(Not) Installing OpenSolaris 200805 onto a Compaq nc4010

Solaris is by all accounts a great operating system (I continue to think so) but OpenSolaris 200805 on this laptop does not show any of the excellence that Solaris is supposed to have.

I have tried Solaris x86 in the past, including installing Solaris 2.6 onto an aging 486, and installing Solaris 8 onto several different machines, including laptops. None of these installs have had as many problems as installing OpenSolaris 200805 onto this machine. Installing OpenSolaris 200805 into a VirtualBox virtual machine was slick; not so this system. (I still don’t know why a complete install description is required for virtual environments; it’s just another computer system after all.)

First, I installed OpenSolaris to a physical hard drive using the VirtualBox machine to do so. This worked beautifully. Installed, no problem.

However, booting the installed operating system provided a big problem: apparently the root filesystem definition is buried in the filesystem itself (ZFS) so that booting the disk from anywhere else in the system causes the boot to fail. This is not the problem – the problem is trying to find out how to fix it. With Linux, a kernel parameter and a fix to /etc/fstab is all that is needed.

In searching for the answer to this, there were a number of stumbling blocks – obvious ones – and there seemed to be no one who had answered this problem properly:

  • Boot into Failsafe mode and… When I see that, I always wonder what operating system they’re using: OpenSolaris 200805 has no failsafe mode. (Later on, I found out that OpenSolaris 200805 was the first Solaris to not have a failsafe mode…. nice.) This is not helpful, and rules out a majority of the responses right off the bat.
  • OpenSolaris 200805 uses ZFS as the root filesystem. This means that a) it is new and not well-tested; and b) most answers to this problem are irrelevant as they are assuming UFS as the root filesystem, not ZFS.

Having had such problems just getting the stupid drive to boot, I gave up: I tried to install directly, using a 3.5″ USB disk caddy with a CD/DVD ROM player in it. The system will boot from this, but the speed was very slow.

The first try resulted in the machine freezing at about 22% done. After rebooting, the system would continually hang right after the initial SunOS boot text. I was able to fix this (after many reboots and freezes) by booting into Linux and overwriting the half-baked install on the internal disk. Thus, the pre-existing data on the internal disk (unused) was enough to cause OpenSolaris to freeze up (I’d used the “entire disk” install option – which presumably wipes the DOS-style partition table clean off the drive).

The second try resulted in a complete install, but that was it. No reboot ever succeeded there after. The system froze first at the “zfs0 is …” text, then at “tz0 is …”, then another one. Trying the option “-B acpi-user-options=0x8” permitted the machine to boot long enough to shut itself off!

About then is when I decided I’d had enough. Maybe Solaris Express or Belenix will work, but OpenSolaris is extremely poor in this department – which is so disappointing. Did I mention that OpenSolaris does not support JumpStart installs either?

With this sort of track record, I cannot recommend OpenSolaris for laptops – nor for production x86 servers. Sad really – I’d been looking forward to getting OpenSolaris on one of my laptops – very much, as a matter of fact.

5 thoughts on “(Not) Installing OpenSolaris 200805 onto a Compaq nc4010”

  1. Similar experiences here.

    My housemate installed it and after booting up the mouse didnt work, but it did during the installer. Bizarre. He ended up installing FreeBSD just to get ZFS.

    Also open solaris cant be installed on a headless system (via a serial line).

    I think I will stick to trusty OpenBSD đŸ™‚

    Have fun

  2. Have you tried Belenix ? What results did you get ? What laptop model do you have ? What is the Video card make ?

    Some information would be of help to the belenix community.

    And if you do manage to boot up your laptop with Belenix, then please send me the output of prtconf -v (the equivalent of lspci, lsusb on Linux distros).

    sriram at belenix.org

  3. I haven’t yet tried Belenix on these systems, but did try it once on a Pentium with 512M. It ran nicely, but had problems with only 512M of memory: there was a bit of swapping going on.

    As I remember, Belenix was also a CDROM distribution (this system has no CDROM builtin) and also had problems early on with installs to the hard drive. May try it again.

  4. I thought about running one of the BSDs on these systems, but I’ve enough hacking on a FreeBSD desktop to last a while. I’m going to try PCBSD when I get a chance.

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