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Sun Releases OpenSolaris 2008.11

Sun Microsystems has announced the release of OpenSolaris 2008.11(a little late, but that's alright). I spoke with Timothy Cramer, a senior director of OpenSolaris engineering at Sun, about this release of OpenSolaris, and he told me that it's part of the six-month binary release cycle that Sun has committed to for OpenSolaris. The first one -- OpenSolaris 2008.5 -- was released in May 2008, at CommunityOne/JavaOne; OpenSolaris 2008.11 has been released today, and the next one will be in April 2009. This release is a combination of new features, updates to bundled applications, and new community support offerings (which is the big news with this release). For more information on OpenSolaris, see this Dr. Dobb's interview with Timothy Cramer.

New Features and Updates

Among the new and updated features in OpenSolaris 2008.11 are:

  • Gnome Desktop updated to version 2.24. With the latest Gnome comes desktop search, collaborative group editing, and the Transmission project.

  • Timeslider. This is a new feature built on top of ZFS, which makes backups and file restores easier. It's similar to Apple's TimeMachine, but quite a bit more flexible. You can choose a directory and fly back in time to see earlier versions of files, and contents of folders, to restore from. Everything is customizable, including the backup snapshot times and frequency, and the percentage of disk space to set aside for the backups. Backups are done using file deltas, and are compressed, therefore it's efficient in terms of disk space usage. Because it uses ZFS, you don't need to use an external drive for backup storage, but you can if you want to (and you probably should as it can be safer).

  • OpenOffice updated to version 3.

  • FireFox updated to version 3. However, Sun has modified it to include additional DTrace probes. The browser and the probes work with NetBeans plug-ins to help you observe performance, as well as aid with Ajax app dev/debugging. This is all part of Sun's Project D-Light.

  • NetBeans 6.5, recently announced, is included.

  • The Eclipse IDE is now included. (Yes, that's correct, I said Eclipse is included with OpenSolaris.) Sun has decided to embrace the development community completely, in an attempt to unite them under OpenSolaris whether they use Eclipse or NetBeans. With Eclipse comes Azureus support also. In fact, expect to see more Eclipse platform-based applications bundled with OpenSolaris in the future.

  • Songbird is included for online music access, and possible iPod updating from OpenSolaris.

  • Suspend/Resume. By far, this was one of the most requested features from developers. It currently works only for a subset of laptops, such as some from Toshiba, some from Dell, and some from Lenovo. Check the release notes for actual models supported from each vendor. However, suspend/resume does work for all Sun desktop computers.

  • Packaging system update. Sun has added repository mirrors, with lots of mirror sites being rolled out around the world. This includes a better search engine for finding packages, a new package GUI, and better package classification to make it easier to organize and work with packages.

  • New Update Manager. This feature now works like Microsoft Windows' or Apple OS X's software update facility, where it looks for updates and notifies you when they're ready to be downloaded and installed.

  • Operational improvements to Network Auto Magic.

  • Graphical boot. A more visually appealing startup of OpenSolaris, instead of text-based output.

  • The PrintManager has been updated to provide better support for plug-and-print functionality.

  • Updates to the web application stack. Now includes Drupals, MediaWiki, Django, and many more.

OpenSolaris Community Support

Sun has done a lot of work to help build the community around OpenSolaris. To start, they've added new software repositories. In the past, there was one repository where updates to any portion of OpenSolaris were added about every two weeks under a "buyer beware" policy. With this model, early adopters of these updates ran the risk of getting code that may have broken previously working features, or that impacted overall stability. To avoid this, Sun now offers five different OpenSolaris repositories:

  • The Release Repository: a more stable version of the latest OpenSolaris updates. This includes fewer kernel changes. Mainly, this repository will contain new and updated applications around the OpenSolaris core.
  • The Developer Repository: similar to the previous model, with two-week updates to the entire code base including the kernel. This is the "bleeding edge" repository for OpenSolaris.
  • The Extras Repository: contains encumbered software packages; requires customer to accept third-party licensing. The components placed here are out of the hands of Sun from a legal point. Examples are Flash, RealPlayer, some drivers and fonts, and so on.
  • The Support Repository: for paid support, this is where patches and updates go (similar to Solaris 10 updates) for supported deployments.
  • The Contributor Repository: for community contributions. Software posted here does not go through Sun's current process (which in the past included legal due-diligence, quality control, the insertion of DTrace probe points, and so on.) This removes legal and procedural choke-points for software/application contributions to OpenSolaris. To be fair and open, the community policy includes key, non-Sun, contributors who will vote on changes and software additions.

Also new is Package Factory which works like a web crawler or robot, where it automatically crawls and compiles application source code for OpenSolaris. There are about 2000 packages already created by this robot which will be made available with this release.

In addition, Automated Installer is a new application that works with the OpenSolaris Distribution Constructor to create an OS image, and then deploy en-masse to large numbers of servers. This will also aid in creating OpenSolaris-based appliances for embedded use.

The Next Release

After this release, OpenSolaris development will continue to move onward. The April release will include:

  • Crossbow (Sun's updated network stack for application-dedicated network bandwidth)
  • A 100% complete Distribution Constructor
  • A 100% complete Automated Installer application
  • Sparc support for OpenSolaris (although this will be available in pre-release form in January)

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