posted by Thom Holwerda on Mon 20th Jul 2009 19:16 UTC
IconThe Linux desktop has come a long way. It's a fully usable, stable, and secure operating system that can be used quite easily by the masses. Not too long ago, Sun figured they could do the same by starting Project Indiana, which is supposed to deliver a complete distribution of OpenSolaris in a manner similar to GNU/Linux. After using the latest version for a while, I'm wondering: why?

I was very interested in trying out the latest OpenSolaris release, hoping to find an operating system that could rival the likes of Ubuntu and OpenSUSE. The goal of Project Indiana is basically to create GNU/OpenSolaris, slap on a GNOME desktop, and try to capitalise on OpenSolaris' key features, among which ZFS. I had the plan to write a nice review of it, but the experience was so bad, I had to let go of that plan.

The experience was nothing short of a major disappointment. I think if there is one word that really summarises the entire experience, it would be "slow". Installation is slow. Booting takes forever. It takes far too long for applications to load or for windows to appear. Responsiveness is terrible. On a slightly less important note, Compiz performs much worse on OpenSolaris than it does on Linux. On top of that, the package manager is slow during all operations - even downloading the packages. It was a horrible experience. I was using it on a 2.8Ghz Pentium IV with HyperThreading, 2GB of RAM, and an NVIDIA 6200 video card.

Of course, the OpenSolaris effort is still relatively new, so we should cut the project some slack. They should be given the time to mature the project, and work on improving the overall performance. In addition, they should also work on getting more packages in the repositories, because I could just about make out the tumbleweeds rolling across my desktop.

However, even if they did improve the overall experience (again, especially overall performance and responsiveness), there's an additional problem that I think is a little harder - if not impossible - to solve. While I was using OpenSolaris, it dawned on me that if it weren't for the custom theme, there's very, very little to set OpenSolaris (the Project Indiana variant, that is) apart from various Linux distributions.

And distributions like OpenSUSE, Fedora, and Ubuntu all provide a far, far better user experience than OpenSolaris does. While I see no problem in Sun trying to turn OpenSolaris into a Linux distribution (effectively) I'm left wondering if that's enough. I have the idea that if Sun wants OpenSolaris to achieve the same kind of success that desktop Linux distributions have seen, they'll have to offer something different.

As it stands now, OpenSolaris felt like a really, really bad Linux distribution from 5 years ago. I'm not saying that Solaris is a bad operating system - oh no - I'm just saying that it's a bad Linux distribution.

What are your experiences with OpenSolaris?

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