? I agree java development is behind on OS X, for one we don't have an actual devkit for Java ME yet, and are forced to either adapt and use mpowerplayer, or turn down the virtualization route.

If SUN would've initially supported the platform and didn't have Apple responsible for implementing the JVM I think this blog post never would have occurred. I for one will continue using my MBP, because it's the best laptop I've ever owned, and more importantly I seem to always be one revision behind the JDK.

Posted by Bain on October 15, 2007 at 05:48 AM PDT #

Side question, what do you really mean by "Silverlight"?

To the main point, I wonder which will happen first: (1) Sun gets serious about Mac support - and it _is_ Sun's job. (2) Adobe open sources Flash and gets serious about Linux support. (3) Firefox gets Tamarin integrated along with video, audio, 3D, and so on.

Posted by Tom on October 15, 2007 at 08:12 AM PDT #

You can get JDK 6 at

I can't recall if it's available for ADC Web (free) membership, or if you need to be a serious ADC Select ($500) member, but in either case, it's cheaper than the time it'd cost to move to Solaris and the productivity and sanity loss.

java version "1.6.0-dp"
Java(TM) SE Runtime Environment (build 1.6.0-dp-b88-34)
Java HotSpot(TM) Client VM (build 1.6.0-b88-17-release, mixed mode, sharing)

Posted by Mark Hughes on October 15, 2007 at 11:02 AM PDT #

After reading this article, I'd like to give Solaris a try. Does anybody know if wireless cards work in Solaris?

Posted by Thai Dang Vu on October 15, 2007 at 11:03 AM PDT #

I'm sold. Except that power issue is kind of a showstopper. I can't buy a laptop that doesn't properly hibernate and suspend.

When Tesla is ready, I'll buy a Solaris laptop.

Posted by javadev on October 15, 2007 at 12:21 PM PDT #

I asked a OpenSolaris guy about wireless and graphics card drivers at CommuninityOne (the day before JavaOne) this year, he said some cards worked perfectly, and that support on those two areas were "prioritized" for them.

Posted by Lars Westergren on October 15, 2007 at 05:15 PM PDT #

To confirm what Mark Hughes posted: You can download JDK 6 with a free ADC Online account. Presto, Mac laptop unbricked!

Another useful URL:

Posted by jimothy on October 15, 2007 at 11:46 PM PDT #

Well, perhaps I spoke too soon. Java 6 used to be available from ADC, but it looks like it no longer is. Time for wild speculation: Java 6 final ships with Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard on October 26.

Unfortunately, that's probably a realistic scenario. Apple has in the past required an OS upgrade to get a Java version upgrade. But, unless you're developing consumer, desktop software (where the OS requirement would limit your audience), it's not likely a problem. Spending $129 for an OS upgrade ever two years or so is cheaper than new hardware.

Posted by jimothy on October 15, 2007 at 11:55 PM PDT #

Is there a livecd for Solaris?

Posted by James Cook on October 16, 2007 at 02:29 AM PDT #

might want to fix the anchor tag that links to Tom's article...

Posted by sclough on October 16, 2007 at 03:56 AM PDT #

You can always run Solaris in Parallels. : )

I like the ZFS thing and I think Apple is working their way to using ZFS as the default.

Posted by Robert on October 16, 2007 at 04:13 AM PDT #

The big thing Apple have failed to notice is how many CS courses use Java as their main teaching language.

No up-to-date Java on Macs => fewer purchases of Macs by CS departments

Fewer Macs in CS departments => less software written for Macs

Posted by Ralph Martin on October 16, 2007 at 06:23 AM PDT #

Although I understand the sentiments of the others' posting regarding Mac OS X being a version behind, most Java shops I have worked at or know about those who my friends work at, are still on JDK 1.4.

My previous job in CA would NOT move from JDK 1.2.2 because it would be too expensive to do an impact study to see what would break.

I know that some shops are at JDK5, but I don't know of any...we are just now starting to move to 1.5 code where I work - and most of the source still doesn't use the cool new features, like generics or enums yet, is really just recompiled right now.

OS X 10.4 is actually still ahead of most of our development in terms of JDK level.

Posted by Michael on October 16, 2007 at 06:49 AM PDT #

How about an easy to install (sxde) Solaris on Intel Macs (dual-boot, not Parallels)? I have fun with my Mac, but it's getting increasingly more difficult for me to get work done on my MBP. I figured buying a Mac based on Intel would give a little insurance against Apple dropping (or taking for granted) Java support - I could always install Ubuntu or (gasp) XP. With all of the Macs that I've seen at different java events, there's a ready made market for Solaris if it were easy to install and maintain Solaris on Apple hardware, and we could feel like first class citizens again. Just a thought.

Posted by Michael Elso on October 16, 2007 at 02:12 PM PDT #

I have to concur about JVM versions; I don't know of any big shops using Java 5 as standard yet, let alone 6. For example, I do a fair bit of coding for Websphere 5.x, and that uses a 1.4.2 JVM.

It is slightly worrying however that "Java" isn't even listed as one of the 300 technologies on this page about Leopard (the word comes up once, when mentioning DTrace):

Posted by Ben Poole on October 16, 2007 at 09:32 PM PDT #

To be blunt. Java just doesn't deliver on the desktop. Apple is about delivering a Desktop experience for it's users.

I also have to ask the question: Why was Apple paying for the right to have Java on it's platform where Microsoft didn't?

Posted by Jeremy on October 18, 2007 at 04:23 PM PDT #

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