Review: openSolaris 2008.11

At work they were asking us to get familiar with openSolaris for a potential future project.  I’d played with it a few years ago, so I decided to check out the latest version I had.  On of my LXF discs had openSolaris 2008.11 and I figured that while I was checking it out I’d review it as well.  I expected it to be spartan like FreeBSD, but it appears that Sun has learned a lot from the Linux community.  It booted up to this grub screen:

grub on openSolaris 2008.11
grub on openSolaris 2008.11

And, surprisingly, it booted into a liveCD.

openSolaris 2008.11 liveCD
openSolaris 2008.11 liveCD

Like Mandriva it asked me some keyboard and language questions up front:

openSolaris 2008.11 keyboard and language questions
openSolaris 2008.11 keyboard and language questions

And then I found myself in Gnome.

openSolaris 2008.11 Gnome 2.24
openSolaris 2008.11 Gnome 2.24

I had to do a double-take at first because the icon theme seems more KDE-like than Gnome-like.  Overall, I found the theme to be very reminiscent of Fedora.  Very blue and bubbly.  That weird-looking icon in the top right is a network status applet.  I then opened up a terminal.

openSolaris 2008.11 Terminal
openSolaris 2008.11 Terminal

First of all, what’s up with jack?  Is it an inside joke?  Is it a Sun tradition?  Just curious.  What I DO like is the OSX-like colorization of the minimize, maximize and close buttons.  I’ve previously praised KDE 4 for separating them to make it less likely that you’d click on the wrong one.  But having different colors also helps with that.  And, even better than OSX, the icon remains showing along with the color so that someone who’s never used it before still knows what it means.

openSolaris 2008.11 Installer Partitioner
openSolaris 2008.11 Installer Partitioner

I moved on to installation.  The partitioner gets 7/10 in my eyes.  You can’t change the partitions so that /usr or /boot gets its own partition.  But it’s not too hard to figure out what the right thing to do is.  So it’s not awesome and it’s not horrible.

openSolaris 2008.11 Installer Time Zone
openSolaris 2008.11 Installer Time Zone

Next up was time zone selection.  Dividing things up into regions helps to speed things up although some Linux distros have moved on to allowing you to click on a map and set the timezone.

openSolaris 2008.11 Installer Installation
openSolaris 2008.11 Installer Installation

After setting the locale and user info (including setting root password and creating the first user), installation started.

openSolaris 2008.11 booting up
openSolaris 2008.11 booting up

Again, surprisingly for a BSD non-Linux Unix variant, openSolaris had a nice graphical boot like Ubuntu.  (editor’s note:  As was brought up in the comments, Solaris is not BSD)

openSolaris 2008.11 grub
openSolaris 2008.11 grub

And I found myself at an attractive GDM boot screen.

openSolaris 2008.11 Gnome post install
openSolaris 2008.11 Gnome post install

In addition to informing me that I was connected to the network, this also showed me that Solaris has a much longer interface name than eth0.

openSolaris 2008.11 Getting Started
openSolaris 2008.11 Getting Started

I really, really like the addition of a “Start Here” info box to openSolaris.  Some Linux distros do this, but many don’t.  I think it should definitely always be there to give people an idea of how do to the basics.  They shouldn’t have to go hunting around the net for ideas or even have to post to a forum.  It should all be there in the beginning.  Good job Sun!  So, what is installed by default on openSolaris 2008.11?  A few accessory items.  Strangely no GIMP, but then again, Solaris is meant for business computers.  Internet has Evolution, Firefox, Thunderbird, and Pidgin.  But the REAL shocks is in the Office category.  No Open Office.org.  Sun is responsible for OO.o and it’s nowhere to be found.  (by default)  Rounding things off is Rhythmbox and Totem.

openSolaris 2008.11 weird directories
openSolaris 2008.11 weird directories

Apparently Solaris has some weird non-POSIX thing going on with its directory structure.  Although I checked under / and there was a home directory, nothing was in it.  Instead my home directory was in /export/home and there was this weird rpool thing going on.  I’ll have to look into that some more.  Minus points for deviating from UNIX (at least the BSDs I’ve seen) and from Linux and (as far as I know) POSIX.

openSolaris 2008.11 package manager
openSolaris 2008.11 package manager

openSolaris has a really neat package manager that appears to take the best of Synaptic and some other package managers that I’ve seen out there and mix it all together.  You get some really nice things that I’d like to see in Fedora such as what files it installs, what dependencies it has, and legal information.  I dig around in there a bit.  OpenOffice.org is available (as it should be!).  Blender is not available.  I’m not sure where you’d go to get non-standard packages.

