Starting the New Year with a New Operating System
By Roman Strobl on I 09, 2007
I started year 2007 with a change of the operating system for my daily work - I started to use Solaris on my laptop. In this blog entry I would like to share some experiences and several hints in case you'd like to try it, too.
1. If you want to use Solaris on a laptop, don't try Solaris 10. Sun provides so called Solaris Express builds which are early versions of Solaris 11 (code name Nevada). Why use early builds? Well, they are very stable and more importantly they mostly work much better on laptops. I tried to install Solaris 10 on my Sony VAIO with mixed results but installation of Solaris 11 was actually very smooth.
2. I always like to try new tools, OS's, databases, etc. so I kept trying Solaris on x86 even before I came to Sun and always gave up, because of bad support for various hardware. Solaris 11 comes with NVidia drivers, my Intel network card just works and internal audio works, too. Surprisingly the OS booted in the best resolution for my laptop which is this weird 1280x800 pixels and the display seems to be accelerated. If you like to play with interesting technologies and tools, Solaris is full of them (DTrace, containers, ZFS, etc.). See this whitepaper for details.
3. I've been a Linux user for many years before I came to Sun (I started using Linux on desktop at the time of RedHat 6.1) so using Solaris is quite similar - in both good and bad sense. The OS is secure, which is a great advantage but sometimes you need to login as root (Ubuntu solves this quite nicely). You can tweak Solaris similarly as Linux and actually most tools you know from Linux are available in Solaris. After all, it's a Unix :) Sometimes I just wonder why Unixes can't learn from the user experience of Windows or Macs... yes I know it's getting better, but still... I guess it's a different philosophy.
4. Two important programs I missed were Midnight Commander and xmms. I just can't work without being able to browse files easily and without an mp3 player. There is a great site called Blastwave.org where you can get many different packages for Solaris. It provides a "pkg-get" script which is very similar to apt-get so you can install any software easily using the network. The list of packages is huge. However the default repository didn't contain packages for Solaris 11, so I recommend using a different one. E.g. you can call:
pkg-get -s http://www.ibiblio.org/pub/packages/solaris/csw/unstable install mc
...and there you go, your favorite Midnight Commander is installed. Or xmms and other tools developers can't live without. But at first you need to get pkg-get.
5. Root uses sh as shell. I know that Solaris gurus will not like me, but I hate using anything else than bash. To switch root's shell to bash, just create in the / directory a file ".profile" with one line:
I know this is less secure, but I really want to use TAB and backspace even as root. Sorry security gurus!
6. Install frkit. It contains power management and other useful stuff for laptops.
7. Solaris 11 supports FAT 32 in read-write mode. Very cool. To mount a partition, use:
mount -F pcfs /dev/dsk/[disk_partition]
The device names are a bit unusual but actually they are pretty simple once you read a bit about them. See e.g. this FAQ.
But not all what glitters is gold. If you have a NTFS partition, you are a bit out of luck. However I found a very handy tool which lets me mount a NTFS partition in read only mode and it requires no installation! So get mount_ntfs to be able to play your mp3 files from your NTFS partition like I do.
8. Both Java and NetBeans run nicely on Solaris 11. IntelliJ IDEA also runs on Solaris pretty well (there is no Solaris installer so I just used the Linux installer. I haven't tried Eclipse yet :)
9. I just couldn't find the Shutdown button. Well, stop searching, it's just not there. The way to shutdown the laptop is to hold the physical power button for a while. But not for too long because otherwise it would force the shutdown. Actually it only works for me if I press the button twice for approx. 2 seconds. Then I get a bit ugly menu which lets me shutdown properly. Howgh!
10. I will still need Micro$oft Windoze to create my flash demos, there's nothing like Camtasia on Solaris. But for the rest most software I need is available and works pretty well. Which is much different than a couple years ago when I wasn't even able to install Solaris on my desktop PC (not mentioning my laptop).
P.S. I am not saying that Solaris has perfect user experience. It still has a long way to go in terms of ease of use. But at least I have something to hack.
P.P.S. I can't use Solaris for most of my presentations because there's no Mobility Pack for Solaris and WTK is missing for Solaris on x86. Maybe one day... So my ultimate solution is multiboot of Solaris + WinXP + Ubuntu. I can boot to one of these three OSes according to my mood in the morning :)