Posted on 09.08.09
I’ve used OpenSolaris 2009-06 as my primary desktop at home for a month now in order to get a better feel for how usable it is for me as a desktop OS.
At home I surf the web, read email, work on the occasional website (personal websites or websites I build and maintain for charitable or voluntary purposes), listen to music, and indulge every now and then in a little hobby programming, preferably in an exotic programming language. (Although lately I seem to be programming almost exclusively in Ocaml at home - it has slowly replaced C++ as my personal language of choice, and I now also use it for situations in which I am not merely dabbling).
For these purposes OpenSolaris works just fine. It’s actually a fairly lightweight system. I’m running it on a fairly old system, an AMD64 Sempron with 1GB RAM, purchased in 2005, which was not up to the task of running Ubuntu 8.10 smoothly. (Firefox tabs with multiple embedded Youtube videos, for instance, slow noticeably). OpenSolaris runs smoother and more responsively on the whole than later versions of Ubuntu.
Hardware support is still suboptimal. I was able to get my network card working after some difficulty, but USB devices are rather sketchily supported. USB memory sticks and external hard drives can be mounted and read without problems, but I cannot mount or read photos or films from any of my cameras directly. This alone prevents me from setting up a Solaris monoculture here at home.
From a programmer’s perspective, there are a couple of unsatisfactory issues. First is that the GNU toolchain is not particularly well supported. Solaris ships with gcc 3.4.3, and while there’s nothing wrong with the sun compiler suite, lots of open source packages do not compile with it without some degree of tweaking, especially if they compile from makefiles written without making use of autotools.
Secondly, and quite surprisingly, the Solaris X terminal does not support colours. This means that syntax highlighting does not work for terminal-mode vim or emacs, for instance. This annoys me more than I would have thought it would, since I prefer to use vim in combination with terminator.
OpenSolaris for the desktop looks and feels rather like a lightweight Ubuntu. The desktop is Gnome, the package manager is similar to apt, the toolkit is gtk2. There is very little resemblance to the Common Desktop Environment // Motif look and feel of classic Solaris. In fact, OpenSolaris does not even come with Motif installed, so personal favourites such as nedit are not available.
So why run OpenSolaris as a desktop OS? There are not many compelling reasons to choose it above Linux distributions such as Ubuntu. Based on a single data point I think it is less demanding on hardware than the newest versions of Ubuntu, while offering reasonably recent features - the latest Nvidia drivers, USB and networking support (better than Ubuntu’s: if my router hiccups or needs to be rebooted, OpenSolaris detects quickly and reliably when it is up and running again and retrieves a new IP if needed, while Ubuntu is tardy and unreliable in this respect). The file system is fast and reliable, and can be repartitioned on the fly, but this is not a killer feature for a desktop.
Will I keep it? Yes, I think so: it works, it’s stable, it’s given my Sempron a new lease of life. Would I recommend it as a desktop OS for other users? Probably not: there’s no compelling reason to use it in preference to a modern Linux distribution. What would it take for me to migrate all my desktops to OpenSolaris? Better hardware support, in particular for network cards and cameras, and more software packages in the Sun repositories. Given the remarkable progress OpenSolaris has made the past year, this is an unlikely but not unthinkable scenario.Comments Off
Posted on 06.06.09
Last month I tried installing OpenSolaris 2008-11, but did not succeed in getting networking working. Today I noticed that OpenSolaris 2009-06 was just released. I really would like to use Solaris at home. I use it at work and have gotten attached to its quirks. So I downloaded the iso and burned an install CD.
Installation was quicker and smoother on my machine than with 2008-11 (specs: AMD64 Sempron, VIA VT6xxx motherboard with onboard VT6102 Rhine II NIC, NVidia GeForce 6200 with 256 MB memory, a 160 GB hard disk, and 1 GB of RAM).
However - yet again - the installer did not install the correct driver for my VT6102 network card. Fortunately, the install CD - which doubled as a live CD - had a handy little widget which reported the state of all hardware and informed me that the drivers for my card were not available. This was information I did not have when I encountered the same problem with 2008-11.
Googling (on another machine with a working connection) brought me to this very useful page with unofficial drivers for various Solaris versions. This is what I did:
- Downloaded the file vfe-2.6.4.tar.gz, and copied it using a usb stick to my Solaris machine.
- Unpacked the file in a temporary directory
elliott@horza:~$ cd vfe-2.6.4
elliott@horza:~$ mv Makefile Makefile.old
elliott@horza:~$ cp Makefile.amd64_gcc Makefile
elliott@horza:~$ make install
elliott@horza:~$ vim /etc/hostsHere I added the line xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx vfe, where the x’s weere a rough guess as to the IP my DHCP server would supply once the network interface was up and running. My internal network does not use static IP’s, the main router assigns dynamic IP’s which overrides the value in this file anyway.
elliott@horza:~$ devfsadm -i vfeThis command failed with the message “Failed to attach vfe driver”
elliott@horza:~$ touch /etc/hostname.vfe0
elliott@horza:~$ touch /etc/dhcp.vfe0
I then rebooted the workstation. After rebooting the network notifier widget notified me that network interface vfe0 was up and running, and I was able to access the internet.
Next step: installing Flash. From http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/?promoid=BUIGP I downloaded the player, unzipped and untarred it, and copied (as root) the file
/usr/lib/firefox/plugins/. After restarting firefox, Flash worked fine. A visit to Youtube verified that both sound and video were working fine.
