Manage Posts

[Re-]Comparison of OpenSolaris Derivatives

An updated assessment, picking up where the 2015 version left off

Back in 2015, I evaluated the various OpenSolaris derivatives available at that time, plus stock Oracle Solaris and some other platforms for reference.  Quite a few things have changed since then, and it's time for a refresh.

As with last time, it should be noted that the goal here is to compare these various OpenSolaris spin-offs against each other, not against other FOSS operating systems.  As such, I focus primarily on the quantifiable traits that differentiate them.  Things that they all have in common are omitted.  Traits like the software packaging system in use are not quantitative, only qualitative, so that's not of interest here (though it is a serious consideration for usability).  Similarly, capabilities relative to other operating system families like GNU/Linux, the BSDs, or Windows are outside the scope of this comparison.

Some of the criteria are the same as 2015, while others have been changed.  There's no point in comparing what all contenders have in common.  In considering each variant, I looked at the following attributes:

  • Download ease - could a download be quickly and readily obtained from the variant's main page?
  • Version maintenance - has an official release been made within the last 365 days?
  • Documentation availability - could installation and setup documentation be found easily from the download page?
  • Documentation maintenance - does the available documentation cover up to the most recent official release?
  • Boot capability - does the variant support EFI boot on x86-64 "out of the box"
  • Disk label recognition - can the variant read GPT disk labels, at least in a non-boot capacity? [supported by all]
  • VirtIO support as a KVM guest [no longer broken out per driver]
  • Ability to act as a KVM host - pretty self-explanatory, all via the Joyent illumos-kvm project [now generalized, as next item]
  • Ability to act as a hypervisor
    • 0.5 pts if a single hypervisor is available, 1 pt if multiple hypervisors are available
  • Support for running GNU/Linux applications in containers [new criterion]
Each attribute affords a total of one point- all are boolean, one or zero, with the exception of hypervisor host support as described above.  Stock Oracle Solaris 11.3 has been included for reference, though it is (by definition, at least) not an "OpenSolaris derivative."  The total ranking is then expressed as a percentage and a letter grade:
Name TOTAL Change from 2015 Grade Version Tested Most significant perk Most significant deficit Notes since Last Review
OpenIndiana 87% +29% B 2018.04 Compat. with Oracle Solaris No EFI boot Major improvements across the board
Tribblix 87% N/A B m20.4 Ease of administration Limited compat. w/ other illumos A strong contender for those wanting traditional UNIX workstations
SmartOS 81% -4% B latest Package collection No EFI boot No substantive change
OmniOS CE 75% -10% C 151022 Compat with Oracle Solaris Slow releases Now community-developed;  work has slowed.
Oracle Solaris 68% +3% D 11.3 EFI boot support No KVM support No substantive change
DilOS 62% +2% D Ease of migration from Linux Lack of documentation No substantive change
OpenSXCE N/A -85% - - - - Abandoned
Dyson N/A N/A - - - - Not evaluated
illumian N/A N/A - - - - No longer a standalone platform
Belenix N/A N/A - - - - Abandoned
Non-Solaris Comparisons:              
Fedora 100%   A 28      
FreeBSD 100%   A 11.2      

I've included the same criteria applied to Fedora 28 and FreeBSD 11.2 for reference only- their capabilities aren't intended to be a part of this analysis.
We've lost a distribution since 2015, as OpenSXCE is no longer maintained.  Tribblix has stepped in to fill that gap nicely on workstations, though.  Tribblix is notable for using SVR4 packages with a home-grown package management tool.  Traditional enterprise UNIX admins will find lots to like with Tribblix.
SmartOS, Oracle Solaris, and DilOS showed no significant change in rank.  SmartOS is still pretty high on the list, though it did drop a bit as a technicality (I can't for the life of me get VirtualBox running on it, which leaves it with only one hypervisor).  DilOS still fills a niche market for "I want a Linux-y environment running on Solaris."  Oracle Solaris is still... well... it's... still owned by Oracle.

The most significant change, however, is OpenIndiana.  That platform is hardly recognizable in comparison to its 2015 torpor- it is keeping up with recent illumos development, most (if not all) of the "standard" open-source tools that one might find in a GNU/Linux distro are available via IPS, and of course it can also use SmartOS packages as well.  They've even switched from an ancient version of GDM to LightDM for a login manager.  OpenIndiana has shown a substantial improvement, and seems to be a viable platform again.

While the fragmentation that I noted in 2015 is still present, the pain seems to be easing a bit.  The OpenSolaris communities seem to be coalescing around SmartOS for cloud hosting, around OpenIndiana for an open alternative to Oracle Solaris on workstations and servers, and around Tribblix for those enamoured of the "good ole' days" of UNIX system administration.

The next major telling event will likely be the end of extended support for Solaris 10, which is approaching in 2021.

Leave a comment