A Brief History Of Solaris

A week ago I was presenting A Brief History Of Solaris at the Sun HPC Consortium in Dresden. My slideware is pretty minimalist (audiences generally don’t respond well to extended lists of bullet points), but it should give you a flavour of my presentation style and content. For more, see Josh Simon’s writeup.

My main point is that although Solaris is a good place to be because it has a consistent track record of innovation (e.g. ONC, mmap, dynamic linking, audaciously scalable SMP, threads, doors, 64-bit, containers, large memory support, zones, ZFS, DTrace, …), the clincher is that these innovations meet in a robust package with long term compatability and support.

Linus may kid himself that ZFS is all Solaris has to offer, but the Linux community has been sincerely flattering Sun for years with its imitation and use of so many Solaris technologies. Yes, there is potential for this to work both ways, but until now the traffic has been mostly a one way street.

As a colleague recently pointed out it is worth considering questions like “what would Solaris be without the Linux interfaces it has adopted?” and “what would Linux be without the interfaces it has adopted from Sun?” (e.g. NFS, NIS, PAM, nsswitch.conf, ld.so.1, LD_*, /proc, doors, kernel slab allocator, …). Wow, isn’t sharing cool!

Solaris: often imitated, seldom bettered.

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7 thoughts on “A Brief History Of Solaris

  1. Hi Phil,

    Nice post – would there be any chance of seeing some of your speakers notes online ?

    I suspect it would be really valuable to the wider audience.

    Even better – how about recording / videoing it and getting that on line ?

    All the best,


  2. I’m pretty sure that neither Linux’s nor Solaris’ /proc are based on the other’s, nor does Linux have doors as I recall. But yes, crucial (if not very visible) technologies like the Solaris rtld have certainly been inspiring Linux equivalents for a long time.

  3. And they’re even busier copying now – kernel mutexes as the kernel synchronization primitive of choice, interrupts as threads, robust mutexes (conflating the idea of priority inheritance and robustness, BTW) and more.
    And keep in mind the cardinal rule – never admit where the idea came from.

  4. Nico, you may have a point about /proc. The Solaris variant owes its being to Roger Faulkner, who joined Sun after he and Ron Gomes had ported Tom Killian’s UNIX 8th Edition /proc to SVR4, an implementation of SVID89 from UI (mostly Sun and AT&T). Both Linux (which didn’t appear until 1991) and Solaris 2.6 (1996) appear to include ideas from Plan 9’s /proc, but exactly who was copying whom is a somewhat vague, though Solaris would have accounted for the vast majority of any /proc instances running on hardware in the early 1990s.
    Doors and Namefs (another Solaris technology) were ported to Linux a while ago. However, according to Wikipedia, it is only available on 2.4 kernels.

  5. Wayne, speakers notes? You’re kidding, right?! I’d hate to think that people were just lifting my slides without sharing some of my passion and experience. I’ve tried the video thing before, but I much prefer a live audience. For me, presenting this stuff is primarily about building rapport and trust with the audience. I always try to tailor what I’m saying to the audience, not just dump what I want to say on them. Communication needs to work heart to heart before head to head can succeed. Woah, let’s stop the psychobabble there!

  6. “Psychobabble” is a bit harsh Phil – everyone who knows you (at Sun at least where I have direct experience of course) knows that you are immensely passionate about Solaris.

    Given there’s no notes, or any such, a number of your slides are a little dry, bare even – even with Josh Simons’ write up as an accompaniment. It would have been nice for more people to get to see what your talking about.

    I often have similar issues – in that presentations are supposed to hold just a bit of focused data on the slides, whilst the presenter impresses the audience with there oratory. However you can be left with slides which, without the backfilled story that goes with them, seem disjointed at best.

    At least this has happened to me in the past – and I’m currently trying to capture some speakers notes for my presentations – just the bare bones that keep the presentation in context (often from the notes I collate beforehand).

  7. Yes, I’d like to have done more. I wasn’t going to post the slides at all. I was asked to. Sorry, but for this one I guess you had to be there. Of course, I’m always open to offers of speaking engagements in exotic places 🙂

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