Monday, May 28, 2007

Kicking the tires on Nexenta

I can never leave anything alone, especially if it's an OS I've not played with before. I ordered a free copy of Sun's Open Solaris Starter Kit mid-May, and took some time this evening to boot its three included distributions; Nexenta, Belenix, and Schillix. There are better reviews of these distributions if you google for them (especially Nexenta), so there's nothing special or new I can disclose. I can, however, provide an additional perspective you may find useful.

The three distributions come on a single DVD, and when the DVD boots you're presented with a GRUB screen that allows you to pick between the three distributions, as well as variations within each. For example, there are six different ways to boot Nexenta. I chose the 32-bit version. I tried to boot all three, sticking with Nexenta for further reviewing because it operated the best of the three.

The system Nexenta booted on was europa. This is the machine that runs Open Suse 10.2. It took quite some time for Nexenta to completely boot on this machine, but I attribute that long boot time to its alpha code state. There were also several crashes of the window manager, but after the second login it came up and behaved quite stably.

As the screenshot shows above, Nexenta's window manager is Gnome. The Gnome version it currently ships with is 2.14.1. The desktop layout and the selection of items on the menus are nearly identical to Ubuntu. Because of that close similarity Ubuntu, I had no trouble locating applications (such as this browser) and perform some simple tasks (such as writing up this entry).

Here's a short list of what I discovered.
  • Video: As you can see, it found and used my ATI 9700 Pro at 1792 x 1344 at 75Hz. This is the best resolution and refresh rate out-of-the-box I've experienced with any live boot distribution. Ubuntu, for example, chooses a higher resolution at 60Hz, which drives my eyeballs up a wall.
  • Network: It found the Intel gigabit card on this system, then found and used the nVidia nForce 2 built-in ethernet. That was amazing in and of itself. My past experiences with older versions of Solaris x86, especially with networking, were painful at best. Nexenta Just Worked.
  • Sound: I tried to run some audio but it didn't work. It could be due to driver support or something missing within the Ubuntu userland tools that were not installed. No big deal.
  • USB: I tried to insert my thumb drive and use that to capture some screen shots, but it would not automatically mount it. I tried to look for it under /dev. but I couldn't tell if Solaris-based kernel found the USB stick as a device. Again, no big deal. I had enough of a RAM disk to capture and upload at least the screen capture you see above.
I'm intrigued with Open Solaris, and especially with Nexenta. I really like what I see and what I've touched so far, bugs not withstanding. I'm really looking further afield now with all the controversy surrounding the Novell/Microsoft deal, beyond Linux, beyond the BSDs, even beyond OS X. I'm also intrigued with Ian Murdock's hiring by Sun, and I look forward to his contributions to these distributions. I am a big Sun fan, first through Solaris and SPARC, then later through Java. I look forward to the next six months with Nexenta, Open Solaris, and Sun. Who knows, I may be running Nexenta in 2008. I could sure do a lot worse. I could run Vista.

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