Solaris 8/SPARC Early Access (beta) First Looks

Reviewer: Bill Bradford
Vendor: Sun Microsystems

Review Date: Started 12/06/99

Tested on system: Ultra 5/270 (256k cache), 128mb, 8.4gig, PGX32 gfx

Today, I received my copy of the Solaris 8 Early Access (Sun’s term for
“pay us and we’ll send you a copy of the beta version of the software”)
Program media for SPARC and x86/Intel.

It came via UPS in a nice plastic CD folder (similar to what the Solaris
2.5 and 2.6 CDs are provided in, when you buy the full retail product; this
is unlike the simple “CDs in a paper folder” provided for the “freebie
Solaris 7″ program). Seven CDs and a 3.5″ floppy disk are included:

  • Solaris 8 “Beta Refresh” – Installation (SPARC)
  • Solaris 8 “Beta Refresh” – Software 1/2 (SPARC)
  • Solaris 8 “Beta Refresh” – Software 2/2 (SPARC)
  • Solaris 8 “Beta Refresh” – Installation (x86)
  • Solaris 8 “Beta Refresh” – Software 1/2 (x86)
  • Solaris 8 “Beta Refresh” – Software 2/2 (x86)
  • Solaris 8 “Beta Refresh” – Documentation
  • Solaris 8 “Beta Refresh” – Device Configuration Asst. (x86 – floppy)

Also included is a sheet of paper that tells how to start the installation, on
both x86 and SPARC systems.

One of the major changes with Solaris 8 is that installation of even the basic
OS seems to be a multi-CD install (3 in my case for a “Developer”-based install)
. Installation uses the “Web Start” method, and I could see no way to start
a normal interactive install for a system that has less than 64mb RAM.

Once the long (and tedious) install is finished (it took approximately an hour
on my system, even with a 40x Toshiba IDE CD-ROM drive and a Seagate 8.4gig
5400rpm IDE HD), your system will reboot and you’ll be ready to go.

Obvious (need fixing) bugs in this beta release:

  • If you select “DNS” as your naming service, but your nameservers arent in
    the same Class C IP block as the system you’re installing, since there hasnt
    been a default gateway setup, the system will attempt to do a lookup on your
    hostname and fail. However, unlike Sol7, Solaris 8 gets stuck in a loop where
    it will want you to put in “correct” nameserver information. The only way
    around this so far is to select “none” for namng service, and then setup DNS
    by hand, after the system is installed.
  • “Web Start” only lets you choose “developer install”, “End user install”,
    etc – it does not let you customize the packages you want installed, unlike
    Solaris 7. If we’re being forced to use WebStart, I *want* to be able to
    specify what goes on my systems, and not have to remove it later.
  • Even if you ONLY pick one language to be installed on the system (English_US
    /POSIX for example), you’ll still get a ton of Thai, Japanese, and Chinese
    partial locales and packages installed.

Good / new / added fatures:

  • Perl 5.005_03 is now included with the base OS
  • You can now choose “DNS” as a naming facility
  • Install is via an InstallSheild-remisnicent dialog box

More notes:

According to a reader @ Sun, you can get the normal interactive GUI
install by booting off of the “Software 1 of 2” CD instead of the “Installation”
CD-ROM. This is good to know – means that Solaris 8 is actually now only a
2-CD install instead of 3.

StarOffice 5.1 (both the Intel and SPARC versions are included in the EA
package) seems to run MUCH faster. I dont know whether this is due to the
new/improved Java VM, or just general improvements in the OS. It doesent
feel “laggy” and slow anymore.

12/16/99 update: BUGS!

I had problems compiling/installing modules such as CPAN with the “factory
stock” installation of Perl5.005_03 included with Solaris 8. I pkgrm’ed
it, and re-compiled Perl5 from source (using egcs/gcc from SunFreeware). Once I did that, I havent had a problem
since with any perl modules I’ve installed. Also, when I tried to use the
on-line bug submittal form for the Solaris Workshop v6 Early Access Program,
it was broke. (I know, its not entirely related to Solaris8..)

12/17/99 update: SPEED!

Solaris 8 is DEFINITELY faster than 7, at least on this Ultra5 system. I’d
say that just from using the box (and not running any benchmarks), it feels
approximately 25% faster than Solaris 7. StarOffice has close to a 50%
speedup, at least from my judgement. I’ve had no problems so far compiling
standard GNU utilities, as well as stuff such as
for playing MP3s over the Ultra5’s internal speaker. I’m currently
using CDE, but havent found any “whiz-bang” features in the new version that
will keep me from switching to either
or Enlightenment
once I get bored enough to compile one or the other.

01/01/99 update: BUG!

No Y2K problems, at all. However, the Enlightenement window manager (version
0.16.3 (or imlib 1.9.8)) seems to be horribly broken on Sol8 – when I start
up E, instead of fancy borders or graphics, everything is just in solid blocks
of color instead of fancy titlebars, etc. (e.g., instead of a menubar or fancy
edges/borders/textures, I have a solid grey block).

WindowMaker 0.16.3 works fine, just great and dandy… and it was compiled
against the same jpg/gif/tiff/zlib libraries… anybody else having this

01/05/2000 update: BUGFIX!

Thanks for Stephen Hahn from Sun, who emailed me to get more details about
the problem I had with Perl/CPAN. Turns out, the Perl that ships with the EA
version of Solaris8 assumes that the Sun C/C++ compiler (cc) is installed,
and tries to use it (and compiler-specific flags) during the build/install
process for modules you try to install using CPAN. Stephen says that modifying
the to specify egcs-compliant flags should work; I’m going to try
that this evening. Anyway, its good to know that people from Sun actually read
my bug reports and want to do something about them.

01/20/2000 update: program incompatibilities

Stuff so far that doesnt work correctly with Solaris8:

  • XPM 3.4k
    from SunFreeWare; I had to download the
    source code and copy xpm.h to /usr/openwin/include/X11/ before any applications
    I compiled would recognize that libXpm was installed. This should REALLY
    be part of a factory install, IMHO.
  • Enlightenment, a window
    manager. However, now that I’ve gotten Xpm to work, I’ll try to recompile
    Imlib and see if that helps.

I was surprised to find that Sun’s OpenGL version 1.2 installs and works
fine with Solaris8 – even provides impressive (although not video-game
quality) performance on an Ultra5/270 with PGX32 video.