solaris

OS Install Experiences - Introduction

Over the next few days or weeks I intend to install quite a bunch of free (as in beer) operating systems on one of my machines.

This has several reasons and benefits:

  • I want to get an overview of most popular OSes out there and hands-on experiences on how to install them and partly also how to administer and use them.
  • As I intend to not delete the OSes after the install, I'll have a massive-multi-boot system (>= 10 OSes) in the end. Managing to get this alone working might prove to be not exactly trivial... but definately interesting.
  • Recently I started a disussion on the debian-devel mailing list about which system users on a Debian system should get a valid shell (/bin/sh, for example) and which should only get something like /bin/false [1]. While I install all these OSes, I will create a comparison chart of which users have a valid shell and which don't on every other Unix-like OS I install. This will be quite interesting, I guess, and it might help others package maintainers to decide whether or not to give certain system users a valid shell.
  • It's a lot of fun :)

On the list I plan to install are most major (free) Unix-like operating systems, e.g. Debian, Ubuntu, Gentoo, Fedora Core, OpenSuSE, OpenBSD, FreeBSD, NetBSD, PC-BSD, OpenSolaris, and whatever else I can find out there. Basically, if I can download a CD image for free off the net, it's fine.

I'll be writing one small blog article per OS, stating my experiences, gotchas, pros and cons I noticed etc. If you have any suggestions for OSes or distributions I should look at, or ideas about other aspects of the OSes I could compare, please leave a comment.

[1] It has been pointed out that /usr/sbin/nologin or something similar is probably better than /bin/false, because it logs login attempts at these accounts (/bin/false doesn't).

Update: Articles published so far:

Debian on a Sun Sparc Ultra 10 - Lessons Learned

I recently had trouble installing/running Debian on my Sun Sparc Ultra 10. Lessons learned:

  1. There seems to be a huge crowd of people out there who own SPARCs (lots more than I would have expected)! I received tons of helpful comments, thanks everyone!
  2. Booting into single-user mode with "boot -s" requires you to enter the root password. However, you can use "boot -b", an undocumented feature, to do the equivalent of "init=/bin/sh". It doesn't quite work for me, I get "Cannot write to /foo/bar" errors (and I'm then asked to provide the root password, very funny), but that might be an unrelated problem...
  3. The problems I experienced (screen turns black, nothing happens) had a simple reason: there are two video cards in the box, but I only had a monitor attached to one of them. As things go, the bootloader used exactly the one where the screen was attached, but as soon as Debian started to boot, it would use the other video card. Which had no monitor attached. Hence I would not see anything. The installer was waiting for me to choose a keyboard layout and I was waiting for the installer to do just something... I suck. Solution: attach second monitor. Smarter solution: use some boot parameters to choose the video card I want to use (todo).
  4. None of the Debian boot images come with cfdisk or just plain fdisk (I tested businesscard, netinst, and the full install CD). Why? Do you use some other tool on SPARCs? Which?
  5. I cannot seem to mount my disks. There's no /dev/hda* (should I create them with mknod?) and trying to mount /dev/ide/* fails with some strange errors. I guess I need to read more docs, both SPARC-related as well as udev-related.

In related news: Sun has released the design of the OpenSparc T1 under the terms of the GPL. Great news, thanks Sun!

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