February 02, 2008

Impressions of OpenSolaris

I've been using a build of SXDE as my primary work machine for about the last month. The reason is to get used to Solaris since we'll be deploying our application on it starting sometime this year -- I haven't been even a fake sysadmin for years, and that was on Linux.

Since I'm using a laptop (Thinkpad T60p) and WinXP, I took the relatively safe way out and installed a second hard drive in the ultra bay for Solaris. Because the ultra bay is taken up you need an external CD/DVD drive for installation, but USB works fine.

I haven't been taking notes for the whole time, so this is off the top of my head:

First surprise: installation was slick and easy. I'd installed Solaris 10 on a spare PC a while ago (year?) and it was fairly primitive, reminding me of linux installs 10 years ago.

Next surprise: wireless just worked. If it doesn't see a wired connection it'll pop up a little applet with the networks it sees and the security for each. (There's no 'Stop looking!' button, but that's minor.)

After that, it's been mostly great, with a few notable ups and downs:


  • Up until about two hours ago I couldn't VPN in to work. If this wasn't fixed it probably would have been the single biggest reason to stop using Solaris, Most of the time getting email through a web interface is sufficient, but other times I really need access to perforce.
  • No suspend/resume. One of the biggest advantages of using a laptop is that I can open it and immediately start doing something. I never have to turn it off. Well, when I used Windows on this machine I didn't. Now I do. It's annoying.
  • Something about power management or fan control isn't working properly, because I can freeze (sometimes reboot) this machine under load. And using the 'batstat' program I can see the temperature going up up up until it's two or three degrees below critical for one of the thermal zones, then =pow!=, it's gone. This happens more easily while the machine is docked (I think because there's no air passing under the machine to carry away heat), but it can happen when it's sitting on my iCurve as well, it just takes a little longer. It's possible this is a result of using the ultra bay hard drive as the primary one, but I dunno.
  • I really miss a QuickSilver/Launchy-type application. I know there's a couple for GNOME (like GNOME Do or GNOME Launch Box), but they or their dependencies have problems building. Most GUI stuff treats non-Linux systems as an afterthought, but they'll eventually be supported (probably).
  • Multiple-monitor support. On Win32 in the dock I can drive 2 20" panels from the laptop. And even if it's not in the dock I should be able to display on both the single external VGA port and on the built-in LCD. And plugging into a projector? Ha!

    This laptop has an ATI FireGL 5200 chipset. Unfortuntely it's not nVidia, which is apparently more common and more easily supports these crazy use cases.

  • It's heresy, but I miss Outlook a little. When I first saw screenshots of the vertical three-pane view I didn't like it, but after using it a bit I'm hooked. The three-pane view in Thunderbird is just okay, it doesn't show enough information in the middle pane (listing view). And while there is some basic calendar support in Thunderbird it's one way -- I can't confirm appointments, just add them to my calendar. (Evolution does support Exchange, but it's been flaky.)
  • We have fairly arcane methods of getting to some of our client sites, and some of them (based on Citrix) are Win32 only. Annoying, but not Solaris's fault.


  • Ahh, back to unix. Everything else is pretty much gravy.
  • My daily work (compiling, editing, running) is faster. Something that took a minute on Windows takes 20 seconds.
  • ZFS is freaking magical
  • Most everything I used in Win32 (which isn't much) has a good equivalent: IM, basic image editing, screenshots, Java IDE, xemacs, web, Postgres, remote desktop.

That should do for now, more things will probably pop up later.

Next: Time of day: 6:49 am
Previous: Getting vpnc to work on OpenSolaris