Smoothwall Firewall project

Saturday 22 March 2008

Suns Opensolaris who is it for, and does anyone care?

I recently attended a London Opensolaris user group meeting(LOSUG) , at Suns London briefing centre. The meeting was to show the latest release of Opensolaris, and a presentation of the "great" new features for the desktop that this operating system would bring . The presentation was given by Jim Hughes, who is CTO of the Solaris Operating System, and someone who certainly knows Solaris.

I joined this meeting with high expectations, as a long time Unix user, almost exclusively Linux for the last decade, but I have used Sun products for many years and have a great deal of respect for their OS. I have always found that their package and patch management processes to be arcane, but reliable.

I was not to be disappointed, as Ian Murdochs Debian hand could be clearly seen on the revamped package manager, which is a direct copy of the Debian Linux package manager, not a great surprise as Ian had been put in charge of the "Indiana" project. He must have rolled on the floor laughing when he first saw their original setup. Their strategy on software repositories however is muddled and not clear, some being owned and run by Sun, others by the community. This will lead to accusations of not truly being Open at all.

That is just the problem I have with this project, it is playing catchup with Linux/BSD from the early part of this millennium, and is not offering anything new, with the notable exception of ZFS, which Jim did bang on about.

The audience burst into a round of applause when I pointed out that the default shell was now Bash, which is very worrying, and I became aware that a lot of the hardcore Solaris guys in that room are living in another era, which could explain the lack of forward thinking that is going into this product.

Gnome was version 2.18, and there was nothing of any particular note other than ZFS, as impressive a technology as that is. Jim seemed to have a real hatred of Linux, and spent too much time saying how Opensolaris would be just what everyone wanted. I took from this that he was really worried that Sun were doing too little too late, and they were extremely worried that Linux had already eaten the breakfast and lunch of the desktop Unix market, and were now after their evening meal. I think Sun have every reason to be worried as I believe this has already happened, just look at the success of the UMPC's like the ASUS eeepc and the Everex cloudbooketc. You can also now buy pre-installed Linux from all of the tier 1 hardware suppliers with HP's announce at Brainshare last week.

We did see a demo of Opensolaris being installed on an Apple Macbook pro, which worked well, as this to be fair is an early version of the OS. This again though, is nothing earth shattering, as I can install many versions of Linux on a Mac if I so choose, and waste vast sums of money on some over priced technology.

So in answer to my own question, I think the target market will be people who work with Solaris on a regular basis and can't face changing to anything new, not an enormous market. As the project stands, I can't say that what is currently on offer would be useful to me over Fedora Linux which I use on a daily basis. The hardware and software support is just not there, and is unlikely to be there unless a very large community develops around the project.

I also suspect that most if not all Linux users will feel the same, and therefore will not care what Sun are doing. I can see this as becoming just another Sun failure to deliver a decent desktop OS, and they know deep down they should have bought Apple when they could, and then they wouldn't have had to bother.

The likely outcome now is that the MP3 behemoth is likely to buy them to add some serious backend server technology to their product range, we shall see.

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