Lately, I’ve had on my mind the desire to run different operating systems, other than Debian and Ubuntu. I’ve always had this weird interest in operating systems, so when I discovered Unix and Linux, it intrigued me to run them on my own system. Unix never went far, as the only “distro” I could run on my machines was Sun Solaris, and it was very picky with my hardware. So, Linux was the next shot. After running several different GNU/Linux distributions on various hardware, I’ve come to appreciate Open Source and Free Software. It’s a superior paradigm to proprietary software, and once you drink the cool-aid, so-to-speak, you never go back.
Well, since then, Debian and Ubuntu have been my Linux operating systems of choice. Superior package management, great hardware recognition, immense software selection and ease-of-use make them the distro of choice for me. I’ve run other distros, such as Red Hat, SUSE, Mandrake, Slackware and even attempted Gentoo, but I always came back to the Debian way of things. It’s the shoe that best fits for me. However, I’ve been troubled by package management lately, and the fact that it’s not easy to downgrade packages once installed. When I first installed Debian on my laptop, I wanted a stable environment, but the latest packages as well. So, I chose Debian testing as the basis for the install. Eventually, I needed a package that wasn’t in testing, but in unstable, so I upgraded. Unfortunately, after an X.org update came down the pipe, and broke X on my laptop for a few days, I was regretting the decision running unstable. Downgrading back to testing isn’t possible, or at least not easy, and as such, it was either live with unstable, or reinstall testing. I chose the former. Then I heard about the Conary package manager, and it’s ability to control package versions, making it easy to roll back to a previous software version if you don’t like your upgrade, or if something broke. If only Debian had this solution when I wanted to go back from unstable to testing.
Foresight Linux is the first operating system in this list that I’m keeping my eye on, and will be putting in a virtual machine as soon as I can get KVM working properly. Foresight is the first distribution to introduce the superior Conary package manager. First off, it’s a rolling release, which I like. They “freeze” every-so-often to create an ISO image for you to download, but once installed, you’re constantly updating and upgrading your system as new software versions come down the pipe. However, what happens when a new version of X.org comes down, that hoses X on your box? Simple- roll back the X.org version to what you were running previously until the new version works everything out. In other words, package management handling dependencies with version control built in. Think aptitude with svn. From what I’ve heard, Foresight has superior hardware recognition as well, recognizing wireless cards, video cards, sound cards, printers, monitors, etc. with great ease. Further, because it is a GNOME-based distro, ease-of-use comes standard. This may be the next progression in Linux distributions for me. Time will tell.
Next in the list of operating systems that I’m keeping an eye on is OpenSolaris. My first introduction to Unix was the Solaris variant via a Solaris computer lab at my local university. I took an introduction to Unix course as well as programming in Unix which kept me in the lab. It was great! Spending hour upon hour in that computer lab was exciting and thrilling. So, eventually, I wanted to run Solaris on my computer at home, and wondered if it was possible. It was, as Solaris supported i386 architecture. Unfortunately, getting Solaris up and running on my hardware proved to be a big challenge- a challenge that I didn’t have the appropriate experience for. Eventually, Solaris fell by the way-side, and Linux stepped in it’s place. However, because Solaris was my first Unix love, I’ve never forgotten about it.
Forward several years later when Sun announces that they will be opening their flagship OS under the community built OpenSolaris. Just imagine the Solaris kernel with the GNU/BSD utilities running on my hardware. GNOME, vim, Firefox/Thunderbird, OpenSSH, and more, all available. Needless to say, this is exciting for me. There are several ways to try OpenSolaris at their downloads page, with the OpenSolaris Developer Preview and the Solaris Express Community Edition looking to be my first choices. Nexenta, which is just Ubuntu coupled with the OpenSolaris kernel, seems to be another great choice.
Finally, the third operating system that intrigues me is Haiku-os. Haiku aims to be an operating system that is BeOS compatible. Remember that operating system? I was introduced to BeOS while watching the Screen Savers actually (they need a good web developer), and Leo Laporte had one of the developers of BeOS on his show. At this point, I was already running Linux, but it was mentioned that you could go to their site and download it for free (I think this was about a year prior to them finally closing their doors, selling to Palm). I did so, put BeOS in a VM and ran it for a while. What I was absolutely amazed with, was it’s speedy boot, and it’s snappy feel. Everything felt so lean, yet loaded with features. Applications ran fast, media was well supported and all-in-all, it was a great system. However, I eventually lost focus, and kept moving forward with Linux.
Then, one day, I’m surfing the web, finding out what had happened to BeOS, and I stumble upon the Haiku-os web page. After reading the site’s docs and FAQs, I learn the Haiku-os is an Open Source attempt to recreate BeOS. keeping the APIs compatible. The kernel is being designed from scratch, rather than using the Linux kernel, and the licensing chosen is an MIT-style license (BSD, without the advertising clause). So, this definitely meets my needs for running software. Development has been slow as the team is small, but it has been steady. There currently is not an ISO image to download and test, but there is an image for VMWare if you have that installed, which would actually be the best way to test-run the operating system.
So there you have it. Three operating systems that I think are worth keeping an eye on, and at least giving a test-run, all for various reasons: Foresight Linux, OpenSolaris and Haiku-os. Will any of them replace my current Debian / Ubuntu setup? Maybe, maybe not. They definitely have caught my interest, however.