Overall, it appears that openSolaris is suitable for someone who’s doing the basics on a UNIX or UNIX-like system.  You’ve got Firefox, Pidgin, OpenOffice.org.  But there is the weird file structure and the small repository.  So I feel that it’s perhaps worth checking out, but I can’t really recommend it above Linux or even BSD.  I’d say, if you need it for work (and a lot of businesses use Solaris), definitely get openSolaris so you can get familiar with the platform.  Otherwise, stick to Linux or BSD and you’ll have a lot more support for a wider array of programs and standard POSIX directories.

Loss of my first Linux box

About a month ago my wife asked me to get rid of the extra POS Linux and BSD computers I was using for my renderfarm.  They quite a bit of an eyesore and so I agreed.  Unfortunately, in the the group of computers I got rid of was my first ever Linux computer.  It ran Fedora Core 1 and ran the server that ran this website until I upgraded computers and moved to FreeBSD.  So it will be missed – I don’t usually attach too much emotion to objects — especially computers.  I didn’t care too much when I got rid of my old Dell.  But since that computer was what allowed me to get into Linux and learn all about libre software — which I had no idea about before.  All I have left now from that era is the computer now known as luigi and functioning as my print and file server.

Review: PC-BSD 7.0.1

Today’s distro has been described as the Ubuntu of the BSD world. PC-BSD is an easy to use version of FreeBSD. FreeBSD is the behemoth in the BSD world and would probably have a much larger desktop presence if the BSDs hadn’t run into copyright and other proprietary problems right around when most of the GNU toolset was complete and Linus was releasing the Linux kernel. At least, that’s what most people claim. However, given the animosity (although that’s almost too strong a word) between the Free Software Foundation and the supporters of the BSD license.

Before I continue, I know that the BSD world shuns the word distro, but I am unsure of what terminology to use. So deal with it.

At any rate, there are two BSD distros vying for the spot of easy to setup desktop. DesktopBSD is also based on FreeBSD, but the main difference is in the way programs are installed and managed. DesktopBSD is basically FreeBSD with a GUI installer and GUI package manager. I’ve not yet used DesktopBSD, but this is how they describe themselves. PC-BSD, however, uses a different concept for packages. They use PBI installers which basically are self-extracting archives that install themselves into the /Programs folder. I could be wrong, but I think this is the approach that Apple uses for program installation. As I researched this package management system I became very torn.

On the one hand, I hated PBIs instinctively from the get-go. They fly in the face of the UNIX philosophy. The whole point of having dynamically linked libraries is so that you only need one copy of libuseful.so and all programs that needed it would link to it dynamically. The idea of having a copy of libuseful.so for each and every program that uses it is just an appalling waste of disk space! But I also see the other side of the coin. After all, most people who use Linux/Unix at home are computer enthusiasts. Nowadays, (at least in the US) a terabyte of disk space can be had for about $100 for an internal drive (if not less). And there ARE lots of benefits! If a program needs a specific version of libuseful.so and updating that library would mess up all other programs that depended on that library, it wouldn’t matter. They each have their own copy. So the inefficiency drives me nuts, but the practical side sees that there are benefits.

Now, there is one possible side effect of this that would make it a no-go for me as a desktop system. All over the PC-BSD website they talk about how it’s still FreeBSD underneath and you can install from ports. According to the wikipedia page, however, installing unsupported programs from ports like Gnome or Xfce can lead to a broken system. I’ll be testing how true that is later in the review.

I’ve installed FreeBSD about six times and I don’t see why people make such a big deal about it.  People tend to act as if it was SO much harder than Linux.  In fact, the FreeBSD handbook is VERY well written and, while I wouldn’t recommend it to a total noob, I’d say that if you can install Debian in ncurses, you can install FreeBSD.  Ports work well for installing packages and I’ve not had too many problems at all.  Dependencies are resolved and you don’t HAVE to compile – you can use packages.  This server runs on FreeBSD.  So I’m pretty familiar with it all.  Let’s see how PC-BSD handles it all.

It boots straight into the installation and the first thing it asks you to do is localization.

Next up are the license agreements for BSD, Intel Hardware, and nVidia.  Then what is usually three pages in a Linux install is combined here.

It took me a second to figure out what I was supposed to do, but I saw that it has picked the right choices by default.  Next they again combined setting the root and user passwords into one page.  Also giving a chance to pick your shell.  Interestingly they have c shell as the default.  I find bash easier for new users.  Then comes partitioning.

and a very interesting page to select packages.

It’s a nice small list of useful programs.  Not too overwhelming and you still get to customize your desktop.  Then installation begins.

and little propaganda messages fly by.  Well, marketing messages – same thing.

