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Opening Solaris - page 3

The Solaris 10 Pitch

  • September 15, 2005
  • By Martin C. Brown

I installed Solaris 10 onto a range of different hardware, including an older Ultra 60 workstation, a v40z Server (with four Opteron 848 CPUs) and a number of different PCs, including the virtual environment offered by both Microsoft's VirtualPC and Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 products. The installation is comparatively painless on SPARC based hardware and I had no problems installing from the DVD supplied or from CDs I'd written from ISOs downloaded from Sun's website. Similarly, installation of the v40z server was also painless, largely because it's a Sun-supported product and so all the necessary drivers are included on the installation media.

Installation on generic PCs was problematic. Although we have had x86 support within Solaris since 2000, the amazing array of PC peripherals is an obvious difficulty for an operating system which has comparatively few users or OEMs interested in supporting other hardware devices. The Hardware Compatibility List (HCL) for Solaris 10 on x86 is actually very comprehensive with over 400 systems listed. But it doesn't take a long look at the list to see where the concentration lies--it has been in supporting the high-end hardware supplied by Compaq, Digital and others in their x86 servers, rather than the low-end commodity kits often used by Linux and Windows users.

For example with network cards, those from 3Com, Digital, Intel and the other larger makes are well supported. Those from smaller manufacturers or those cards that just fall out of the mainstream--such as those from Linksys--are not supported. Similar problems apply if you have less-than-mainstream storage equipment. For instance, many of the low-end RAID hardware (particularly ATA based) is unsupported, while a large number of SCSI interfaces are supported.

Video and multimedia devices (sound cards especially) are not very well supported. The video support is restricted to a number of the mainstream cards from ATI, Matrox, and nVidia, but support for some other video cards in the native Xsun application is limited. The situation is improved though through the support for the Xorg version of the X Window System which provides a much wider array of video hardware.

The first shock for most users of Solaris 10 will be the speed with which the system boots. Even on the older Ultra 60 workstation I have been caught out by incredibly short times between power-on and ready to use. At under 30 seconds on the Ultra 60 and v40z, it boots faster than almost any other disk-based operating system I've come across. Even on a comparatively older PC the time from boot to getting a text-based login prompt is under a minute (see Figure 1).

Most of this speed can be directly attributed to the new Service Management Facility (SMF), which dramatically optimizes the starting of background services and systems that are handled by sequentially running individual scripts within one or more directories on Linux and other Unix operating systems. I'll cover this in more detail shortly.

Sun have also worked hard to improve the overall performance of Solaris 10, and it shows. The system is very quick and snappy, even on the older hardware, and more than once I had to do a double-check on which machine I was using.

From a user perspective, Solaris 10 offers both Common Desktop Environment (CDE) and Java Desktop System (JDS) environments. The JDS system, based on GNOME, is a clean and efficient windowing manager but some of the elements of the interface may be frustrating for users more familiar with KDE (see Figure 2).

Included with the OS are a vast array of applications, including Sun, open source, and third-party tools. For example, the default browser is Mozilla (as shown in Figure 3), the email client is Evolution, and behind the scenes we get access to a plethora of open source projects. The main culprits include MySQL, Perl, Python, Wine, Squid, Bash gcc, and, unsurprisingly, Java. Some of these items are available separately on a Companion CD, but can be installed as part of the standard installation.

Overall, there is nothing here that we are not familiar with from other Unix- or Linux-based operating systems. There are the inevitable differences between some elements and commands if you are not familiar with the Solaris environment, but nothing we don't already experience between BSD and Linux or even between individual individual Linux distributions.


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