In association with heise online

17 December 2008, 11:03

Andrea Müller

A look under the bonnet of OpenSolaris 2008.05

The goal behind Project Indiana was to create a distribution based on OpenSolaris code that is easy to install, has a revised GUI, and network-based package management. Sun Microsystems presented the result, OpenSolaris 2008.05, on Monday at Community One in San Francisco. In advance of this presentation, heise open had an opportunity to take a look under the bonnet of the final version of the distribution.

The system is very easy to test drive. OpenSolaris is supplied on a Live-CD, which merely asks you about your keyboard layout and language.

Installation summary.
Zoom The installer provides you with an overview before the system is copied onto your hard drive.

On booting, the kernel automatically detects whether your computer runs with 32 or 64 bits and sets itself up accordingly. Users then find themselves looking at a well groomed Gnome desktop. Desktop icons provide you with the first information you need about the system, and you can use the Device Driver Utilities to find out about the hardware that OpenSolaris detected and which driver it is using. A third icon is presented for you to launch the Installer, which sets up OpenSolaris on your hard drive. For installation, Solaris requires its own primary partition on your hard drive; at least 7 GB is recommended. You can create this partition with the fdisk Linux tool. The installer is not able to use partitions with another partition type or available unpartitioned space. If no OpenSolaris partition was created before booting, OpenSolaris will take up the entire hard drive.

Selecting the target partition in the OpenSolaris Installer.
Zoom In the Installer, you can either select the entire hard drive for installation or assign a primary Solaris partition to the system.


Installation requires little input from the user. Aside from the target partition, the Installer merely asks you which time zone you are in, the date, time, language, and root password before asking you to create a user account. Unfortunately, you cannot determine where the Grub boot manager will be installed. OpenSolaris installs it in the Solaris partition's boot sector if the partition is active. If not, Grub lands in your Master Boot Record. The installer also enters any Windows systems on your computer in the boot menu, though any Linux systems you may have on your machine are not taken into consideration.

After rebooting, you then login as a user to find yourself on an icon-less Gnome desktop version 2.20. For security reasons, you cannot register with root privileges from the graphical interface, nor in the text mode. You only get administrator rights with the su command or with the prefix pfexec before the command. After installation, the help pages that used to be on the desktop and the Device Driver Utility are found in Firefox' bookmarks and in the Control Panel menu.


Linux users will feel right at home with the software included. In addition to such Gnome tools as the SIP software called Ekiga, the Pidgin chat program, the Evince PDF viewer, Gthumb for picture management, the Totem video player, and various desktop games, Firefox, Thunderbird and the Gimp graphics editor are also included. The Compiz 3D desktop can be switched on with a mouse click in the Gnome control centre, provided your graphics card plays along. In light of its size, OpenOffice is not included in the package, but can easily be installed afterwards via packet management. There, you will also find such additional software as Sun Studio, Netbeans, and gcc, along with all of the header files you need to develop and compile software.

Firefox can execute Java applets already, but the Flash plug-in is not included in OpenSolaris. However, Firefox automatically offers to install it the first time you visit a website with Flash content. OpenSolaris supports Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, and of course Wav files, but your loudspeakers remain silent when you try to playback MP3s. In the developer previews, MP3 support could be added via package management, but the codec is not included because of a conflict with GPL software. Users now have to take care of the MP3 plug-in for Gstreamer themselves; you can download it for free at the Fluendo web shop. If you want a plug-in to work after installation, you will also have to install SUNWgcc and include the folder /usr/sfw/lib in the search path for libraries using the command

crle -u -l /usr/sfw/lib/.

Once you start having to make such changes and find you cannot do so with Gnome tools, you realize that Linux is not under the bonnet, but rather a version of Solaris with its own commands and mechanisms for system management. The differences range from familiar commands such as route and ifconfig using other parameters than Linux does, to Solaris-specific commands as crle. In return, you get: the powerful ZFS file system, which integrates RAID functions and volume management; virtualisation with Zones; the Service Management Facility (SMF) that makes sure that systems services launch quickly; and the DTrace system tracer.

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