Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

Trying out OpenSolaris

2nd February 2007

Having been programming (mostly in SAS as it happens) on Sun’s venerable Solaris operating system platform at work since the start of this year, the chance to try OpenSolaris x86 edition in a VMware virtual machine seemed a good opportunity for advancing my skills.

Prior to this, my exposure to Solaris was when I was at university and things have moved on a bit since then, not least on the technology side but also in terms of my own skills. In those days, my mindset was fixed by exposure to macOS and Windows with their point-and-click functionality; the fact that the terminals that we were using were ancient didn’t make for a positive impression. You can see below what I mean. And the concept of tackling a command line, even one as powerful as that in UNIX, armed with a good book was somehow foreign to me.

View of old Solaris desktop

Mind you, in those pre-Safari days, getting your hands on books not in the university library was an expensive outing for the student finances. Armed with years of programming and web development experience, the UNIX command line now looks like a powerful tool to be used to the greatest advantage. Years of exposure to Perl and Linux have made the tool a less daunting one for me. Also, the availability of shell scripting makes the Windows batch file language look positively archaic. The default ksh shell (I believe that it is ksh88) in Solaris is not as friendly as it could be, but bash is available on demand, so life isn’t that uncomfortable on the command line.

To date, my experience of OpenSolaris has been brief because I wrecked the installation while trying to sort out an annoying graphics issue that appeared after installing VMware Tools (drivers for various pseudo-devices) on OpenSolaris; I have yet to put things back. The installation procedure is pretty painless for what is a technical operating system. The Community: Tools section of the OpenSolaris website has articles on installation and installation under VMware is discussed on Developer’s Quarterdeck Log.

As regards a desktop environment, you have a choice between the ubiquitous Gnome and Sun’s own CDE, of which I have seen plenty at work. As it happened, I installed the developer edition, but there are the usual Linux mainstays on the desktop: StarOffice (in place of OpenOffice), GIMP, Mozilla Firefox, etc. One thing that I wasn’t able to sort out was the internet connection, and that may be because ZoneAlarm was blacklisting VMware at the time of installation. All in all, it looked like a far friendlier environment for users than that which I encountered during my early years on UNIX. I must get it back in action and take things on from hereā€¦

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