The Solaris Installation Experience
There's a problem with Solaris and Sun knows it. The installation experience of Solaris (along with other areas) could be greatly improved. The installer doesn't "suck" as it's easy and known to Solaris administrators, but for a Linux or Windows user it could prove to be a bit challenging. In the Linux world it's no longer a challenge to install a Linux distribution on your hard drive, especially with the excellent work that the Ubuntu team has done in improving the user experience for a desktop installation. However, in this time while Linux has become just as easy to install as Microsoft Windows (if not easier), Solaris has not really evolved to make the experience easier and attractive to potential customers. After Ian Murdock had joined Sun earlier this year he had begun to expose these weak points about Solaris and how he wants to make sure that Solaris is the "better Linux than Linux" through Project Indiana. Ian views these existing problems of the installation and packaging experience as a "usability gap", which he hopes to address. Over time we have found out that Ian's Project Indiana will be an OpenSolaris distribution that combines the best out of the Solaris and Linux worlds. This distribution will be licensed under the GPLv3, of course. For those of you that have never tried out Solaris, what we've decided to do is to show you this "usability gap" with the installation process in Solaris compared to Linux. Is the experience really that bad?
For our purposes we had used Solaris Express Community Edition Build 66, which is a bit better than Solaris 10 for the installation experience and offers improved x86/x64 hardware support. The Linux distribution we had used for comparison was Fedora 7 with the Anaconda graphical installer.
When booting from the Solaris Express media you are immediately presented with GRUB and are prompted to make a selection from Solaris Express, Developer Edition or Solaris Express or an option with a serial console. To a Linux user, GRUB shouldn't be frightening but this initial screen certainly isn't as attractive as what is presented with the Fedora 7 boot screen. The options for Fedora 7 include installing or upgrading an existing system with either the graphical version of Anaconda (Red Hat's installer) or the text version along with the abilities of rescuing an installed Fedora 7 system or just booting from the local drive. The background for all of this is a cloud with a hot air balloon ascending and then the Fedora logo in the lower left hand corner. In Fedora, before starting the installation process, you also have the ability to test the CD/DVD media to ensure that it is not corrupted.
After selecting your option in GRUB, the next screen you are presented with in Solaris Express is a text menu for selecting between Solaris Interactive, applying driver updates, and a single user shell. Solaris Interactive is the default choice.
Proceeding with the Solaris Interactive installation, the first task is to select the keyboard layout type. This screen was text-based, but fortunately it defaulted to US-English, which eliminated the need of going through the list manually. In Fedora, the entire install process is done through Anaconda with a graphical interface (unless of course you had selected the text mode from the start).