Sun's OpenSolaris push impeded by myths, bugs

Sun is contending with a common belief that OpenSolaris won't run on x86 processors

Sun's quest to position OpenSolaris as a robust alternative to Linux is still hampered by myths surrounding the open source operating system and the software's own limitations.

While Sun works to fix the software's numerous bugs, it's also contending with a common belief that OpenSolaris won't run on x86 processors, according to Stephen Lau, an OpenSolaris engineer.

"That's one of the myths we've really tried to dispel over OpenSolaris," Lau said Tuesday to a group of developers gathered at Sun Tech Days in Boston. "People say it's only optimized for [SPARC] or it's only optimized for the Opteron systems Sun ships. Sun doesn't make laptops, but [internally] we're all running Solaris on laptops. There's tons of different hardware that supports Solaris just great."

Lau said he thinks OpenSolaris is "pretty much on par" with Linux, but encouraged developers to report bugs.

"We don't know if something sucks until you tell us," Lau said. "That feedback is really, really critical."

OpenSolaris is based partly on the source code for Sun's Solaris operating system. Future versions of Solaris will be based on improvements within OpenSolaris, according to Sun.

OpenSolaris users still have to remap the backspace key because it's not supported in the operating system by default. It's one of many problems being addressed in Sun's Project Indiana, which aims to modernize the software and make is useable out of the box, Lau said. A test release will come out next month and the first official release is expected in March.

Engineer Timothy Lyons, who attended Tuesday's event, said OpenSolaris is pretty good but he'd prefer to see it used in homes or in small businesses.

"It definitely supports hardware better than it used to," said Lyons, the master server engineer at Partners HealthCare in Massachusetts. "It's definitely becoming a contender [to Linux]. I just don't think it's quite there yet."

Partners has a large Linux base that supports many custom applications developed in-house to support hospital functions. The technological challenge of converting those applications to Solaris wouldn't be worth it, Lyons said.

Lyons said he uses OpenSolaris at home and has found that it doesn't support all the software Linux does.

Linux "lets me run all my Microsoft applications," he said. "I can run Office. I can run Outlook, all the things that I have to run. ... It's not as easy on Solaris. It would be a real difficult set of obstacles I'd have to overcome."

Another OpenSolaris problem: lack of support for Apple Firewire. "At some point we need to figure out what to do there," said Dave Miner, senior staff engineer at Sun.

Solaris's traditional strengths such as high availability have made it perform well in data centers and enterprises, Lau said. With Project Indiana Sun is trying to identify problems that impede customer migration from Linux.

"We want to make Solaris as interesting an operating system as possible to everyone," Lau said.

Lau encouraged developers to join user groups and contribute to OpenSolaris projects.

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