Now, time to setup the video drivers.  This is in VirtualBox, so the values are pretty worthless.  No composite for me.  The loading screen is quite good looking:

Ok.  I guess my review ends here.  The distro does not work in VirtualBox and I don’t have any extra computers for installing this.  I guess it’ll have to wait for another day.

FreeBSD 7.0 is out!

It’s been a little delayed and it’s long in coming, but FreeBSD 7.0 is out now! They’ve made a LOT of updates over the 6.0 series; most importantly they’ve done a lot of work on the SMP kernel. SMP is what you use if you have more than one processor in your computer or if you have a Dual or Quard Core Processor. So they’ve made a huge step to continue FreeBSD’s place in modern hardware. The release announcement contains a lot of info and the release notes contain even more!

I can’t wait to upgrade my systems (including, perhaps, this server), but it’ll probably have to wait until this weekend.

Compiling

Recently I wanted to install VMWare on Danielle’s computer.  I’ve installed Kubuntu on her Linux machine (Toad) and I wanted to get a clone over her Windows computer onto there in VMWare player.  I used VMWare Converter to create the VMWare clone of her Windows  computer and then put it into the Kubuntu box.  But then there was a bit of a problem:  the Ubuntu repositories did not have VMWare Player.  I went to VMWare’s site and they only had rpms and the source code.  I was hesitant to compile VMWare Player from source.  I was sure it would be a monstrous mess.  After all, I’d had problems with much less complicated programs.

Installing VMWare Player from source was actually quite pleasant – for a source installation.  A perl script is provided which queries you on all of the options and then creates the configure options for you without having to go through all the trouble of figuring it out on your own.  It was actually installed after a few minutes and working very well.  I was very happy with it.  I have come to the conclusion that a program with a well configure script can actually be very easy to install.  In fact, between FreeBSD and this VMWare experience, the sting of installing from source is pretty much gone.

In fact, since Cinelerra is in the freshrpms repo, but I need the livna repo, I’ve decided to compile from the sourece so that I can compile it against livna sources.  And last weekend, in order to get my remote to work with MythTv, I compiled the lirc daemon from source.

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Upgrading to the latest Dr Queue Render Manager

Since I don’t have any animation needing to be rendered for a few months, I decided it was a great time to upgrade Dr Queue to the latest version.  I’d heard that a lot of improvements had been added since version 0.60.  So let’s see how the upgrade process goes:

On Mario, my Fedora 8 machine, I had to install scons first as it’s now used to buld dr queue.  I also had to build it on my FreeBSD machines, starting with KingKoopa, the render master.  This also required python to be installed.  For Mario, it was very easy, I just ran the install script and it wrote over the old stuff and appears to work.  I’ll probably need to copy the new directories over to the common hard drive.  Peach and BulletBill already had python installed so they didn’t need scons installed.

I tried running the scons on FreeBSD, but it didn’t work right away.  Apparently he wasn’t checking for it in the SConstruct file so I edited that.

I was unable to get it working so I’m going to send an email to the mailing list.  I’ll let you know what the fix was.

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bulletbill is up now

After literally a week of cleaning and compiling, I FINALLY have a working copy of Blender on my bulletbill box. This is the one I was most excited about because, while it’s a Pentium II, it has 2 processors! So it should be able to do two Blender frames at once when I’m rendering via drqueue! Finally! I’m excited!

The Linux Half-Truth

With Windows Vista requiring a computer more powerful than the majority of computer users have, many have touted Linux as the savior of these PCs. Do not throw away your PC because you must upgrade to Vista. Get all the graphical goodness and latest software with Linux. It has modest hardware requirements and will even ressurrect Windows 98 PCs. Then they talk about Compiz/Beryl, the 3D desktop. All of this is true, but I think it’s a bit of a half-truth.

The extent to which you can resurrect old computers with Linux (or any other *nix) is largely dependent upon what you wish to do and how state of the art the computer originally was. If your computer ran Windows XP then it will indeed run any of the main distros such as Fedora, Ubuntu, and SuSe just fine. If your computer ran Windows 98 and was a top of the line computer, it may run in Xubuntu, FeatherLinux, or other light-weight distros. You’ll still be able to have a graphical interface, but no cubes and flaming window decorations for you. You’ll probably run Linux faster than Windows ran, but don’t expect miracles. And if your computer was behind back when Windows 98 came out – you can run Linux, but it will need to either be extra-light-weight for a graphical interface or only command line.

However, if you don’t mind the command line, there are many things you can still do with your computer. You can talk to your AIM buddies via nAIM. MP3s and OGGs can be listened to with mpg123 and ogg123, respectively. Programs such as BitchX will allow you to chat via IRC. You can also use with with Emacs and Vi as a programming machine as most programs probably won’t take too long to compile.

