OpenIndiana 151a

Now that my laptop hardware is starting to be deprecated by the most current Linux systems, I continue in my quest for a modern “libre” system  with good hardware support for this laptop. I have previously reviewed PCBSD and I am now writing from OpenIndiana 151a, the community-developed successor of OpenSolaris.

When Oracle bought Sun almost 2 years ago, the future of OpenSolaris became uncertain and so the community decided to fork OpenSolaris while trying to keep the new system compatible with the enterprise-grade product Solaris. The results of these efforts concentrate mainly in the Illumos and the OpenIndiana projects. The first official development released of OpenIndiana, 151a,  has been recently seen the light and here I will share with you some preliminary impressions.

1.- LIVE-DVD. I have chosen the LiveDVD Desktop Edition image which is slightly over  800 MB. It is a multi-arch image that will automatically install the 32 or the 64-bit kernel as required (the command “isainfo -kv” will let you know which kernel was chosen in your case). The LiveDVD takes a while to boot and, while in the process of booting, it will ask you to define your keyboard layout and your language. You are welcome by a sober professional-looking Gnome 2 desktop environment (there are no other options at the moment apart from a server version with no DE at all). I personally like the looks of it.The LiveDVD feels a bit slow with 4GB of RAM but it is perfectly usable. Deactivating the Visual Effects helps a bit (it think it is not very wise to have the visual effects activated by default in a LiveCD).

2.- INSTALLATION. The graphical installer is very straighforward. GParted is available in case you want to manually partition your drives. I used the entire hard drive. As it is Solaris, the file system of choice is ZFS. The installation took some 20 minutes. Booting into the newly installed system is not particularly fast, but that is not something I really care much about.

3.- HARDWARE SUPPORT. All my hardware was auto-detected and auto-configured. This includes the graphics cards (NVIDIA 8800M GTX), the sound cards and the network cards. For the graphics card the 280.x proprietary driver is used. By default, the wired network is used whenever available, if unplugged, the system switches automatically to the wireless connection (once added to favourites and configured with the corresponding WAP password). Among the excellent administration tools that come with OpenIndiana, I found the Device Driver Utility to be particularly useful. It provides the user with a list of hardware devices and the respective controllers in use. It informs of any conflict and offers the possibility of installing new controllers (in theory, at least, but I did not really try this feature because I did not need it).

4.- SOFTWARE. Both the Update Manager and the Package Manager are very nice tools. I installed a few things and everything ran smoothly. The collection of software installable from the Package Manager is is rather reduced, though. There is no office suite available, not even Abiword. It can be enhanced by adding the SFE repos (both encumbered and unencumbered), this will make available Abiword, VLC and other multimedia stuff, certain compiler and locales,… but not much more. To the best of my knowledge, there is no Solaris version of LibreOffice. However, one can manually install OpenOffice by downloading from the Internet. The same goes for the Adobe Flash Player, Sun’s Java (now Oracle’s, in fact) and the latest Firefox and Thundebird, for instance.

5. PERFORMANCE & STABILITY. To be evaluated. The system feels responsive enough and I have not experience any bugs or issues this far.

6.- FINAL REMARKS. In summary, lack of software is the only problem that I found with this otherwise excellent operating system. I guess that software availability in the future will depend mainly on two factors: i) Popularity; and 2) The commitment of Oracle with promoting Solaris beyond just supporting existing customers (Oracle is largely a Linux-centered enterprise that develops its own RedHat clone, known as Oracle Linux).

There are some interesting projects such as Nexenta and StormOS, the former server and enterprise-oriented and the later desktop oriented, aiming at combining a Debian/Ubuntu user-land with the Solaris kernel. This obviously makes a much larger deal of software available. I will give StormOS a try when available. My main concern has to do with the Nvidia proprietary drivers and other kernel modules. For instance, when I tried the excellent Debian GNU/kFreeBSD I soon realised it was not possible to install the Nvidia proprietary drivers.