The installer had set the size of my swap partition at 512 MB, in my opinion far too little especially in combination with Firefox usage. A little googling turned up http://www.crypticide.com/dropsafe/article/2649, which had a solution that worked for me:
zfs set volsize=3G rpool/swap, followed by a reboot.
OpenSolaris has a package manager very similar to Ubuntu’s synaptic package manager, with a reasonable number of rather developer-centric packages available. I got the packages I’m used to on most systems (gcc, ocaml, wxwindows etc), and am now a fairly happy puppy.Comments Off
Posted on 16.05.09
My ASUS eee PC netbook is one of my favourite toys, if a little underpowered (512 MB memory, 4 GB flash disk space). I have a couple of better-specced PCs and would like to run programs on their CPUs, while displaying the output on my netbook.
My main box is a quad-core Phenom with 8GB memory, running Ubuntu 9.04. I carried out the following steps:
- Make sure the main box has a ssh server installed and running:
# sudo apt-get install openssh-server openssh-client
- run sudo gdmsetup, and enable X11 forwarding. The file /etc/gdm/gdm.conf should contain
- X11Forwarding yes
- X11DisplayOffset 10
- In the .bashhrc of the account I want to log in with, I add the following lines
- export DISPLAY=localhost:0.0
- xhost +
- Restart the nome Display Manager on the box
- From the netbook, login with ssh user@ip_of_box -X
And now firefox, gvim etc can be run on the host machine with visual output on the netbook. Despite the difference in screen resolution, Gnome actually does a pretty good job of accomodating window sizes to the netbook’s tiny display. I’m typing this post on my netbook via an instance of epiphany runing on my quad-core box. It looks and feels almost like the real thing.Comments Off
Posted on 02.05.09
I’ve been using Solaris 5.10 on a daily basis at work for a couple of years now (on rather underpowered, overpriced sparc v9 Ultras and the occasional Blade). Despite its quirks I’ve gotten used to it - even fond of it, so I decided to download and install Open Solaris 2008-10 on a spare workstation at home.
I chose to install it as the sole operating system on a 64-bit Sempron with 1 GB of RAM. The installer, while pretty, chose to allocate a mere 512 MB for the swap partition (why so little, I have no idea). I couldn’t figure out how to change it (although I didn’t try very hard either). On the plus side, my nVidia video card was detected and configured automatically, and the correct proprietary drivers installed (always a hassle with standard Linux distros). On the negative side - and this was the ultimate showstopper - I couldn’t get networking to work. While it apparently recognized my network card (an on-board VT6102 Rhine II NIC every other distro recognizes effortlessly) , I couldn’t get it to do anything. It didn’t see my router-slash-DHCP server, didn’t pick up an IP address, did nothing with the DNS and gateway settings I fed it, and couldn’t ping any other servers on my home network. Some googling trawled up forum postings where an unsettling number of convoluted steps were taken to resolve similar sounding problems. Had the rest of the OpenSolaris experience been worth it I might have made the effort, but I wound up never resolving this issue.
Open Solaris booted very sluggishly on my Sempron (it took literally minutes), and took even longer to shut down (more than 5 minutes - the first time it took so long I thought the computer had hung and shut it down via the power-off switch.) It boots into a standard Gnome environment, which is a great deal prettier than the Common Desktop Environment I’m used to at work. However, from my viewpoint as a casual end-user (email, surfing, programming in C\C++\Ocaml\Haskell, creating the odd website, listening to music and watching the odd DVD), it offers no tangible benefits over Ubuntu or OpenSuse. Sun hardware, while expensive and underpowered, is rock-stable, but the same cannot be said of OpenSolaris’s x86 stock PC support. The lack of networking was a killer, which the other features could not compensate for.
So I uninstalled it, and now that desktop is running OpenSUSE 11.1.Comments Off
Posted on 09.02.07
In 1900 the Ladies Home Journal made 29 predictions about the year 2000. Sample:
There will be air-ships, but they will not successfully compete with surface cars and water vessels for passenger or freight traffic. They will be maintained as deadly war-vessels by all military nations. Some will transport men and goods. Others will be used by scientists making observations at great heights above the earth.
These prophecies reveal as much about the nature of science fiction as about the nature of science. They’re often utopian, or naive extrapolations of existing knowledge. And change is accelerating. I’m sure the world of 2100 is literally unimaginable to us today. It’s not even worth trying.
I clicked the link and had a look at the predictions. I found them surprisingly prescient, certainly considering that the year in which they were made (1900), preceded the airplane, motorized vehicles, widespread use of electricity and telecommunications.
Posted on 20.01.07
The Gecko rendering engine on x64 Linux crashes often and easily. Firefox, Epiphany and the Mozilla Web browser all crash on me, sometimes multiple times a day. This wasn’t always the case. Something rotten crept in during an Ubuntu auto-update half a year ago, and since then surfing has become a much more …. Win95 experience again. Bah.No comments
Posted on 24.12.05
My old workstation, a second-hand 1Ghz Duron probably born sometime around 2001, had been flakey for a month. It begun to require a number of attempts before it would power up and boot successfully, so a little earlier than I’d originally planned for I decided to buy a new PC.
It wound up being a budget AMD 64 Sempron with a 160 GB hard disk, 1Gb of memory, and an Nvidia 6200 with 256 Mb of video memory. I bought it from PC Dump Winkel for, if memory serves, around 500 euros. Buying it took all of 30 minutes, and that was including the drive to Waalwijk to pick it up after placing the order at the Den Bosch branch.
The (slightly) more time consuming part was installing Linux.