I recently went through some Solaris training to better familiarize myself with some aspects of Solaris. The instructor was mildly experienced and had spent many years servicing Sun hardware. This particular instructor had been drinking the Sun kool-aid for a long time and was not appraised of the alternatives that have become available such as Linux. One of the statements the instructor made was that “Linux isn’t ready for prime time.”
The training facility used to be run by Sun directly and had since been taken over by a third party to continue training sessions. The facility appeared to have been gutted when Sun left and only two or three classrooms remained out of ten or more. Meanwhile this instructor lauded the capabilities of Solaris and it’s firm place among the Server market. Chief among complaints for administrators is that Solaris has never included common utilities that make administrators lives easier, yet they have included a number of graphical utilities that make it easier to use, but only a little easier. Many times the graphical tools fail to work properly and any real system administrator isn’t going to use them. I came away with the impression that the whole thing seemed to be a sinking ship.
If all of this sounds critical of Sun, it’s because it is. Sun has made some progress with Solaris 10 but only enough to motivate existing users to upgrade, not enough to spark new uptake. So what do you do when no one will pay attention to you? You wave your arms around a bit to try and make a scene, which is exactly what Sun has done with OpenSolaris. For Sun, OpenSolaris is the only way to invest in the future of Solaris. The part of OpenSolaris that Sun doesn’t get is that pretending that you’re a community does not make you one. For most administrators the only draw of OpenSolaris is ZFS, which is the most interesting part of Solaris, aside from virtualization technologies like Zones.
I don’t think OpenSolaris or Solaris are bad products, it’s just that Linux for many is a better alternative. Linux is usable, reliable and performs. Linux has what Solaris does not, a massive community of users and contributors and a lot of businesses who are too invested in Linux to let it fail. A whole generation of people who started using Linux 10 years ago, are putting it in the racks right now, and it’s only going to become more popular as the “old school” admins support fewer and fewer legacy systems.
Thanks to its strong support of the x86 hardware architecture, “in terms of overall volume, Linux is just a much higher volume product than Solaris ever was,” says Al Gillen, an IDC analyst. IDC data show that worldwide Linux shipments in 2006 were about 2.4 million in 2006 and nearly 2.7 million in 2007. By contrast, Solaris shipments totaled 376,000 in 2006 and 371,000 last year.
I understand that Solaris is still entrenched in many industries and for many businesses it is their only choice because of legacy applications which are not supported elsewhere. I also understand that Linux is a kernel and should not be compared to a complete operating system like Solaris, so I ask that when reading this just supplant the term Linux with the canonical understanding of Linux. That is to say Linux is RedHat, SuSE, Debian, Ubuntu, Gentoo, etc etc.
Update: Linux’s Next Victim
A Server watch article supposes UNIX is sinking ship.
If I were a rat, I’d certainly be trying on a life vest for size.