Sun’s Java Desktop System 2 is No Improvement

Sun introduced recently the second version of Java Desktop System (JDS) for a flat fee per employee/per year. We tried it and here is what we found out about:

Click for a larger version Basically, very few things have changed in the client version of JDS. The desktop and installation looks very much the same as it did a few months ago. The installation has a few bugs: a) some strings haven’t been converted to “Sun JDS” from “SuSE Linux”, b) Evolution and gnome-user-docs packages are stalling during installation because of the misbehaving ‘scrollkeeper-in’ process that takes 99% of the CPU and needs killing to continue (same bug as on JDS1) and c) when trying to edit a user’s groups the font representing the groups is unreadable.

After you’ve installed the system from its three CDs, the Gnome 2.2 desktop comes up (with a few gnome apps upgraded to 2.4 status) and it looks very similar to how it used to look before. Star Office 7-update2 is there, Mozilla 1.4.1 is there, Evolution 1.4.x and Gnomemeeting 0.98 are there too.

And then the big boom: JDS2 has the same bug as JDS 1 and the previous SuSE Linuxes had: some RealTek revisions won’t work because of the patches used on the Sun/SuSE modified kernel. Some Sun engineers emailed me about it the last time I mentioned that, but the problem is just not resolved (the card is fully compatible with Linux and all the other 10-15 Linux distros/versions I have tried it on have worked fine). Inetd is up, the driver module is up properly, but there is no network functionality, not even when trying to ping my neighbor PC through IP. I am pretty sure that if Sun had moved to kernel 2.6 the patches used would be different enough to not trouble the RealTek driver, but it seems that Sun didn’t even bother upgrading their 2.4 kernel above 2.4.19 (same as in JDS1 months ago). Bah.

Click for a larger version And then there was the Mozilla resize problem. Now, that is a new bug only on JDS2: resizing the Mozilla 1.4 window to become bigger works great, resizing it to making it smaller it stalls. Other applications don’t have the particular problem, only Mozilla does (however refreshing of any window while resizing is not done in acceptable intervals, giving the feeling that the operation is slow in general).

And then it was the fact that after you left the JDS2 untouched for a few minutes and it would go to the mode of screensaver-locking the monitor would re-sync itself over and over again (making the same mechanical sound as it was changing resolution or refresh rate, but it wasn’t really).

And then there is Nautilus. Sun does a mediocre job automounting all devices/partitions on “This Computer” Nautilus view: someone tell me the logic behind naming a partition as “Disk (3)” (while it is hda2) and when double clicking into it it, it gets renamed as “data 1”. Honestly, that’s confusing as hell.

But there are more problems: for example, navigating to “data1” partition, which is nothing but my Slackware (also kernel 2.4.x and ReiserFS-based), Nautilus would misbehave: click on any file on my personal folder (/data1/home/eugenia/) and they would dissapear from Nautilus! Thankfully the files were not getting deleted (I almost got a heart attack for a second or two), they were just dissapearing from the Nautilus view. Refreshing the folder would show again all files until you simply select a file and it would dissapear again. I don’t remember seeing this bug occuring on JDS1.

As for the sharing options on folders, the UI is terrible (check screenshot). Usability is ranking zero in the 3 dialogs when trying to create a new samba share on a selected folder.

Click for a larger version Regarding the games included, the Scores don’t work (they don’t get recorded). There is a caveat on the way you configure the gnome-games source code (both FreeBSD and Slackware has fallen into the trap recently) and Sun’s JDS2 has the same problem. Anyways, that’s a small problem compared to the Stones game which is completely unusable. It gets stalled (unrefreshed windows etc), the music it uses it gets repeated over and over (similar effect as when you run a modern game on a very old PC, however here it is not the case as my PC is fast enough and “top” doesn’t show any high CPU consumption generated from anything) and you have to kill it in order to get rid of it.

Yes, you could argue that having Star Office 7-up2, the brand new Java System Update Service (to update the OS via the net) and the Java Studio IDE worth the $50-100 bucks that Sun will ask you for it. But on the other hand, when you can’t use your browser or your network card on a Linux-certified PC or when Sun has made zero progress to offer new features on the desktop side itself, it is all a moot point. Honestly, JDS2 should have being called JDS 1.1, definetely not 2.0.

The only part of the OS that has seen new features and real progress are the system management tools (coming on the last CD in the box):
Java Desktop System Configuration Manager, Release 1: Policy-based desktop configuration manager. Java Desktop System Configuration Manager defines user settings and provides the ability to lockdown user desktop systems.
Sun Control Station 2.1: Comprehensive toolset for centralized desktop deployment and management . Sun Control Station, 2.1 is ideal for remotely performing desktop provisioning, management, and software updating. The easy-to-use interface also performs dependency checking, health monitoring and asset management.
Remote Desktop Takeover: Remote administration including viewing and interacting with users desktop display to help, guide and troubleshoot. (don’t get excited, it’s just VNC-based, so it would be much slower than X remote display or Terminal Services).

Click for a larger version Unfortunately I could not use the new management tools because the server side requires 1 GB of RAM on a machine that needs to run RHEL 2.1 or Red Hat Linux 7.3. I don’t have a machine with 1 GB RAM (except my dual Power Mac which has 2 GB of RAM) and if I had one, it would be on a very recent machine, and a very recent machine wouldn’t guarantee to run with Red Hat 7.3 as this OS is already old. I don’t know what Sun is thinking for not updating this software to work with newer server OSes. In any case, the good people at Sun sent a demo over of the management services running on a Mozilla window that doesn’t require an external server (see screenshot) which worked adequately.

Conclusively whatever problems I encountered with JDS1 (read my review of JDS1) are ALL still here with JDS2 and there are even new ones. I just can’t recommend it, it is not polished and it is not tested properly. I would have expected a better job from Sun.

If the newly announced Red Hat Desktop (part of the Enterprise family of OSes, also targetting the enterprise desktop) manages to be bug-free, stable, faster and offers server side management tools like JDS2 does, I would recommend corporate buyers going with Red Hat. I am not sure if SuSE has something similar in terms of remote management tools, but if they do I would think them as serious contestands too in the enterprise marketplace. Sun’s JDS is just not though. It falls through in many places and it dissapoints on many levels.

Oh, and what’s the deal with the over 200 pages of licensing agreements? Why the need for so much wasted paper?

Installation: 6.5/10
Hardware Support: 7/10
Ease of use: 7.5/10
Features: 7/10
Credibility: 6/10 (stability, bugs, security)
Speed: 6.5/10 (throughput, UI responsiveness, latency)

Overall: 6.75


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