os2008.05#5: conclusions, continuity and chaos…

Ending a rather calm and productive week, I do have a rather clear impression of OpenSolaris 2008.05 by now. As to be expected, there’s some light, some shadow, some unresolved issues (I guess) and loads of room for improvements…

Light
Compared to recent Solaris 10 / Express, there’s of course a lot of good things worth mentioning about OS 2008.05 in my opinion:

  • Both installer and overall desktop environment, practically everything „visual“, is way smoother and more „up-to-date“ now. Despite somehow missing good ol‘ CDE, the GNOME desktop is preconfigured rather well and, in any possible way, at least on par with an up-to-date Linux distribution in terms of usability and accessibility. Actually, from a desktop users point of view, you don’t that much notice there’s an OpenSolaris kernel and the related infrastructure working in the background.
  • There’s a whole load of great features „under the hood“; ZFS and SMF the first to be mentioned, but I also enjoy RBAC and the Image Packaging system, altogether technologies which are quite a bit ahead of anything else out there in my opinion.
  • The system plays along rather well with my notebook, supporting more hardware than any Solaris distribution before, and, considering this, the last couple of months have seen drastic improvements here at least regarding the devices used here.
  • The system feels generally performing a little faster than a recent Ubuntu, but this is an impression entirely personal, I do not have any numbers to show on that…

Shadows

Some of them, guess, I mentioned already the last days:

  • From a desktop users point of view, the thing to hurt me the most is the total absence of any „killer feature“, any real application (or application integration) to distinguish the OpenSolaris GNOME desktop from „just an arbitrary“ GNOME installation on any Unix variant operating system. I could imagine quite an interesting set of features to have here (simulating Apples „Time Machine“ in example, by integrating ZFS snapshot functionality with the GNOME file manager, or, to go even beyond that, an easy-to-use ability of sync’ing two (OpenSolaris) boxes, say, using zfs send through an appealing GUI… As long as there aren’t features like that, there aren’t many reasons to choose OpenSolaris as a desktop box…
  • … because, overally and compared to Ubuntu or Debian, the amount of applications easily available (by simply „click-installing“ them using a repository or an „add/remove software“ assistant) is way too limited. Though I generally enjoy IPS, I guess Sun / the OpenSolaris crowd this way kinda has opened sort of a Pandora box introducing this idea: By now most people accepted Solaris to be a package-oriented distribution in that you had to fetch some .pkg file somewhere and install it to your system using pkgadd. Surely the „repository“ idea is way more convenient but possibly also way more work as someone needs to keep these repositories (a) up-to-date in terms of security and maintaineance patches as well as in terms of new versions of applications available and (b) growing by adding interesting new packages to be available to the users. I hope that OpenSolaris community will be capable of comin‘ up with enough resources and enthusiasm to keep this goin‘.
  • While we’re at the repositories: About OpenSolaris, I surely hope there will be a unification of, say, „OpenSolaris OpenSource“, „Sun Freeware“ and „Blastwave“. Right now, in example, installing something via IPS off Blastwave is more than likely to get and install a whole load of libraries which are already installed in the core system. Having Blastwave packages for IPS rebuilt to instead of providing everything on its own depending upon „main“ OpenSolaris packages would be a sane way (even though damaging the „standalone“ idea of Blastwave, but I do not know how much this does matter in a „completely open-source“ OpenSolaris…). Having GTK+ and its development headers installed in various prefixes and versions doesn’t make things easier…
  • Another annoyance I experienced yesterday in the evening, dealing with my media collection for the first time, the outcome was amazing: MP3 playback? No. DVD playback? Nada. Playing the .avi files recorded with my digital camera? Nothing. Playing the strange .whatever files comin‘ from my cellphone cam? Well, you know it… Playing a self-made DVD containing transformed clips off my digital cam? Nothing. Listening to an online radio live stream? Silence. Silence, also, because OpenSolaris can’t work well with my integrated sound card, but despite this is completely lacking most of the codecs required to provide any video playback. On Linux distributions like Fedora or GNewSense, things also are exactly like this (mainly due to the fact that most of these codecs are somewhat „flawed“ in terms of redistribution and licensing), but Linux, here, does benefit from a rich repository of applications to be installed, be that from a „non-free“ repository or simply as packages pulled off an FTP site. But maybe I just have to learn more about OpenSolaris to get the same done here, as well…

And now…?

So I’ve been using it for a whole work week… how to continue? Well, some next steps come to my mind: At first, the next server machine to be deployed here will be a Solaris testing system, while I am not yet sure whether OpenSolaris or Solaris 10, but I want ZFS and SMF there. As for my desktop… well I am slowly preparing a migration, being torn between enthusiasm and a certain feeling of still being a „stranger“ in the OpenSolaris world. When I moved to Linux, this meant to render quite a bunch of features of my hardware unusable from now to then simply because, in mid-1990s, there weren’t that many devices working with Linux out there. Same way, I had to search for replacements of old Windows95 applications as these simply weren’t available on Linux. Moving to OpenSolaris, from that point of view, wouldn’t be a break that big as, as a fallback, at least using the same application still would be possible, and be that via manually building them. Plus, being a Java developer, I am not really „tied“ to a given platform as far as my work is concerned so I could easily at least provide testing and (mailing list / newsgroup based) a little helping hand to others same as me being „newbies“ there. Possibly all I need to do this is a little time to sort out data, to do extensive backups, and then to see what will happened. I am curious, at the very least, and I guess all that is missing for OpenSolaris now is a vivid, active community to make it grow. Let’s hope for the best about that…

Some readings…

… on that topic for the weekend:

  • There is official „Getting Started“ – documentation covering some of the essential aspects of system maintaineance, installation and getting to do work after having a running environment.
  • The Observatory is a blog by some Sun folks dedicated to, as the name implies, watching the things evolve around OpenSolaris 2008.05, so far also providing a good set of hints to all those new to the platform..
  • There is an impressive list of documentation and manuals to be found on opensolaris.org, well-sorted and -structured.
  • For those seeking a good start to the gory details of the system, the university development documentation offers reading material to spend some quality time with.

more days of this week: