Solaris Might Be Free If You Want It

There was a time when “real” engineering workstations ran Linux Unix. Apollo and Sun were big names and Sun’s version was Solaris. Solaris has been an iffy proposition since Oracle acquired Sun, but Oracle announced last month that you can download and use Solaris 11.4 CBE free for non-production use.

Do you care? If you ever wanted to run “real” Unix this is an option although, honestly, so is Free BSD and it probably has better community support. On the other hand, since you can virtualize a machine to spin up, it might be worth a little time to install it.

On the other hand, if you have an old SPARC machine — this could be big news. We aren’t sure how far back the hardware this will support will go, but this could be just what you need to breathe new life into that eBay pizza box from Sun you’ve had in the basement. Of course, if you have an FPGA SPARC system, this might be interesting too, but we have no idea how much other stuff you need to implement to be able to benefit from Solaris.

Will you install Solaris? If so, tell us why. We are sure we won’t have to prompt you to tell us why not. In 2017, we thought we’d seen the end of Solaris, but apparently not. Maybe this will help those folks still on Solaris 9.

58 thoughts on “Solaris Might Be Free If You Want It

  1. “eBay pizza box from Sun” is going for insane prices already, most open source OS’s had to drop support for sparc because they just can’t get the hardware without paying totally insane prices.

    1. This is aimed ate *exactly* one group of people: Anyone still running SPARC hardware in production and dependent on Solaris compatibility.

      These days Solaris-on-sparc development is dead, with illumos dropping SPARC support. The only remaining OSs supporting SPARC being netBSD and Linux (debian, gentoo, etc).

      This is being put out as a new version of Solaris for anyone still stuck on a version from the sun era, so they can try it out. Later will come an official commercial version, with a hefty price tag for that continued support.

      1. Actually no. It doesn’t support anything older than SPARC T4. If you have really old SPARC hardware (<2011) it won’t run on it. This is so people that want to run and develop for Solaris can without having to pay $1000/year/socket.
        Like when I was running Solaris 11.4 at home and stopped support, I couldn’t get updates (or even install new packages even though I was technically entitled to the new packages according to their support poultices) and eventually decided I had to stop running Solaris because it too far out of date.

    1. I don’t think anyone who knows anything about Sun or has been using their software would willingly move to oracle from any of those alternatives.

      There’s a damn goo reason nobody but oracle uses Oracle ZFS, and instead everyone on every operating system uses OpenZFS instead, forked from Sun’s original codebase.

  2. “solaris MIGHT be free if you want it”

    emphasis added…

    why waste time learning to administer solaris with who knows what licensing traps when netbsd is available for older boxes as well?

    1. Ugh… Solaris has the dubious distinction of being an even worse offender than Linux in terms of garbling BSD vs. System V constructs into an incoherent whole. It evolved from a BSD code base and was developed to have a quasi System V API (plus wrinkles). And it had that F’d up select() behavior Yecch! Good riddance.

      1. Not exactly.

        SunOS 4 was BSD derived (first 4.2, then with 4.3 enhancements). Solaris was System V, with some bits from SunOS (mainly the VM system).

        It took a while to get going: 2.5.1 was really the first useable version. 2.6 and 7 we’re pretty nice; dtrace and ZFS remain best in class.

  3. Yeah that eBAy pizza box in the basement nails it.
    Or should we call it the blue pizza pizza oven. Consumes 300W an has the computing power of a raspberry.

    And currently runs Debian. But it sounds fun to try Solaris sometime….

    1. Not to mention, Solaris has been free for over a decade. Sun released a lot under OpenSolaris and now derivative projects like illumos carry the torch.

      Nobody goes to Oracle for ZFS anymore. They go to OpenZFS. Likewise, nobody should be going to Oracle for Solaris.

  4. I hated that film – a load of boring and pretentious spiritualistic poop about as cerebral as a desiccated carrot. Endless boring takes of George Clooney staring vacantly into space does not constitute a basis of profundity.

  5. “Do you care?” Nope, while the SPARC hardware was cutting edge decades ago… Solaris was never as rock solid as people like to remember.

    “the monolith is dead, long live the monolith”…
    Oracles product line clung to pre-cload paradigms, and managers really resented having to hire 3 product specialists just to keep a service up.

    Everyone has a horror story dealing with Oracle & SAP… they must have finally burned though the last of the goodwill Sun earned.

    Keep your free cheese!

  6. There was a time where, if you delivered a system destined to sit on a USGov network, it could only be a Sun workstation running Solaris. Late in that period, when Linux was becoming more popular, we were delivering RHELx on PCs for stand-alone systems & Sun/Solaris for networked systems. We’d do our original development in the Linux environment, then “port” that same capability to Solaris. If the new development under Linux took, for example, 6 months, it would take us a minimum of an additional 6 months to also make the exact same capability work correctly under Solaris !! Solaris UNIX was a beast to develop under, what with their non-standard way of doing things !! It was a glorious day for us when RHELx was allowed on the USGov networks & Solaris became a blip on the history timeline. That’s the last time I used Solaris & have absolutely no desire to go back to feeling that kind of pain !!

      1. Obviously.

        Old software on old hardware works fine, as designed.
        Old software on new hardware works fine, typically faster.
        New software on old software has issues, typically speed suffers.
        New software on new hardware works great, as designed.

        1. The irony is that if you talk to Sun engineers of the day they’ll tell you that the SVR4 codebase they started with was far more archaic than SunOS’s BSD base. Solaris was initially slow because it was dated and unoptimized for modern machines, not because it was “newer.”

  7. Cannot even be a valid reason to install that crap. You want to run something on an old ULTRASPARC go NetBSD and you can get the latest packages. I don’t know whatever versions this comes out is but if something from the last 2 years you can consider yourself lucky.

    Also going back to whatever that used ZSH? and relearning disk management and whatnot and for why, it has literally zero and I do mean zero purpose.

    I wouldn’t bash on new OSes like Haiku because that’s actually an exciting new opportunity on the media field but solaris literally can’t do anything better than other Linux/BSDs these days, you torture yourself for nothing. Pure waste of time even to install it.

    1. actually pkg is open source. The entire packing system (IPS) is open source. And it’s really one of the better ones out there, but it’s not compatible with the native packaging systems on the various OSes.

  8. HP and IBM were also very big in this space, they were Far more trusted than Sun which was basically just a tiny startup company in comparison.

    AIX is a far better choice today, IBM power hardware actually has a future roadmap while sparc is looking pretty grim.

    1. I cut my unix teeth on HP’s FrankenUnix, part BSD, Part Sys V. it was…weird.

      I’ve also been using a ‘real’ Unix for the last 20 years on modern hardware: OS X is a POSIX Unix, based on BSD.

  9. I have no idea who this is supposed to be for.

    1> Solaris is a career dead end. Enough Solaris experts have been minted between 1995 and 2010 to last the industry until the last SPARC server sputters out. The only growth job will be recapping SPARC hardware as supplies peter out. And it puts you in bed with Oracle. Don’t get in bed with Oracle.

    2> Linux has copied, borrowed or stolen everything interesting from Solaris.

    3> There’s no cheap, fun hardware to run it on. This appears to only apply to 11.4, and 11.4 only run on hardware from the last 10 years, after everybody stopped buying SPARCs. There were maybe a couple of cheap T4-1 boxes on Ebay a year or two ago, but those have been climbing in price as the folks who use them desperately cast about for spares.

    4> And a t4-1, about the smallest SPARC box out there, built after everybody else had started taking power consumption seriously, idles (lightly equipped) at something like 280-300W.

    5> And a t4-1 isn’t THAT cool anymore… 64 threads in a 2u box was kinda neat in 2011, but you should be able to hit nearly the same thread count in a dell r630 for about the same prices, and it will be vastly faster, quieter and more power efficient.

    6> And seriously, don’t ever get into bed with Oracle. Nobody who knows Solaris has forgotten the rugpull after they bought Sun. If this weren’t basically a dirty trick, Oracle wouldn’t be doing it.

    1. As a crusty old Solaris ‘expert’ (among many other things, fotunately), I so totally agree with everything above. Oracle doesn’t do anyone any free favors unless they have a way in mind to monetize it. Someone needs to pay the bills for Larry’s Hawaiian island and fancy racing yachts. :-)

  10. Note to vintage hardware collectors – this only supports 64 bit platforms. If you have a 32 bit machine (e.g. IPC, IPX, etc.) you are either using pre-Oracle releases of Solaris/SunOS, or one of the remaining BSD releases that works on these chips.

  11. Ugh. Having had the dubious “pleasure” of having worked with quite a number of Sun hardware… while I found the aesthetics of the physical boxes to be better than the PC(s) of the time and their construction to put most anything to shame… I think many remember Sun hardware with rose colored glasses…

    Were they reliable? Compared to a consumer PC of the time running Windows 3.11(wfw) through early days NT? … hell yes. Performant? Definitely. I also much preferred their SBUS design vs the ISA/VESA of the time for the no-nonsense mounting. .*shudders* vesa localbus….

    But, these machines ran warm to hot. They sucked up power like it was nothing. They also weighed a good deal more, thanks to the awesome robust construction.

    SunOS and later Solaris… a mixed bag?

    I know folks rave about dtrace. And for good reason. I’m a big fan of the supervisor component of the hardware… STOP-A to get to a system monitor? Yes please!

    But I think what I liked most about SunOS and Solaris… was the fact that they didn’t change much.. or at all. The “landscape” of both hardware and software was much smaller than it is today. For Sun hardware…. Things just worked for the same reasons that things generally just work in the Apple HW space: Sun controlled the HW and SOFTWARE aspects of the platform. So of course stability was better.

    But I remember the PITA that was getting network cards and the like that worked properly with Sun hardware because maybe the firmware wasn’t the right revision.. or the specific version of SunOS or Solaris wasn’t supported for that piece of hardware…

    If the “free” Solaris that Oracle is offering only supports the x86 generation stuff… then what is the point if the hardware you need supported is from the Sparc/PowerPC line of processors?

    The T series were 1U rack mount systems put together for relatively low processing needs, based on x86(i want to say equiv to celerons?).

    So.. nice to have, but if it doesn’t go far back enough… I’m sure people have their own mirrors of package archives and have been building new packages and maintaining them
    For their old school systems. Had to build some pkg in the past as well. :)

    I do miss the storage arrays though… being able to slide out a whole tray of disks and being able to hot swap disks easily then kick off a resilver…. That rocked. And yeah, ZFS was AMAZING compared to the earlier tool management… especially the Solaris based GUI raid management tools. Ugh.

    1. Early adopters of Sun “compatible” clones… like the “Prime Power” servers from Fujitsu had interesting compatibility issues. Lol. Seriously… there were good design ideas that we would benefit from bringing into the current era. But there was also LOTS of PITA elements as well.

      LOL. One example would be a serial terminal server hooked up to dozens of Sun servers. Due to an amazing coincidence… when the terminal server was rebooted… it would send out a default sequence out to all of the serial ports! This happened to be the STOP-A when executed through a serial interface, which pit all of the remote terminal Sun hardware into its system monitor mode… funny in hindsight… but a real wtf when it happened. Had to change the escape sequence on all of the connected Sun hardware until the day we moved to a different terminal server. So much fun. ;)

    2. dtrace has been relicenced (via estoppel) to linux. It’s creator Bryan Cantril is also doing fun thing in the open source hardware space at Oxide Computer.

      ZFS is alive and well for linux + BSD + Windows + MacOS in the form of OpenZFS, actively maintained by basically the same engineers but outside Oracle at other companies.

  12. In the dot com boom days, when people were throwing money around left and right, a manager parachuted in by one of the investors insisted we buy, not lease, four workstations, at great expense. Why? Prestige mostly, but they were useless for our web development. They stood idling, heating up the room, while we used our PCs. When the money ran out, and all the knobs parachuted in left, the workstations were moved to a shelf in the warehouse where they stayed until they depreciated enough that we could discard them.

  13. Ah yes, Sun Microsystems.

    I remember a day in the mid 90’s, when I had just finished a contract and had $5000 in my pocket and I was suddenly overtaken by a wave of adulthood and figured I should be responsible and invest my windfall for the future.

    I was torn between the obvious value shares, Sun, or gambling on the new tech darlings, the newly resurrected Apple.

    It was a total no brainier. Everyplace I looked people were installing Sun equipment by the truckload, and Apple was selling niche toys.

    In July ’97 Apple stock cost (counting splits) about 15 cents, so I left about… oh… let’s say 5.5 million dollars on the table that day.

    1. That’s rough, dude. Life is a series of missed opportunities, wasted potential, and actions taken that can’t be undone. In the end you die, and die again when nobody remembers you any more.

  14. Solaris was at one time a very relevant and great operating system that became less relevant as Linux started taking over. Oracle’s acquisition was practically the final nail in the coffin even though the corpse continued to breathe for a while afterward.

  15. I will say this – when Linux engineers around me were getting laid off and outsourced left and right, I always made it through EVERY layoff everywhere I worked that used Solaris because I know it inside and out. Oracle ruined it, IMHO. but Solaris has been good to me. I always say – no one is indepensible to a company, but how much pain will it casue to get rid of them?

    And I may be a masochist, but I still have fun with Solaris native LDM virtualization, even though it is as technically useful career-wise as knowing how to read Sanskrit.

  16. (TLDR: This is about Oracle’s super evil license still in effect.)

    There’s a reason me and my friends stopped tinkering with Solaris.

    When Oracle acquired Sun they also changed the licensing language.

    At the time we had Sun products at my workplace and the Oracle representatives were so hostile when it came to the license package that we just lost faith altogether. It turned out to be a smart move. Every time an Oracle representative called me, either at work or on my private phone on my vacation and threatened me (harsh language, aggressive tone) I simply in a calm tone replied “I nor my workplace has bought anything from Oracle or accepted any of their licensing”.

    Once every 2-3 years me and my friends ask the three questions:
    1. Do you remember Solaris?
    2. Wanna play with it again?
    3. Have they updated their license yet?

    Today I ask the same questions but the third question is still a blocker, the license is outright scary.

    If you go to:

    There’s a line there: “The CBE builds from repository are available under a non-production use license.”

    The words “non-production use license” is a hypertext link to:

    On this page, search for the word “benchmark” and you’ll find the Oracle gem: “Further, You may not:” … “disclose results of any Oracle Technology benchmark tests without Oracle’s prior consent.”

    This means that if I install Oracle Solaris 11.4 CBE – for fun and curiousity – at home and go on reddit and say “it runs well” or “it runs poorly”, I’m in breach of license and can be hunted by Oracle representatives. Given how awful they’ve been to me while I’m NOT under their license, I find no reason to believe they’ll be more pleasant if I’m under their license and break it.

    I do miss tinkering with Sun Solaris, I have no idea how Oracle Solaris is.

    (And yes, I do refuse facebook and other services if I dislike their license).

  17. The last “free” Solaris I tried self-destructed after some integer number of months… I forget the exact count but it was suspicious.

    The various derivatives I’ve looked at had no realistic support for SPARC, and Debian (on SPARC) became progressively less reliable after “Lenny”.

    And even though it was technically good, the less said about OpenSXCE the better.

  18. As deep as I was in Sun/Solaris from 2003 to 2010, i don’t feel big interest in going back there, those systems were slow and especially power hungry as hell.
    No much nostalgia neither.

    And less willing to help these ebay’s scavengers to inflate prices of piece of junk.

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