Starting the New Year with a New Operating System

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 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 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 :)

Click on the image for detailed screenshot

Wow, great. I'm on Windows on my laptop and have been planning to switch to Solaris for a while. Any tips and pointers would be gr8.

Posted by Geertjan on leden 09, 2007 at 01:42 odp. CET #

more UN\*X sw: - very handy when switching from any Linux distro to Solaris

Posted by Jindra on leden 09, 2007 at 02:58 odp. CET #

You can make mobility pack/WTK work in solaris by using a linux branded zone. I did this today!

Posted by Mark Phalan on leden 09, 2007 at 03:32 odp. CET #

Thanks, I'll definitely give the Linux WTK on Solaris a try!

Posted by Roumen on leden 09, 2007 at 03:46 odp. CET #

Hi Roumen, Solaris is a very good OS to developing software, especially with JAVA. I'm using Solaris Express with Xfce4 desktop, so the memory use is lower compared to GNOME desktop, Xfce4 is a very fast desktop too; you must try it ;-) In other hands, Solaris needs some tweaking in order to use in the same way than Linux. If you need it, here ( have any other things that you must see in order to work better with Solaris 10 (I recommend the ipfilter firewall section to secure the box) Other tip to mount usb pendrives: # rmformat Looking for devices... 1. Logical Node: /dev/rdsk/c0t0d0p0 Physical Node: /pci@0,0/pci-ide@1f,1/ide@0/sd@0,0 Connected Device: HL-DT-ST DVD-ROM GDR8163B 0D20 Device Type: DVD Reader 2. Logical Node: /dev/rdsk/c2t0d0p0 Physical Node: /pci@0,0/pci1028,179@1d,7/storage@6/disk@0,0 Connected Device: JetFlash TS128MJF2A 1.00 Device Type: Removable # mount -F pcfs /dev/dsk/c2t0d0p0:c /mnt/pendrive Ah, xpdf is very fast in Solaris, I need this toodl(no Acrobat Reader for Solaris-x86, but yes for SPARC). xmms is "deprecated", but is a good player for most people (I use xmms too). At last, there is not yet a port for Audacious ( but someday may be a better choice to play media in Solaris. I hope that OSS/Solaris developers should see this, is a good piece of software. Congratulations for the switch! Cheers from Basque Country! (and excuse me for my tiny/stupid english)

Posted by Iban on leden 09, 2007 at 04:54 odp. CET #

Hi! Looks nice. Even antialiasing. I've tried antialiasing on Ubuntu 6.10 and a good LCD monitor and I just can't stand it. Everything is blurry. So I installed Microsoft fonts and now I'm using Tahoma and no antialiasing. :))) Call me strange, but sometimes I like strange things. :))

Posted by Kovica on leden 09, 2007 at 11:51 odp. CET #

Hi Iban, there is a PDF viewer in the latest version I installed (Evince). Also if I remember well mounting of USB drives is automated - can't try it now, but last time I tried it it just worked. Thanks for your link, I'll read the notes. My experience with Solaris 11 is much better than with Solaris 10. Kovi, yes antialiasing works out of the box and it looks nice. I can't stand antialiasing on Windows but here it is fine.

Posted by Roumen on leden 10, 2007 at 02:26 dop. CET #

Hi, really fascinating!! Any experiences with Windows / Solaris dual boot configurations (I do not have a spare box to try Solaris)?

Posted by Georg on leden 11, 2007 at 01:26 odp. CET #

I have a trial-boot experience. See my earlier blog entry for details.

Posted by Roumen on leden 11, 2007 at 01:48 odp. CET #

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Roman Strobl


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