Belenix - A Live CD based on Open Solaris

December 21, 2005
I had always wanted to try out Solaris OS ever since Sun released its code under an open licence and renamed it as Open Solaris. But even though open solaris had its own website, downloading a binary image was an entirely different matter and was not an easy proposition. So when a few brilliant Indians :) at the Bangalore India Engineering Center of Sun Microsystems released a live CD called Belenix based on Open Solaris, I decided to give it a spin.

The first thing that you encounter when you boot using the Belenix live CD is the Grub boot loader. Here you are presented with 3 choices, them being :
  • Belenix (32 bit)
  • Belenix (32 bit) with no ACPI and
  • Boot from harddisk - which will boot your normal OS from harddisk.
I selected the default selection (Belenix 32 bit) and it started booting the OS. At this point, a lot of messages scrolled off the screen and eventually, I was presented with the 'Keyboard layout selection' where I chose the US keyboard layout. Belenix gives the user two choices while booting. You can either boot into a full fledged GUI environment (which by the way is XFce desktop) or choose to go for command line login. Once I made the necessary choices, it started the process of configuring the devices and mounted the local partitions.

Exactly after 6 min, I got a fully loaded Xfce environment. Belenix being a Live CD intended to showcase the power of Open Solaris, does not come with as many GUI utilities as a Linux Live CD like Knoppix. This could be because the real power of Open Solaris and its difference with Linux lies under the hood.

While in the GUI environment, it would be a good idea to look into the services running on it. For that right click on the desktop and select services. Belenix has around 66 system services running in the background. Another thing to try out is the DTrace toolkit.

DTrace toolkit is a collection of tools written using DTrace for the Solaris 10[tm] by Sun Microsystem. It can be used by system administrators and developers to tune the performance of as well as pin point errors in the processes running in Solaris OS.

Applications bundled with Belenix
  • Xfce desktop
  • DTrace Toolkit Guide
  • Bash Shell
  • GVim - a versatile text editor
  • Mozilla Firefox - web browser
  • Thunderbird - EMail client
  • A game called Super Tux
  • Network profiles.
Advantages of Belenix
  • Belenix is not targeted for normal use but it endeavours to showcase Open Solaris by letting people try it without installing on the harddisk.
  • More over, downloading and installing Open Solaris would be a harrowing experience as Sun has not made the job any easier.

Cons of Belenix in its current form
  • Does not come with man pages. So prepare yourself with a good book on Solaris if you want to dig deep into learning Solaris.
  • No easy way of installing on the hard disk though there is a basic installer provided which helps in creating Solaris partitions on the hard disk .
Strong points of Open Solaris over Linux
  • Comes with DTrace, a toolkit which can be used to tune the performance of processes running on Solaris. Linux achieves this using a combination of tools like strace and oprofile but it cannot be compared to the power and versatility of DTrace.
  • Another area where Open Solaris outshines Linux is in the power and sophistication of its security features. These being :
    1. Role Based Access Control - Administrators use role-based access control to delegate limited authority to subsets of users. This is similar to SUDO in Linux but much more flexible. In Solaris RBAC is fully integrated, and administrators use standard utilities such as useradd to administer user roles.
    2. Process Rights Management - With process rights management, administrators grant individual processes only the privileges they need to perform the work assigned to them. An equivalent of this feature is not yet available in Linux.
    3. System partitioning using containers - Solaris implements system partitioning using Containers. Containers are virtualized environments running in a single instance of Solaris. Processes running in a container can access only the resources allocated to that container. Of course Linux can also implement this using third party products like Vmware or Usermode Linux or provide file system isolation using chroot jails. But this technology is well integrated in Solaris.
  • And finally, Sun gives you the guarantee that applications compiled for one version of Solaris will continue to work on other versions.

11 comments:

  • process rights management *IS* available
    in Linux. It is a subset of Mandatory
    Access Control. Mandatory Access Control
    has been integrated into the mainline
    linux kernel for some time now ala the
    NSA's SELinux (Security Enhanced Linux).

    -jeff schroeder

  • featherston

    This sounds very cool. I've wanted to try Solaris, but I didn't want to dedicate an entire box to it, plus the time.

  • dnplayboy

    Yeah.. its a really fantastic distro.. for the solaris geeks.. You can get Belenix installation tutorials here http://unixarticles.com/articles/27/1/Installing-BeleniX

  • Chandan R

    Few weeks back i tried Belenix. It didnot detect my ethernet card, so i couldnot configure networking. In Linux i see my ethernet card manufactured by Realtek as RTL-8139/8139c/8139C+. Any suggestions on how to get it working in Belenix. Thanks in advance.

  • Chandan,
    Perhaps you have to load a module during boot up time to get the OS to detect the hardware. I think the best bet would be to see the hardware compatibility list of solaris at sun.com. If your network card is listed there, then it should be detected in belenix too.

  • ashuaki

    Belenix supports KDE as well, and to only
    remark about Xfce is a waste of my time, so you would do well to include the availability of KDE

  • @ashuaki
    Yes belenix supports KDE. But when the review was written (Dec 2005), obviously KDE was not bundled with belenix. That could be why it was not mentioned. KDE was bundled with belenix only from ver 0.4 onwards which was in Feb 2006.

    A great review though.

  • Compare to Linux distribution, it seems no good package management tools like apt / yum is available.

    It would be good if it has this kind of tools in Solaris.

  • I see that BeleniX team has a project page with a bunch of stuff that needs to be completed. Hope some Unix geeks can help out.

    http://www.genunix.org/distributions/belenix_site/projects.html

  • Good review.

    Can you do a review of their latest version 0.5?

    I see that it has a USB tool kit and is much faster. There is even on opensolaris project which uses BeleniX!

  • Ralph

    OpenSolaris is still tied to one company (would dry up like a daisy in the sahara if Sun Micro went away or changed it's mind as happened with si other products leaving customers with pants down), Linux is not. Those supposed advantages of OpenSolaris do exist on Linux even if not as polished, they are good enough that the advantages of Linux are of more import - device support, de facto standard open source platform, platform support, scalability from embedded to supercomputer, huge adoption worldwide and user base, contributions and brainshare from iron leaders IBM, HP, and even Sun plus others, major enterprise applications with support