Installing Solaris on desktop PC

by Rick Jelliffe

I have been pretty disappointed in the new operating system distros I have been trying out recently. In the last three to six months there has been:

  • A horrible install of a new Mac where the Expose feature caused windows to run away when I tried to click on controls near the edges of windows. It was like some kind of demented joke or game. (The user, who was previously a dedicated PC user, now loves the Mac and thinks it is much simpler.)

  • Today I tried twice to install the new service pack for MS Vista, only to have the install fail with no useful message.

  • An attempt to install a mainstream Linux on my new PC failed when it could not detect the keyboard. I had to get the new box because another install of a newer Linux from another distro was disastrous for performance on my quite old box.

  • I got too bored to continue with another mainstream Linux install, where the DVD instructed me to first burn the image to a bootable CD.

So instead I have installed a recent Solaris Developer, from the DVD of some Linux magazine in the newsagent.

This is one of the easiest installs I have had. (I could only install onto a partition on the main disk, install onto a partition on the secondary disk failed with a bogus message about user accounts. No biggie.)

The system boots up, SAMBA works fine and detects most things I want to detect. (It is interesting that it only detected one printer on our network, however Vista only detects the other one, so that is not so bad.) It has Firefox and Thunderbird, which are what I'd use anywhere, and StarOffice, which is good enough for now; I cannot really use it or OpenOffice for making presentations until Impress gets tables in v3.0. It comes with Java installed, and Netbeans, though I'll be downloading Eclipse for compatibility with the workgroup here.

The desktop is a nice GNOME and really uncluttered and to the point.

Best of all, it feels like UNIX. Not a half-assed wannabee, or a messy child's toyroom, the way some Linux distros seem to be. But lots of GNU goodness. I still have to see how it copes with some issues like updates (which was the only real flaw I found in Mandrake Linux, that I was happy with for a few years.)

So I really like Solaris. It seems to suit what I want and expect better than any other OS distro I have come across yet.

But it has one big problem: the screen graphics are super ugly. In fact, so repellent as to make it unusable. I have a 1440x900 LCD monitor and this is not one of the built-in types supported. No problem, I thought, I'll just change the appropriate xorg.conf (or whatever is the equivalent) file. But I cannot see how to do it: it looks like it is hardcoded or something. So I have some other resolution, with a half inch dangling above the screen and unreachable. And the fonts are ugly and thick: even when I turn on anti-aliasing and play with the LCD settings it makes little real difference. Unless some kind reader can make a good suggestion, it just doesn't compare to what I have been used to under Windows, Mac or even Linuxes.

I really hope I am doing something wrong, because apart from that Solaris really seems to fit the bill for me. Maybe I have to resurrect the old CRT monitor.

[Further Adventures] I tried to install a different card, only to have a hardware problem, so I switched back to the original new card. Oops, now the thing doesn't boot. Checking though, for some reason the BIOS had switched around which of the two hard disks to boot from. I don't understand how this could have happened. In fact, I don't understand why it can happen either, because I thought both hard disks would be checked for booting in any case. But swapping the order of booting from disks fixes the boot problem, and I am online again.

I looked through the X windows logs, and sure enough the VESA driver only has a limited number of screen resolutions available, and 1440x900 is not one of them. Sigh... So to use Solaris I have to either go down in resolution to fit the monitors we have, or buy in a new monitor. I was finding the wider screen really useful for Eclipse, so I guess I will have to search for something else. All this is taking a frigging long time: I expect to live for three years on a single installation, so having to go through four or five large an problematic installs is wearing me down.


2008-03-31 21:22:15
Man, it's very easy for you to enable your screen's native resolution.

The problem with your installation is that by default, Solaris uses XSun, not Xorg server. You have the following options:

1). To configure XSun (your current X Window server) properly. You just need to edit /etc/openwin/server/etc/OWconfig file. OWconfig syntax does not resemle the one of Xorg in any way. Try to add (or edit) the following lines:


... and then restart XSun (do logoff)

2). Run /usr/sbin/kdmconfig program and switch to Xorg server. Then create standard xorg.conf file with the options you want in /etc/X11. Reboot the system.

Enjoy :-)

Rick Jelliffe
2008-04-01 05:16:23
rcomm: Thanks for that.

However, Solaris Express Developer does not use Open Windows or provide XSun, and the documentation says that kdmconfig will not work.

It uses some kind of XWindows with GNOME.

I did a
find / -local -print | grep -i xorg
and did find a promising file
however when I edited to add the monitor info and rebooted, I got a lot of errors when switching to the desktop, and it did not switch to the correct resolution.

I think the screen resolutions are hard-coded into some driver, rather than being available from a config file: this kind of unavailability is exactly the things that I dislike about Windows, and it is pissing me off if the same thing is true about this Solaris. Screen resolution is exactly the kind of thing that changes from system to system. Sigh....

I suppose they say "but this way you can just select using the nice GUI tool" but it just doesn't work. So pissed off...

2008-04-01 20:19:05
Oh, yeah, you use SXDE, I did not pay attention to that important detail...
My advice are 100% correct only for standard Sun Solaris 10 releases, which I use...