What is OpenIndiana and why does it matter?

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linux history is littered with successes and failures, as well as failures that once again became successes. Countless open-source projects are born, some of which die. That doesn’t mean, however, that the projects remain permanently dead – some of them get a second chance just because the project was great.

There is also another reason why some projects do not flourish. They are bought by a company that drives them into the ground or drives open source users away.

An example of the latter case is when Oracle bought Solaris and renamed it Oracle Solaris. Given the company’s history with open source solutions, much of this community has refused to work with or use products developed and maintained by Oracle.

Also: How to Choose the Right Linux Desktop Distribution

Once Solaris was no longer an open source project, most abandoned the operating system. However, some time ago a group of developers created a free and open-source illumos distribution which is a Unix-derived System V SVR4 operating system.

The project was actually derived from OpenSolaris, which was discontinued by Oracle. This operating system is only gaining much-needed attention.

The name OpenIndiana takes its name from Project Indiana, which was the code name for OpenSolaris at Sun Microsystems, before Oracle took over the project. OpenIndiana was originally created by a small team, led by Alasdair Lumsden, but is now under the direction of the illumos Foundation.

OpenIndiana’s goal is to become the de facto OpenSolaris-based operating system for production servers used by organizations that require regular (and free) security updates and bug fixes.

Also: RHEL and its Linux relatives and rivals: how to choose

The TL version; DR: OpenIndiana is an open source operating system that you can freely use for servers.

Recently, the developers released the latest version of OpenIndiana, which includes the following updates:

  • Initial support for mounting installation media via NFS.
  • Updated Nvidia drivers to the latest release from the production branch.
  • LibreOffice has been updated to version 7.2.7 and is now a 64-bit application.
  • Firefox and Thunderbird have been updated to the latest ESR versions.
  • Desktop Mate has been updated to version 1.26.
  • Old versions of Perl have been replaced by 5.34 and 5.36.
  • Python 2.7 has been removed and replaced with 3.9
  • Both gcc-10 and gcc-11 are included.
  • Clang now defaults to version 13.

The big question is, is OpenIndiana a viable solution? Let’s find out.

First impressions

First of all, the installation of OpenIndiana is really very simple, thanks to Let us know. It’s a point-and-click affair that almost anyone can handle. If you have already installed an application that uses a wizard to guide you through the process, you can install OpenIndiana.

I’ll be honest, it’s been over a decade since I installed Solaris and those first few installs weren’t always easy. So, the illumos installer makes it a breath of fresh air.

Once the installation was complete, I rebooted and logged into the Mate desktop. It’s no surprise that the OpenIndiana desktop listened to those early days of Linux. Not that it’s as ugly as, say, the CDE desktop, but it’s certainly far from modern.

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Nevertheless, it is a server operating system, so the desktop should really be functional.

The default OpenIndiana desktop.

OpenIndiana’s desktop is quite straightforward and simple to use.

Image: Jack Wallen

The next impression came from installing the software. One of the first things I do with a new operating system is check how packages are installed. These days I always expect a GUI for the task, but with OpenIndiana it’s all command line interaction and (at least for me) the process wasn’t as smooth as expected.

First, I had to find out which package manager OpenIndiana uses. Turns out it’s pkt. So I opened a terminal window and tried to install LibreOffice with the command:

sudo pkg install libreoffice

Logic. The thing is, OpenIndiana doesn’t use sudo, so standard users can’t install software. In order to successfully install the software, I had to go the old fashioned way and switch to the root user with the command:

Now the pkg install libreoffice the order went through without a hitch. The only caveat is that installing software on OpenIndiana can be a slow process. Another problem is that in some cases you need to know exactly the name of the software you want to install. For example, to install the MySQL server, I first had to search for the name with:

In the output, the following were listed:


It’s an outdated package, but it’s viable for installation. To install this package, the command would be:

pkg install pkg:/database/mysql-common@0.5.11-2021.0.0.0

It’s not as simple as, say, sudo apt-get install mysql-server -ybut it does the job.

Beyond first impressions

Once I got past first impressions, OpenIndiana started to look like a proper server operating system, though it would require a pretty steep learning curve for anyone who’s been using Linux for a while.

The operating system includes features such as:

  • ZFS file system and volume manager.
  • Dynamic Tracing Framework (for troubleshooting kernel issues).
  • Crossbow network virtualization and resource control.
  • Service Management Facility for service management.
  • Failure management architecture.
  • Common multi-protocol SCSI TARget.
  • Kernel virtual machine.
  • OS-level snapshots and restores.
  • Role-based access control.
  • Multipathing IP networks.
  • Data link multipathing.
  • Time Slider is a GUI for creating ZFS snapshots.

So things are starting to look up a bit for this Solaris-based operating system. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you’re willing to climb the steep learning curve of the Linux distro you’re currently using (or were an OpenSolaris user at the time), OpenIndiana might be an outstanding option for your server needs.

Also: Linux isn’t just for developers and command-line pros

But I wouldn’t dive straight into the nitty-gritty and start deploying it in a production environment. Before taking this step, you’d better familiarize yourself with OpenIndiana as a virtual machine. Once you get the hang of it, you can then deploy it to a production machine and see how things go.

I can’t say I’ll replace Ubuntu Server with OpenIndiana, but if I come across an instance where Ubuntu or Rocky Linux won’t work, I’ll definitely keep that server OS in mind.

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