A thought on Linux installation versus Solaris 9 installation

July 13, 2006

I've been thinking about a question recently: why is installing most Linux distributions so much easier and friendlier than installing Solaris 9 on a standalone machine? (I can't speak for Solaris 10, as I haven't tried to install it on anything.)

(It's not just an issue of comparing today's technology against Solaris 9's 2001 or so era technology; I was doing Linux installs in 2001, and it was still much better back then.)

The simple answer is that the Linux installers are better because the Linux distributions consider them more important than Sun does. But that begs the question: why can Sun get away with an uninspiring installer in their market?

I think the answer is that you've already been sold on Solaris by the time you hit the Solaris 9 installer; a substandard installation experience is just something you get to suck up on the way to your real objectives.

(Note too that the Solaris automatic installation experience is apparently quite good; not coincidentally, ease of large scale deployment is one of Solaris's selling points.)

By contrast, Linux distributions have faced the discipline of having to keep the user sold on Linux at all times, from start to finish. Even a single bad bump could, would, and did cause would-be users to abandon the entire effort; as a result, Linux distributions have had to relentlessly improve all of the potential stumbling points in order to keep their users.

This discipline of having to constantly care about the user's experience is what makes the difference. Linux has had it and Solaris has not, and Linux is far better for it.

(Another possible factor is preinstallation of Solaris on Sun hardware; if you never install it to start with, how bad the installation experience is is irrelevant to you. However, I have no idea how many people actually run the preinstalled versions.)

Comments on this page:

From at 2006-07-13 15:09:56:

Sorry but I don't think it can get any easier than this http://www.sun.com/software/solaris/howtoguides/installationhowto.jsp

Sure, if your hardware is not compatible you will have a hard time with any OS.

By cks at 2006-07-14 01:41:32:

As I said in the entry, I'm specifically ruminating about the Solaris 9 installation experience; I have no direct experience with Solaris 10. Solaris 9 is definitely worse than comparable Linux releases from, eg, Red Hat.

Judging only from the screenshots and the description at your URL, the Solaris 10 experience is still clunkier than comparable Linux distributions such as Fedora Core, and I hear that Ubuntu is even smoother.

From at 2006-07-18 13:14:08:

I use Solaris 9 Webstart - and it goes like this: pop in the installation CD, run "init 0" to drop to PROM, and at the OK prompt run "boot cdrom". After that follow the prompts to select the networking parameters, time and time zone info, software distribution and partition the hard disk (you can accept the defaults if you want). Insert the CDs requested based on the choices you make (e.g. if you want the documentation CD installed) - but if you have a DVD-ROM sit back and relax. If it is much easier than this on Red Hat, I am missing something!

I have never used the pre-installation version - the hard disk partitioning has never been right for me.

I am now looking to Jumpstart and (later on) Solaris 10 to make (what I feel is) an easy process even easier.


By cks at 2006-07-18 16:38:14:

It's difficult to talk about the ease of a Linux installation in text, because it sounds stupid and the same as anything else. There's a certain minimum set of questions that have to be asked (unless you get very fancy); once you are down to the minimal set, what matters is how polished the environment is when you get asked the questions and how easy it is to fiddle around in it, both of which sound hand-waving when discussed in text.

(Even screenshots are only a so-so way of walking through it; what matters in a sense is how easy you can manipulate the things in the screenshots and how easy it is to move around.)

To me, the Solaris 9 installer had a very different feel from Linux installers. Solaris 9 felt like a text based installer that wanted to grill me with a window frame slapped around it and some of the questions turned into radio buttons and forms. By contrast, Linux installers feel like actual graphical applications, including taking advantage of the extra stuff you can do in a true GUI environment.

(And some of this is pure polish issues, like Linux installers making very sure that they only ask for each CD-ROM once (at most).)

From at 2006-07-18 17:15:16:

The Solaris interactive installation process is definitely nowhere near as clean as what is provided by Fedora, Suse, Redhat or the Ubuntu distributions. Luckily Sun realizes this, and they are addressing it:


If you get a chance, check out the flash mockup of the new installer. It looks really nice. - Ryan

From at 2006-07-19 11:11:45:

Ok - I will take your word for it. We are trying out Red Hat (both Fedora and Enterprise server) for some small applications, so hopefully I shall have a chance to to experience this in the not so distant future.


Written on 13 July 2006.
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