OpenSolaris vs Nexenta: Distro Wars

Posted on April 12, 2009

OpenSolaris is drawing close to its 3rd distribution release. Nexenta is closed to releasing NCP 2. It’s nearing the time to decide. Here are some of my thoughts in an attempt to stimulate the conversation after recently spending some time with both.

Nexenta really is impressive. NCP is true to its name, its a core and nothing more. Despite that, if you’re not a Windows…erm, I mean, GNOME, fan this simply means there is less crap to uninstall post install. The number of packages in Nexenta Apt is very impressive, not everything you’ll want is there but all the build environment basics are there. Installing software using apt is fast… scary fast. So fast that I often didn’t believe it truly installed the software but indeed it had. But best of all, Nexenta lets you build software as though you were on Linux, very few porting changes required. Solaris kernel, ZFS, DTrace and you can compile software without getting suicidal? Amazing! Nexenta warms my heart.

The only disadvantages for Nexenta are that it lags behind Nevada bits quite a lot and finding components from Nevada can be tricky.

OpenSolaris has that nifty installer LiveCD and is powered by IPS… but comes with traditional baggage. IPS is slow compared to apt, package naming is confusing and frustrating (SUNW has got to go, seriously people), and often times its hard to tell if you’ve installed all the bits you want (more Metapackages required). IPS seems to want to re-index and re-fetch catalogs way too often causing even simple actions to slow down even further. And the old GNU or SysV debate seems to still rage in IPS repos making software as painful to build as always. Never the less, IPS Images (boot environments) are a clever use of ZFS but of course rules out UFS root which shockingly some people do still prefer (namely, those of us who like breaking ZFS in unique and torturous ways).

SX:CE is an addiction I admit finding hard to give up. For the Solaris pureist it is what we’ve known and loved for a decade. Not having to figure out what package includes what feature by simply doing a full install of SX:CE provides you with a very predictable canvas upon which to do amazing things. There are drawbacks but they are well understood and addressed.

And so, what to use? Nexenta provides me with a painless environment in which to build software on my own. OpenSolaris (Indiana) is the future but still has a lot of maturing to do and making it what I want is a considerable investment of time (ie: make it dev friendly like Nexenta). SX:CE is still near and dear to my heart but I am constantly threatened with its ultimate demise, which thankfully still hasn’t happened.

So what is your choice? If you’re hooked on SX:CE, when you’re forced to choose which will you embrace? Or will you abandon Nevada for S10 when that happens? Is this an Indiana vs Nexenta debate or really an Apt vs IPS debate, or even a GNU friendly vs not so much discussion?