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17 December 2008, 13:06

OpenSolaris 2008.11 tested

Dr. Oliver Diedrich

With its new version 2008.11, OpenSolaris makes further progress in terms of user friendliness, but also in terms of integrating the special Solaris features into a modern desktop environment.

Almost in keeping with their schedule, the OpenSolaris developers have released version 2008.11 of the free operating system. Like the previous version, OpenSolaris 2008.11 is distributed as a live CD. After booting, users can try OpenSolaris, or install it with just a few mouse clicks.

The tidy Gnome desktop in OpenSolaris 2008.11.
Zoom The tidy Gnome desktop in OpenSolaris 2008.11.

The Device Driver Utility, prominently positioned on the live system's desktop, shows the available hardware components and their respective drivers. Here, users can determine at a glance whether they need to manually install any additional drivers. For hardware that is not supported out of the box, a right click on the device prompts OpenSolaris to either, offer a direct download of the required driver from the internet, or at least suggest where the missing driver might be found.

The Driver Utility shows whether OpenSolaris can handle the connected hardware.
Zoom The Driver Utility shows whether OpenSolaris can handle the connected hardware.

According to Sun, the hardware support in OpenSolaris 2008.11 has been considerably improved, especially in the WLAN, card reader, HD audio chips and graphics cards areas. On a slightly dated PC with Intel Core 2 Duo (2.13 GHz), Intel chipset with Intel HD audio, Realtek RTL8111 Gigabit Ethernet, JMicron SATA controller and ATI graphics (Radeon X1600), OpenSolaris could handle all the components, although there was no 3D graphics acceleration. On a Fujitsu-Siemens Lifebook S7110 (Intel Core 2 Duo T7200, Centrino 2 chipset with integrated graphics, HD audio and 3945ABG WLAN), the Marvell 88E8055 Gigabit chip required manual installation of the myk driver, and the Device Driver Utility readily offered a suitable supplier. While the integrated Intel graphics components did allow 3D desktop effects, the displayed menu shadows were flawed.

Power management is also said to have been improved. The Lifebook S7110, however, needed about 3 Watts more under OpenSolaris than under Linux and Windows – there's still room for more improvement. Although Suspend to RAM is now said to work on some notebooks, the list of supported devices only includes a few models by Dell, Lenovo, Toshiba and Sun. On all other devices, Suspend to RAM needs to be enabled by adding the line

S3-support enable

to /etc/power.conf and calling pmconfig -r, which will result in the Suspend-to-RAM option being available on the desktop when switching off. Our test notebooks, however, didn't even want to go into standby. Suspend to Disk is not supported in OpenSolaris.


Most of the software has been updated to the current versions. The Gnome 2.2.24 desktop now contains the Tracker desktop search feature. With Firefox 3.0.4, Thunderbird 2.0.0 including the Lightning calendar extension and OpenOffice 3, OpenSolaris 2008.11 offers a familiar work environment to Linux users.'s X Server 1.5 doesn't require a configuration file and smoothly detected the hardware on our test systems, although under OpenSolaris, the touch pad doesn't offer all the convenient functionality we know from Windows and Linux.

Sun has updated and accelerated the package manager, although it is still rather sluggish when manually installing software. At least it is now possible to manage the repositories with additional program packages. Apart from the standard package repository, there is now a contrib repository, containing community packages, as well as a dev repository, with new and less extensively tested program packages. The additional repository with proprietary software announced in the release notes has gone online, but requires a Sun Developer Network account to generate a certificate and key which can then be manually added to the package manager. OpenSolaris users should visit to register, where they will find instructions on the manual installation process. A new update manager informs about any pending updates.

The package manager now also manages the repositories.
Zoom The package manager now also manages the repositories.

Users still need to manually install the new Transmission BitTorrent client, as well as the Songbird 0.7 media player mentioned in the release notes and recently released in version 1.0. Like the default Rhythmbox player, however, it unfortunately lacks an MP3 codec. While Rhythmbox already refuses to import MP3 files, Songbird only complains once it is asked to play an MP3 file. The media player recommends the GStreamer installation notes for Linux to remedy this, but they don't help in OpenSolaris – users need to download the free MP3 codec for Solaris at Fluendo.

Apart from the current NetBeans 6.5, the available development environments now also include Eclipse {--] it seems that Sun had to yield to the reality of the Java world in this case. The web stack was extended to include the Drupal CMS and the Django framework for Python.

The command line now offers tools like sudo, top and slocate, making it easier for Linux users to work with OpenSolaris. Unfortunately, it still lacks a reasonable inputrc to allow things like skipping from word to word on the command line using a Ctrl-cursor key combination. The simplest way of fixing this is to copy the /etc/inputrc file from a current Linux system.

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