Tip of the Trade: Project Indiana

Tuesday Oct 23rd 2007 by Carla Schroder

For years, package management solutions have been a valuable tool for Linux and FreeBSD users. When Project Indiana goes live next spring, Solaris, too, will offer this functionality.

Sun's Solaris is a powerhouse Unix operating system. In my opinion, it is one of the top-three Unixes, possibly even No. 1. But it has one large and glaring deficiency: no package management. For years, Linux users have been spoiled by Debian's sophisticated apt-get and aptitude, which install and remove software, resolve dependencies, and upgrade entire systems with a few simple commands. This works so well that a careful system administrator can continually upgrade Debian without ever needing to reinstall it. Red Hat developed Yum for RPM-based systems, FreeBSD has its excellent ports system, Gentoo has its own ports-style system, and Slackware has pkgtool. So there is no reason for a Linux or FreeBSD user to suffer the pain of manually installing binary packages and resolving dependencies manually, or, even worse, maintaining and manually patching a source-built system. Updates and security fixes are applied with ease.

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Now, at long last, a proper package manager is coming to Solaris. Codenamed "Project Indiana," a developer preview will be released at the end of October. The ambitious development team at Sun is not content to merely copy what Linux and FreeBSD users have long taken for granted. It instead intends to build something with advanced user friendly features. The working name is Image Package System (IPS), although that may change before the final release next spring.

What can we look forward to with IPS? How about safe rollbacks? You can't do this on Linux — if your system upgrade goes haywire, downgrading is tedious and time-consuming. Perhaps you will enjoy a versioning system that supports bleeding-edge to conservative installations. Or a build system that allows you to easily customize and replicate installations — Solaris doesn't want to be limited to servers but can also make a good workstation or laptop operating system. This calls for more mundane abilities, such as good hardware detection and support, power management, and network auto-configuration.

IPS is probably not going to be backported to Solaris 10, but it will be part of the next Solaris release. Some other nice features are a single LiveCD that installs the base components, plus software repositories for downloading additional packages, and the inclusion of the GNU toolchain, which is a wonderful set of commands and utilities long enjoyed by Linux users. Visit Project Indiana for more information.

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