OpenSolaris 2009.06

Occasionally I get an interesting, off-the-beaten-path suggestion on the Request A Review page. This time around somebody suggested doing a review of OpenSolaris. Why do a review of OpenSolaris? Well why the heck not? It’s always fun to check out a different kind of desktop operating system. Sometimes you can find an unexpected jewel when you least expect it. Is OpenSolaris a jewel? I’ll try to answer that question in this review.

If you aren’t familiar with OpenSolaris, here’s a little background from Wikipedia:

OpenSolaris is an open source operating system based on Solaris created by Sun Microsystems, now a part of Oracle Corporation. It is also the name of the project initiated by Sun to build a developer and user community around it.

OpenSolaris is derived from the Unix System V Release 4 codebase, with significant modifications made by Sun since it bought the rights to that code in 1994. It is the only open source System V derivative available. Open sourced components are snapshots of the latest Solaris release under development. Sun has announced that future versions of its commercial Solaris operating system will be based on technology from the OpenSolaris project.

What’s New In This Release
Here’s a sample of the new stuff in OpenSolaris 2009.06:

Time Slider Snapshot Management (take snapshots of your home directory)
Codeina (install additional media plug-ins)
Elisa (free and open source media center)
Time Tracker (panel application that lets you keep track of your time)
IPS Improvements (reduction in memory use, fat packages)
Package Manager Improvements (better start-up performance and user experience)
Better Hardware Support (SPARC, Nehalem)

You can use OpenSolaris as a Live CD or you can install it to your disk.

Hardware Requirements & Installation
Hardware Requirements

There are only a couple of requirements listed on the OpenSolaris system requirements page:

Memory: 512MB (768MB recommended)
Disk Space: 3.2GB (7GB or higher recommended)

I opted to give it 10GB of disk space and 1GB of RAM. It ran very well for me with those hardware specs.

Installation Steps
I wasn’t expecting much as far as installing OpenSolaris, but I was pleasantly surprised. Very pleasantly surprised, indeed.

The OpenSolaris installer is extremely easy to use and the install itself takes very little time (about 15 minutes or so). Frankly, I expected the install routine to be at least partly a headache but that wasn’t the case at all. It was better than some of the Linux distros I’ve installed over the years and certainly no worse than installing Windows.

The OpenSolaris install welcome screen.

Choose your preferred disk partitioning.

Select your time zone.

Select your location and language support.

Type you preferred root password and setup your user account.

Confirm the settings and click the Install button to begin the installation.

The install should take about 15 minutes or so.

After the install finishes, you’ll need to reboot.

Once the install is complete you can continue using the Live CD desktop or reboot if you want to run the installed version. I prefer the better performance of the installed version so I opted to reboot and leave the Live CD desktop. Not that the Live CD desktop was bad, but having it installed usually results in significant performance gains.

Booting & Login

Boot time for OpenSolaris is pretty fast. I didn’t notice any lengthy delays or other annoying slowness.

The bootsplash screen is simple and effective. You can opt to type ‘e’ to edit the commands before booting or ‘c’ to get to a command line.

The bootsplash screen is simple and without clutter.

Login Screen
The login screen is also simple. You can change your language or choose your session.

You can choose your language or session on the login screen.

The Desktop
OpenSolaris uses GNOME 2.24 for its desktop environment.

The first thing you notice when booting into your OpenSolaris desktop is the blue wallpaper with the OpenSolaris logo. The desktop isn’t cluttered but there are a few icons on it:

Add More Software
Register OpenSolaris
Start Here

If you haven’t used OpenSolaris before, it’s a good idea to click the Start Here icon. You’ll find some helpful links that will get you up to speed on OpenSolaris.

Click the Start Here icon to view the start menu.

If you’ve used GNOME before then you’ll feel right at home in OpenSolaris. Click the Applications menu at the top left to get started. Applications are laid out in the usual categories:

Sound & Video
System Tools

There are also menus for Places and System stuff as well in the upper left corner of your desktop. You’ll also find icons for Home, Firefox, Thunderbird, Package Manager and Terminal.

In the upper right corner of your desktop there is an icon you can click to update your system with Update Manager. One of the first things I did was to update mine and I had no problem downloading or installing my system updates.

Update your system with Update Manager.

The OpenSolaris installed desktop.

Bundled Software

Here’s a sample of the software included in this release.