As an example, I installed freeBSD in command line mode on a Pentium II with 333 Hz CPU and mutt took around 20 minutes to compile and download all the sources it needed. The installation also only took somewhere in the 30 minute range. So there is a lot you can do with your old computers. I just feel sometimes that people tend to exagerate the magic of Linux. I want to tone it down a little because it’s worse to be dissapointed that you don’t have the 3D cube on your Pentium II or III, than to be amazed at all of the other things you CAN do with it.

Windows Tax – you don’t need to pay it anymore!

Dell has introduced (or, if it’s been around for a while, it was just recently brought to public attention) the nSeries Desktops. These are computers that have no installed operating system – so you don’t have to pay for windows. It comes with a Freedos disk. So you can install Linux, *BSD, or whatever you want onto that clean machine – without having to first get rid of windows!

Presenting…..xmessage!

As I was reading the latest Linux Format Magazine, they had a great tip for a low tech way to remind yourself of different time-sensitive events. The best part is that it works under any window manager! (ie it doesn’t matter if you’re in Gnome, KDE, XFCE, Fluxbox, or any other) The trick is to use xmessage and at. at is cron’s little brother, for scheduling things that will happen in the future, but not be a recurring event. xmessage presents a little dialogue box with whatever message you give it. Here’s a screenshot with an example!

xmessage
xmessage

As you can see, the syntax is very easy! Just type xmessage and give it a message. Just so you know, it has problems with exclamation points. You may have to escape it, but I’m not sure if it’s your shell that determines the escape sequence. To use the full technique to set a reminder for five minutes from now, you could type:

at five minutes today

then hit enter and you will get

at>

type xmessage “it’s five minutes later!” Then hit control-d to escape at. And you’re done! In five minutes, x will pop up a dialogue box to remind you of the passing of five minutes. For a similar technique for those of you who hate GUIs, just use wall in place of xmessage and, as I described in a previous post, it will notify you to all terminals and virtual terminals! Enjoy and happy hacking!

The new server is up!

This server is now running on a FreeBSD box instead of Fedora Core 1. It’s also 1 GHz instead of 300Mhz. Man, I have gone from being scared to install anything that wasn’t an RPM package a few years ago to where yesterday I compiled a custom kernel for the first time ever!! That is a right of passage all free and open source hackers go through on their way to fully grokking the OS. It always sounded a bit scary and risky to me – recompiling the one program that determines how EVERYTHING on your computer talks to the hardware. But I did it after just two tries! This whole experience has been a lot of fun and now we FINALLY have enough space on the server to allow the members to post all they need to and I can post more screenshots, pictures, and civ4 save files!

Setting up the FreeBSD server

Well, I’ll tell you one thing – FreeBSD does NOT hold your hand like Linux does. This has had both frustrating and enlightening effects. On the one hand, it’s been very annoying to have to deal with all manner of config files I never had to deal with before. Apache and MySQL didn’t just work as soon as I compiled them. Apache needed me to change the server’s name to an name actually resolvable and MySQL needed me to chown the directory it had installed to. Webalizer wasn’t automatically installed and I had to manually configure it.

On the other hand, all of this configuration file editing has given me a deeper understanding of my www software as well as a much finer degree of control. I had no idea webalizer was so configurable! I thought I had to stick to the defaults they had given me! So this is turning out to be both a very fun and a very frustrating process. However, it continues to move along – so that’s good!

FreeBSD is here!

I now have a FreeBSD 6.1 computer which will eventually take over the job of the server. It could take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to get everything set up correctly, but I’ll be sure to make a post when it’s ready.

Upgrade?

Danielle’s job is getting rid of some old computers – all of which are way, way better than my current server. My current server is a P II 333 Hz computer!!! And it only has a 4 GB hard drive, most of which is full! By contrast, the cheapest computer they’re selling at Danielle’s work is an 800 Mhz machine and we’re trying for a 1 Ghz machine! The hard drives on all the computers were 20 GB. Given its track record, I will be switching over from a Fedora Core 1 server to a FreeBSD 6.0-series server. I’ve been itchin’ to do this ever since I first read about the BSDs and their legendary status in the server world. Also, I’ll be able to implement a nice clean server as this server was originally a desktop install subsequently made into a server. Thus it’s cluttered with a bunch of useless stuff. I’ll also be able to implement file quotas from the beginning for those whose sites I am hosting here. It’ll be a fun little adventure for me, and a chance to start with the right intentions. Here’s hoping everyone didn’t already bid out the computers!