I Like My Solaris Laptop
By swdeveloper on Feb 26, 2007
I have a Sony Vaio VGN-T350P laptop. This is a very light weight laptop 1” thin and 3.1 lbs with 10.6” WXGA TFT screen. It has Intel Pentium M 1.0 Ghz processor and 500 Mbyte main memory. I extended the main memory size to 1 Gbyte. Because business traveling is part of my job, I selected this light and small laptop to replace my old and heavy HP Pavilion Zt3000 in summer 2005. It turned out to be a very good decision. This Sony Laptop has accompanied me traveling to so many cities to present and meet with many Sun customers. Starting in 2006, I decided to install Solaris 10 to this laptop to make it a dual boot system. I kept upgrading it with the later Solaris releases. Now it is installed with the early access of Solaris Express, Developer Edition.
Although the initial Solaris installation was a little harder than what I expected, the later release upgrades turned out to be quite simple for me. It usually took me 100 minutes to upgrade to a new Solaris release. The reward from the Solaris installation is definitely worth the effort I put in. Now I spend more time in Solaris than Windows on this laptop. Actually I wrote and edited this blog on my Solaris laptop. The Solaris desktop environment is bundled with many utility and application tools. For example I used the Solaris GIMP image editor to edit and create the desktop wallpaper as shown in the picture below.
No doubt, the latest Solaris express release simplifies the installation process significantly. However some installation problems I encountered are machine dependent and may be too hard for the average users to solve. If you have a similar Sony laptop, you can follow the instructions here to fix the problems. Because my laptop has an odd 1280x768 screen size, the biggest challenge I encountered is to extend the Solaris image to the full screen size. The screen side problem is caused by a defect of Intel video device driver for its 855 graphics chip. The device driver doesn't work correctly for either Solaris or Linux. The video table doesn't contain the right screen resolution setting of 1280x768. Therefore even the right screen configuration in xorg.conf file still cannot make Solaris work to the full screen size. A video driver program called 855resolution is required to patch the video device driver. The program 855resolution was developed by Alain Poirier for Linux initially. Kentaro A. Kurahone ported it from Linux to Free BSD. I searched the internet and followed a couple people's advice (Mario Hakansom is one of them) to port the program from FreeBSD to Solaris and build it with Sun Studio Compiler. You can download the Solaris 855resolution package tar file 855res.tar here. The tar file includes the README file, the binary and the source code. You can follow the instructions to use the binary directly without re-building it.
The second problem is the the external display. I used this laptop to present my talks quite often, It is important to be able to plug-in an external projector to the laptop and display the computer image in the big screen at any time. I had ported a i855crt package from Linux to Solaris to solve this problem for the earlier Solaris version.But I no longer need this display driver now. Somehow the later Solaris Nevada Express releases starting from build 46 fixed the problem. Definitely you also need to have the right xorg.conf setting to make the external display work. My xorg.conf is included in the above Solaris 855resolution package. But you can also download the individual file xorg.conf here.
The third problem of configuring the wireless connection is relatively easy but a little tedious. First thing is to download Intel wireless device driver iwi 0.5 package from OpenSolaris community Intel wireless driver page After you install the Intel wireless device driver, The next step is to run wificonfig command in super user mode. My home wireless connection has WEP encryption, it is more convenient for me to just create a wireless profile for home usage. Here is the command: wificonfig createprofile <ProfileName> essid=<ID> encryption=WEP wepkey1=<password>. After the profile is created. You can run the following two commands in super user mode to complete the wireless configuration: (1) wificonfig -i iwi0 connect Profile_name (2) ifconfig iwi0 dhcp. The above steps should enable the wireless connection on your Solaris laptop. However your laptop may still not be able to access internet. The problem is caused by domain name resolution. First step to resolve DNS problem is to edit the file /etc/nsswitch.conf by adding “dns” after “files” in the line beginning with hosts:. The second step is to find out what is domain name and domain name server IP address of your home internet connection. You can find out the information easily by looking at the network connection property of the other Windows computer. Then you can edit the file /etc/resolv.conf to add the lines of domain dmain_name and nameserver name_server_IP_address. The easier way for the second step is to run Solaris network configuration tool from Start> Administration > Network. It will prompt you to enter root password first. After that, you can select “Wireless connection” from the main panel and click “DNS” tab to enter your DNS domain and name server IP addresses.
I really like my Solaris laptop and it is a very productive environment for me. The Solaris express is bundled with staroffice 8 for the design document writing and slide presentation. It is also bundled with Sun Studio and NetBeans for me to develop my program anywhere I like. Recently I just installed SAMP stack and played with it by writing a simple web application on my laptop. I was shocked by how much I can do with the PHP and MySQL in a very short time. That may be another interesting topic I should talk about next time.