Windows 7, OpenSolaris – put to the test

Since a long time ago I wanted to install Windows 7 and OpenSolaris on a physical partition and use them a bit, so to form an opinion about them. Although it is a bit early for a review, I decided to post a few thoughts about them.

I installed Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate Build 7000. I had downloaded this beta version a few weeks ago (or months ago, cannot recall). This is a beta version of the upcoming Windows 7, which was officially released by Microsoft and was probably the last beta version that was made available as a free download before MS ceased to offer beta versions of their operating system to the public. I don’t know how much it is going to change until the final version, but at this point it seems more like a reworked version of Windows Vista than a new operating system. Of course there are many bugs and rough edges here and there. I wouldn’t rate such a system as reliable to work with, but, this is a beta, so this is normal. One thing though that caught my attention is the new way of grouping the application windows in the taskbar. It does not differ much from the old grouping method, but now it is much more functional, user-friendly and appealing to the eye, that even an old-school user like me wouldn’t mind using. Another innovative feature exists in the start menu, at the section where the most frequently used programs are pinned. Next to the application entry there is a list of the recent documents that were opened by that application, so that the user can open one of them directly from the start menu, instead of opening the application and going to the “File” menu, then “Recent Documents” etc. I kinda like such features and I seriously expect them to be adopted by other desktops. Of course there many other features that I need to explore. The one-month trial of Windows Vista was not enough, but I think I will have the opportunity to do so using the Windows 7 beta release. Although the beta’s performance s*cked, I guess the first experience of Windows 7 was a positive one.

I also installed OpenSolaris 2008.11. I had to make some room for a primary partition as OpenSolaris does not recognize/manage extended or logical partitions (even mentioning LVM is unnecessary). I used the GParted LiveCD for this purpose and all was perfectly done. Due to the fact that OpenSolaris cannot read logical partitions, my CentOS installation was inaccessible from the GRUB menu, but that was something I fixed easily later using CentOS in rescue mode, so that triple booting would be flawless well, not exactly flawless at the moment, but will work on that. Before performing the install, I did some research about the different installation methods (local or across the network), but I was a bit disappointed by the fact that the OpenSolaris installer is not very flexible or user-friendly. It would be a joke to even compare it to the RHEL/CentOS/Fedora installer; anaconda that is.

As usual, my onboard gigabit ethernet card (Attansic L1) was not recognized. I downloaded a 3rd party driver, but it was only after a few hours before I started enjoying network connectivity. At first, I had not realized that the driver distribution also included binaries. I spent most of the time trying to install the gcc compiler in order to compile the driver. What puzzled me the most was the fact that, not only the compiler was not available in the installation medium, but also the fact that there was no way to download the relevant package (SUNWgcc and its dependencies) and manually install it using pkgadd. SUN’s Image Packaging System (IPS) has reached a point that the entity of a package, as we know it, does not exist! This was unbelievable at first… Anyway, some hours later I was told that the driver’s distribution (atge) included binaries that I could use to get my network adapter up. So, that was what I did. I had a few more problems with NWAM, Network Auto Magic (the Opensolaris equivalent of Network Manager), but soon I managed to disable the automatic network configuration and bring the interface up manually.

Believe me, after all the trouble with the network connectivity, I did not want to like OpenSolaris. But the truth is I really did like it. There are some bugs here and there, some parts of the operating system are not user-friendly at all, and also some graphical system administration utilities are not really useful at the moment. But, the more someone uses OpenSolaris the more he gets the impression that there is some serious professionalism behind this project. It is being built in order to be useful and do things right. Also a quick tour around and its relative web-sites reveals that the effort, both SUN’s and the effort of the community, behind this operating system is much more coordinated compared to the development of Linux distributions. So, it was not a surprise for me the fact that Firefox with Adobe’s Flash player performed way better (IMHO) than in Linux. Also, despite the fact that a few months ago there was no Solaris compatible Adobe Reader, now Solaris/OpenSolaris users enjoy the latest version of Adobe Reader (9.1 at the moment of writing), while Linux users still use the 8.X versionnote: just checked and Adobe Reader 9.1 is available for Linux too. Well, if Adobe has to create an application that has to run on all the major Linux distributions which use different versions of libraries, the above seems reasonable and we, Linux users, should not complain at all about it. Well, Skype has not been ported yet. Finally, it should be noted that there is plenty of software available for OpenSolaris users from official and third party package repositories.

Hmm, when I was starting writing this document I wouldn’t expect it to be that long. Anyway, time permitting, I’ll test the above operating systems some more in the upcoming weeks. I had tried OpenSolaris on Virtualbox, but it had not performed well in virtualized mode on my computer. Now, that I have installed it on a physical partition things are very different.

Windows 7, OpenSolaris – put to the test by George Notaras is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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About George Notaras

George Notaras is the editor of the G-Loaded Journal, a technical blog about Free and Open-Source Software. George, among other things, is an enthusiast self-taught GNU/Linux system administrator. He has created this web site to share the IT knowledge and experience he has gained over the years with other people. George primarily uses CentOS and Fedora. He has also developed some open-source software projects in his spare time.