posted by Andy Satori on Wed 11th May 2005 19:59 UTC
IconWith the release of Solaris 10, Sun Microsystems is attempting to revive some of the strength that the Solaris name once carried in the world of unix workstations and servers. At one point, Sun was the dominant name in commercial unix hardware and software. Then came the crash of the dot-com marketplace, so many of whom had heavy investment into Sun in both the hardware & software market.

The crash proved to be a devastating blow to Sun as a company, but not one that they view as insurmountable, and the actions of the past couple of years show this. Solaris 10 is just one more step in the recovery process.

Before we dive into Solaris 10, we need to look at a little bit of history. Until fairly recently, Sun offered two separate products, Solaris was the workstation version of the highly respected and the powerful SunOS that was part of every server, and remains at the core of Solaris. With the release of Solaris 8, that dichotomy was removed. Solaris was the product and it was used on both platforms. During the past two years, Sun has also begun to leverage the Linux technologies into the Solaris platform without losing the tools and features that make Solaris unique.

The problem with these changes is that in order to grasp what Solaris is and what it brings to the table, two perspectives are required, that of the server administrator, and that of the workstation user. These are distinctly different environments, and yet Solaris is tailored to both.

With that said, letís take a look at the product.

Under the trappings of an X-Windows graphical user interface lies the much improved and updated heart, SunOS 5.10. Most of the functional improvements that benefit both the server and workstation reside here.

Solaris on the Workstation

One of the big things with Solaris 10 is that for the first time in itís long history, the x86 platform is given a truly equal footing to the Sparc product. Released at the same time as the Sparc platform, it is nearly feature identical to the Sparc product, and the places it is not are all tied to hardware inequalities. Unfortunately, we did not have a Sparc based workstation to test with, so all of our workstation testing was done on an AMD based x86 machine.

Installation is not for the computing rookie, but if you know enough to need Solaris on your workstation, one would hope that you are comfortable with tools like fdisk. The installer Ďfeelsí a little clunky, and is probably best compared to the installer of IBMís OS/2 circa 1994, but since itís a process that hopefully is done once and not a part of daily usage, we wonít spend any more time talking about it, itís not easy, but it is usable.

Once installed however, the system becomes much more manageable. During the boot process, the system shows itís roots with a text based boot process. All modern operating systems do this, some just make more of an effort to hide the arcane messages of the boot process. Unlike competitors, Mac OS X & Windows XP, Solaris makes no effort to expedite the boot process, ideally because there is little need to reboot the system. On the test machine, it boots Linux in about 90 seconds, and Windows XP in about 40 seconds. Solaris takes nearly 2 minutes to arrive at the graphical login screen.

The default login screen is a nice secure affair, and does not adopt the provide a list of users methodology that has become so prevalent, which is a good thing from a security standpoint. It also provides options to perform a remote login from the user interface, something few of the other X-Windows login interfaces do. The login also allow the user to choose between the two different graphical desktop systems provided by default.

The venerable old Open Look Window Manager has been retired for a couple of years now, and from the looks of the things, itís replacement in the form of the Common Desktop Engine, or CDE, has been placed on life support. From the looks of the defaults, and the general feel of the environment, the Java Desktop System, or JDS, is the desktop of the future for Solaris, and Sunís Linux offerings.

Using CDE is an experience that has not changed significantly in the years since it was introduced. Existing Solaris users may find it to be a comfortable environment, but it certainly hasnít seen any major changes or improvements. The one thing that can be said for it is that many of the existing management interfaces for Sun products are designed for it, and therefore enjoy a comfortable look and feel within CDE.

The Java Desktop System is on the other hand, a nice implementation of the GNOME desktop, with many Open Source applications prebuilt and installed, with a few Sun specific tools added in for a nice bonus. The desktop itself is nice, and should feel very comfortable to any Linux user that has spent any time with any of the current distributions. That is where the problems start though.

Adopting so many Linux based technologies in Solaris presents a double edged sword for Sun. It is unlikely to bring in new users, as Linux is perceived to be cheaper and offer the same basic feature set. Many of Solarisí technical merits will be overlooked by the casual users.

Table of contents
  1. "Solaris, Page 1/2"
  2. "Solaris, Page 2/2"
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