Five or More

Digital Camera Browser
Image Organizer
Image Viewer
Save Screenshot

Pidgin IM

CD Ripper
Rhythmbox Music Player
Totem Movie Player

Evince Document Viewer

Software Management
Package Manager is the tool used to manage software in OpenSolaris. You can access it by simply clicking the Add More Software icon on your desktop. Application categories are broken down into the following categories:

Configuration and Preferences
Graphics and Imaging
Panels and Applets
Plug-ins and Run-times
Sound and Video
System Utilities
Universal Access

Adding or removing software is easy and there’s additional software available in Package Manager that is not installed by default. So be sure to take a few minutes and browse around or do some searches to find useful software.

If you want you can add other repositories to Package Manager by clicking File then Manage Repositories.

If you click the Update All button in Package Manager you can update all of your existing packages. Be aware though that this creates a new default boot environment that consists of the updated packages. So don’t be confused if you restart your system and see the old and new boot environments listed on the bootsplash screen.

Use Package Manager to add or remove software on your system.

Applications are divided into the usual categories in Package Manager.

Sound and Multimedia
I ran into two main problems with OpenSolaris: flash and sound. I’ll talk about sound more in the problems section below.

YouTube & Flash
When I went to YouTube, I noticed that I needed flash. I tried to do the install via Firefox but that didn’t work (not surprising but I figured I’d try it anyway). I googled to find instructions on how to install it in OpenSolaris:

1.Download the Solaris version of flash player to your machine.

2. Untar that file.

3. Open terminal.

4. #su

5. cp /usr/lib/firefox/plugins/

6. restart firefox

Once the plug-in was installed, I restarted Firefox and YouTube videos played well but had no sound. More on that below.

Problems & Headaches
The lack of sound was a big problem and I ended up googling to find out a solution to it. I found a helpful blog entry with links to the Open Sound System site where I was able to download the drivers. The blog entry also had a link to a PDF that contained install instructions.

So, after a little bit of work, I was able to get sound working fine on my OpenSolaris system. None of it really should have been necessary though. Sound should work by default as it does for most Linux distros.

One other minor nitpick…I missed having GIMP and installed by default. Both were available via Package Manager though. It took just a couple of minutes and I had both of them installed in OpenSolaris.

YouTube videos played well after flash was installed in Firefox.

Where To Get Help
Please take a moment to register for the DLR forum (registration takes less than a minute and you can login with your Facebook account if you want); everybody is welcome. You are welcome to post a message in the Linux Help section and we’ll do our best to point you in the right direction. The forum contains discussions about Linux, but also many other topics. Please stop by and say hello when you have a chance.

Drop by the forum to get help, talk about Linux or just hang out.

You might also want to check out the OpenSolaris wiki and the OpenSolaris Learn page. If you’re already an experienced Linux user then you might want to read the Migrating to OpenSolaris from Linux page. And be sure to drop by the OpenSolaris forum to connect to other users.

Final Thoughts & Who Should Use It
As I noted earlier, OpenSolaris was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. It’s easy to install and ran very well for me. The biggest drawbacks I ran into were sound problems and lack of flash in Firefox. Both problems were solvable and my overall experience with OpenSolaris was quite good. It was pretty quick and seemed very stable to me. I didn’t run into problematic crashes or anything else that significantly impacted my experience with it.

I recommend OpenSolaris mainly for distrohoppers who are always on the lookout for a cool, new OS to play with on their system. Others may certainly benefit from trying OpenSolaris and I don’t discourage anybody from checking it out. But I don’t think it will be giving Linux Mint or PCLinuxOS a run for their money as anybody’s preferred desktop distro just yet. The sound problems will probably annoy casual users enough to keep them away.

Still, it’s a neat operating system and it’s definitely worth a download for distrohoppers.

Summary Table:

Product: OpenSolaris 2009.06
Web Site: OpenSolaris
Price: Free
Pros: Excellent installer, good selection of software. Fast boot time.
Cons: Flash not installed in Firefox by default. Required sound system package installation.
Suitable For: Distrohoppers and others looking for a new desktop OS to play with and enjoy.
Summary: OpenSolaris is a pleasant alternative to the usual array of Linux distros, Mac OS X and Windows. While it has a few drawbacks, it also provides a significant amount of value for desktop users.Alas, this is clouded by sound problems and the lack of flash inclusion in the install routine. Still, it’s worth a look if you’re a distrohopper or a tinkerer looking for the next OS to play with on your system.
Rating: 3.5/5