Wednesday Jul 02, 2008

Yes, I am a winner

 

My review of Open Solaris wins me a prize at OpenSolaris and NetBeans Student Reviews Contest. Details is here.

Monday Jun 02, 2008

Open Solaris 2008.05: A big step towards public

On May 05, 2008 OpenSolaris 2008.05 was released. It is significantly different with Solaris Operating System in many aspects. My favorite change is that OpenSolaris is released as a bootable LiveCD. As I am living in Australia and all Internet Service Providers here charge the increditable price for download traffic, downloading one DVD or six CDs was really a headache to me. I felt much more comfortable to grab this version. Here is a bit of summaries of my experience after I have nearly run OpenSolaris on my Thinkpad T61 for a month.

1. Boot Into LiveCD Mode

Comparing with previous Solaris, I think OpenSolaris has a much more friendly interface on installation because I could give a try before I actually install it on my harddisk.

After I downloaded CD iso file, burned a CD and boot it from CDROM, I get a menu which gives three options: 1) Start OpenSolaris in GUI mode; 2) Start OpenSolaris in text concole; 3) Boot from harddisk.

After I selected the first option, a number of dots started to creep on the screen. I think they were meant to be an indication of system loading and I should just wait until these dots crept to the other end of screen. However, it would be nice to have a much meaningful indication, for example, a progress bar with text, say, "System loading" or "preparing Solaris".

Strangely the screen falled back to the Black & white mode and asked me to select me to the keyboard language. Although I perfectly understand the necessarity of using correct Keyboard, I was a bit worried about if the black & white screen might indicate something bad. For instance, my graphic card was not supported, which really gave me a hit when I tried with Nevada svn 64 several months ago.

Until the beautiful Nvidia logo popped up, I knew I could relief myself a bit.

Gnome panel then kicked in. 

License agreement was the first dialog window I met.

Immediately Network Automagic window popped up and listed a number of Wireless network for me to choose. How sweet! My Intel ABG 3956 wireless network card worked out of box.

OpenSolaris built in an excellent tool, "Device Driver Utility"  , to help collect what kind of drivers were missing. To run it, just double click the icon on the desktop. Unfortunately, the sound card and ACPI drivers were not included in this release. I certainly want to see them to work out of box in the next OpenSolaris release. So I clicked "Submit" button to submit a report. Hopefully Solaris kernel management team would consider them.

Apart from that, I could start to use OpenSolaris right away. It is a very smoothy platform. I did not notice much delay. It gave me a pretty good idea what it would look like after I installed OpenSolaris on my harddisk.


2. Installation is very straightforward.

There is an installation utility on desktop of OpenSolaris LiveCD mode . Simply double click this icon to start Installation. OpenSolaris 2008.05's installer is very similar to previous Nevada builds.

Select disk space. It would be nice that Gparted or similar tool is built in. So I don't have to reboot to other operating system to manipulate disk partitions.

Select time zone.

Set root passward, initial user name & password and system name.

Confirm detail. Simply click next button.

Have a cup of coffee and wait for completion.

Finish and click reboot button. However, during the reboot process there was no reminder to eject LiveCD from CDROM. Because I walk away after clicking reboot button, my laptop automatically reboot from CDROM again. I have to reboot it again and manually eject LiveCD.

Yeah, boot from harddisk. Grub automatically created entry for Windows and by default it select OpenSolaris 2008 05 which was labeled as "rc3" for some reaons.

System started to load in devices driver and services. I noticed that OpenSolaris 2008 05 is based on Nevada build 86.

Super User (Root) login is disabled by default. 

The login screen. 

The system is fully loaded. OpenSolaris default theme is pretty elegant. I like it a lot.


3. Post Installation configuration.

Since my sound card was not supported by default , I did some research and installed a customized Open Sound System driver to make it working as I wrote in previous blog entry. Hopefully Open Sound System driver will be built into OpenSolaris kernel in next release.


4. Install software

One of the most prominent feature of Image Packaging System. Most of day to day applications could be installed from IPS. Until today (2nd June 2008) there are 4464 packages on http://pkg.opensolaris.org.

However, there are still many applications which could not be installed from IPS, for example Mplayer, LaTex, KDE and etc al. I have to install them from Blastwave.org in an old fashion method, pkg-get. It would be nice to have Blastwave.org as alternative repository in IPS. Of course, Blastwave.org will need to make many modifications in order to aline OpenSolaris.org repository. For example, at this moment, I have to create menu shortcut for those software installed from Blastwave.org while OpenSolaris.org ones simply created menu shortcut automatically, which is a very nice feature.

5. ZFS

ZFS, the most advanced file system with advanced snapshotting capabilities, is activated by default. It provides a great option to build an Ultimate Home Storage Server. It's on my to-do list. Start to save money to stock up hard disks.

6. Others

Although OpenSolaris does build in Nvidia driver, which provides excellent support on many advance features, for example, 3D desktops, it seems that getting external projector working has proved to be difficult, especially those very low resolutions, e.g. 640x480. I learned this lesson in a hard way. Although, as many suggested, VESA is an safe option, preparing two sets of xorg.conf files and switching them over could be a tedious task. Hopefully future OpenSolaris release would address this issue and have an elegant solution.

Adding a printer and getting it work is still very challenging in OpenSolaris 2008 05. The default interface of managing printer offers little information. In fact I was sort of looking for sensible suggestion because I felt lost. Although Common UNIX Printing System (CUPS) could be installed from Blastwave.org, I still need to spend considerable time in order to get it fully functional. It would be nice to see that CUPS could be integrated in future OpenSolaris.

Although OpenSolaris has very support on File Allocation Table file system in that USB key would be recognized right away, accessing NTFS file system still requires some works. It could be very inconvenient to read or write data from Windows partitions or NTFS format portable disks. Some initial research shows that there are instructions to mount NTFS partition in read only mode. It appears to be in a very immature stage. I have good experience with NTFS-3G on linux. Some threads on OpenSolaris forum shows that there are a great deal of interests on porting NTFS-3G to Solaris. Hopefully it would be available on next OpenSolaris release.


Conclusion

In general OpenSolaris 2008 05 is a far more advanced release in term of how aggressive it moves forward to general public. Its excellent usability design makes non-geek users much easier to get started than previous Solaris releases. Most of hardware devices simply work out of box. I am expecially pleased to see that we are encouraging users to submit their hardware compability list, even in LiveCD mode. IPS is certainly a mile stone. Not only does it make software management easier but also it improved integration of software packages. I am much more comfortable to use software I installed from IPS. The questions are only how we add more packages and how to manage them in a more sensible way. Ultimately I am very happy that the first OpenSolaris is such close to a complete system to public. I hope within a few releases OpenSolaris could become the most popular operating system on the plant. Well, it is certainly on this way.

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