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Solaris on my laptop

Posted by davidvc on October 26, 2006 at 4:38 PM PDT

A few years ago I tried to put Sun's distribution of Linux (Java Desktop System) onto my laptop. It was a painful experience. I found myself having to do things I never wanted to do, including pulling down and compiling package after package and rebuilding the kernel multiple times. I even remember having a terrifying nightmare one night where an incarnation of the Linux kernel was hiding under my mattress and reaching its long white bony arm up to GRAB me and pull me under.

So, back to XP, and then I hear that the next incarnation of JDS is on Solaris. So I tried again, and really struggled. I remember sending a couple of pointed emails to the Solaris team about what was lacking, particularly for a laptop.

Then about six months ago, I kept seeing more and more engineers running Solaris and looking pretty happy about it, and I kept hearing that driver support was significantly improving, the UI was improving, and, a glutton for punishment, I tried again. The first time through I had someone I knew in Solaris-land help me through it. Not every having done UNIX system administration I was at a bit of a loss. WARNING: Solaris is still not ready for your grandmother. Although it's a lot better, you still have to be willing to get your hands dirty from time to time. But you no longer have to be a kernel engineer to use this.

It installed amazingly easily, and lo and behold things like wireless and Palm Sync and calendaring and email and printing and external displays actually all worked. Suspend/resume still doesn't work, that's a major bummer. I also discovered pkg-get and Blastwave and was in heaven in terms of installing packages.

The thing that really impressed me was its performance. With the same hardware, my builds and test runs for Derby are running about five times faster. I also like its rock-solid security and its overall robustness. It feels like a "real" operating system instead of one that feels cobbled together and falling over in its own complexity. Usually once a week I discover a new feature, like Live Upgrade and zones and flash archives that leave me quite impressed.

Of course, there are still applications that just don't run on Solaris, and it's normally not the top of the list for consumer apps. The latest one I ran into was Flickr. Most of the uploading tools run on XP or Mac. There is one cross-platform one written in Java called JUploadr that got me all excited, but of all the silly annoyances, they use the Eclipse SWT and only has distributions for Linux, Windows and XP. So I have to go try and track down the Solaris SWT libraries for GTK and futz with the JUploadr download to try and replace the SWT libraries and it probably won't work. Why on earth write something in Java if you're going to have platform-specific binaries as dependencies. As a user on a non-top-tier OS, I do hope SWT slowly and silently goes away now that Swing is becoming more and more popular with Java developers.

I do miss Rhapsody and some of the cool shareware you can get for XP. But soon I'm going to take the plunge and install a Linux Zone and then at least I'll be able to make use of some of the Linux-only tools out there.