Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Debianized OpenSolaris Arrives: Don't listen to Ian Murdock, Debianization is a good thing

Many years ago, I was looking at the various types of Linux and wondering which version to install. A friend of mine threw a Debian install CD at me and said something to the effect of “There is no other Linux.” After installing and setting up my desktop, I, too, was convinced. And while, today, Debian's many benefits are available in their own forms from other operating systems, there's still a lot that sets it apart from the crowd.

Unfortunately, one of the largest things that sets Debian apart is its contingent of developers, some of whom could be graciously categorized as the “Fat and Sassy” variety. Certainly, there are numerous “Fat and Sassy” types in the Linux world, and not all of them are Debian lovers. But it always seems to be Debian at the end of whatever the latest elitist argument is around the operating system.

Take, for example, the issues patched in OpenSSH 5.0. Just days after the 4.9 release picked up a large number of bugs and added some new features, the developers behind the project had to rush out and build version 5.0. The reason, they claimed, was that someone had found a way to hijack X11 tunneled sessions, but only submitted the bug to the Debian team. And the Debian team didn't pass this bug over until after OpenSSH hit 4.9.

Now, in the world of exploit reporting, there is always a large amount of fear, uncertainty and doubt. And I find it highly unlikely that someone found a potential attack vector on OpenSSH, and then only reported it to Debian. As we all know, finding an exploitable bug in OpenSSH is basically a ticket to a six-figure salary at any of a hundred security consulting firms.

And yet, I can't help but think that the poor OpenSSH team was right in blaming Debian. It's a very insular community, and I've even heard the occasional gripe from within the Debian lists about Ubuntu, which has arguably become Debian's saving grace in recent years.

Anyway, this is a long-winded way of getting to news that Sun's Project Indiana is now complete. Ian Murdock started the project when he joined Sun early last year, and from day one, I knew it was an effort to Debianize Solaris. Murdock would disagree, and likely argue that the efforts in Project Indiana are focused on making OpenSolaris more accessible to Linux users, and more performant when it comes time to upgrade. But when you get right down to it, Debianization is just what Solaris has needed. Debian is, at the same time, the most geek-friendly and the simplest to use Linux. Others, like Gentoo and Ubuntu, have come along and improved upon the Debian model, but when you get right down to it, almost all of the modern packaging systems in Linux are an attempt to copy apt-get.

And now, OpenSolaris has its own apt-get. The image packaging system is certainly more advanced than apt-get, and it's not as mature, but it's apt-get none the less. Now, OpenSolaris users can type a simple command to install all of the components, binaries and libraries they need to run a given piece of software. The endless chase for dependencies is no more. And with that easy-to-use, yet highly complex change, OpenSolaris has turned the corner from niche Unix to viable Linux alternative.

Congratulations, Ian. I know you'll be upset to see me compare the two operating systems, but you just need to remember: The people behind a project can sometimes become harder to deal with than the code. But that doesn't mean the ideas behind the code, or even the people, are bad. In fact, it's the best reason there is to run off and start from scratch.
--Alex Handy

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