A Quick Look at OpenIndiana

Just a few weeks after Oracle put OpenSolaris out to pasture, the OpenIndiana folks have pushed out their first release. Is it worth a look? Depends on how exciting you find OpenSolaris, but it's not going to knock Ubuntu off the desktop.

OpenSolaris is dead, but OpenIndiana lives on. Just a few weeks after Oracle made it clear that OpenSolaris was dead as a doornail, the Illumos and OpenIndiana folks have a distribution ready for the OpenSolaris community that’s been left in a lurch by Oracle.

The code dropped on Tuesday, so I haven’t had a lot of time to muck with OpenIndiana yet. I spent a few hours with the live CD and installed it into VMware.

First Impressions

Assuming you go the GUI route, the OpenIndiana distribution is GNOME-based and installs very easily. The installer reminds me of the Ubuntu install, and has roughly the same number of steps. If you’ve installed Linux, and the hardware is compatible with OpenIndiana, you’ll have no problems getting OpenIndiana installed and ready to rumble.

It’s been a while since I’ve touched Solaris or OpenSolaris, so I’m not sure how much (if any) polishing has been done on OpenIndiana vs. the last OpenSolaris release. I like the overall look and feel of the release, regardless. They’ve done a great job with the GNOME theme and icons, or at least they’re to my taste. It could use some work with font smoothing, though.

The default selection of software is pretty reasonable. You’ve got Firefox (of course), Thunderbird for email, Pidgin for IM, and most of the usual GNOME standards. One interesting omission is OpenOffice.org. Not only isn’t OpenOffice.org not installed by default, it’s not available in the OpenIndiana repositories as far as I could tell either.

What wasn’t immediately obvious was Publisher field in the Package Manager. OpenIndiana also comes with the OpenSolaris repos enabled, but you have to search the publisher specifically. Once I did that, I found OpenOffice.org and quite a few other packages. Still not as many as your average Linux distro, but more. Interesting side note, the OpenOffice.org packages for OpenSolaris are still 3.1, apparently. So the newer builds are showing up for Linux, but not yet for Solaris?

But some big gaps in the packages. No KDE for OpenIndiana or OpenSolaris, or Tomboy, Chromium, etc. As a Vim fan, I am happy to see that OpenIndiana is shipping with Vim rather than actual vi.

Speaking of installing packages, the GUI package manager is fairly nice. It’s not as slick as Ubuntu’s new Software Center, but it does get the job done. One minor glitch I ran into, aside from not noticing the Publisher field. The installer doesn’t create a root password for you, but you need a root password to fire up the Package Manager app. I worked around this by sudoing into the root account & then resetting the root password.

Naturally, OpenIndiana has all the OpenSolaris goodies. ZFS, Zones, etc. If these things are important to you, then OpenIndiana is all sorts of spiffy. I haven’t had a chance yet to really dig in to mucking with ZFS.

Final Thoughts

I’m still not sold on the idea that OpenSolaris should live on. I’m doubly unconvinced since the OpenIndiana folks explicitly say they “intend to enhance the OpenSolaris operating system’s ease of use, such that Linux users can make the transition with as little pain as possible.” Here’s a thought: stop fiddling with OpenSolaris and help make Linux better for Linux users and yourselves. If the idea is propping up the corpse of OpenSolaris for people who just love OpenSolaris, okay. If the idea is trying to lure over Linux users, I fail to see the point. Illumos and OpenIndiana have a lot of wheel reinventing to do just to replace the bits of Solaris that weren’t open source and that are unlikely to be opened by Oracle at this point.

As a Linux user, I don’t see any compelling reason to switch to OpenIndiana — especially not for desktop use. By the time OpenIndiana reaches anything like parity with Linux hardware support, application availability (e.g., having as much software packaged as, say, Ubuntu), and the ease of use of Ubuntu or Linux Mint as they are today, Linux will have made it much farther.

But, there seems to be a bit of momentum (so far) behind the effort that might just build up steam. It’s much better that it be a true community endeavor than a OS almost entirely controlled by one company. It will be interesting to see what happens with the code from Solaris 11 when it’s released and whether Oracle actually puts anything of interest into the open source community.

On its own merits, I’d give the initial OpenIndiana release a B- as a desktop system. It’s got decent performance, but the lack of applications gives it a big ding. If you just need basic apps like Firefox and Thunderbird, then OpenIndiana might be an option, but if you need a wider range of apps or desktops (like KDE) then OpenIndiana isn’t a good choice. If you’re a die-hard Solaris user, then OpenIndiana should make you very happy indeed.

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