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Is Linux Losing Its SPARC? 372

flsquirrel asks: "As I spent 5 hours of my Sunday afternoon trying to get some form of Linux to load on my Sparcstation 5, I started to wonder where the support for all these Sun boxes is headed. Redhat has dropped Sparc altogether as a supported platform. Some others like Mandrake have recently picked it up but seem dismally unprepared to tackle the platform. Most distributions ignore the platform completely. So I thought I'd throw this out to the Slashdot community for discussion. Is there any hope of saving Linux on the Sparc? What options do SPARCstation owners have for a reletively up to date distro that isn't in beta or otherwise have bizzar issues stemming from someone just trying to recompile an Intel distro for the Sparc architecture?" One of the great things about Linux is its ability to run on many different architectures. So why is SPARC support beginning to lag? Lack of interest? Lack of resources? Would anyone be interested in contributing the missing necessary resources?
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Is Linux Losing Its SPARC?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @04:53PM (#237068)
    Well, I can tell you why we did. Solaris' care and feeding is just too expensive, and Sun is just too arrogant.

    I'll use the first application we moved from Solaris to Linux as my example. It was deployed on a trio of maxed out Enterprise 450s. Each box handled 1/3 of the work load which was handed out to them by another machine. By our figures and the specs of the machines we figured we should have had about half again as much throughput as we did. We called in a support request, worked with their engineering team to understand how our application worked for about two days, then they sent us a small benchmark and directions on how to run it. We did and sent them back the results, they sent out a field tech a couple days latter that said "we figure you're getting about 50% of what you should for your appliction" (mind you we estimated 66%) he adjusted three or four kernel paramaters on each box and rebooted, retested, adjusted again, rebooted, retested. Wham! our performance skyrocketed to about what we expected (98% of our prediction anyway.) We were happy, but curious why we didn't see any mention of these paramaters in any docs? "because they're not public." Turns out the contract we signed to get their help not only had a clause that said they wouldn't reveal the secrets of our application or problem, but that we wouldn't reveal the solution! One of our engineers spent most of a week out searching the internet and several books, looking for those paramaters... she didn't find them anywhere. We paid a five figure price tag for that "service". Ended up with no idea what what the paramaters he changed do, or what they're values meant... future applications would obviously have to go back to them for appropriate tuning.

    About a month latter we had finished migrating the application (all three servers) onto a single box running linux (slightly larger box, different architecture) and we got better throughput than we had with the solaris boxen. Our initial port ran about as well as it did on the solaris boxes at first, but a week of reading on the net, and looking at some source code and we had tuned it to the point that it outperformed the sparcs by about 10% with only about 3/4 of the hardware horsepower of the trio combined. Total cost: under a thousand dollars including the time of four engineers and a couple books, plus the results of that experience were 100% retained, we now know enough to tune our own boxes.

    About two months after that our local Sun sales rep was in town and the boss brought him down to our lab, he wanted to just check base and see if we were happy with the improved performance. Someone laughed, someone else just pointed him to the three machines on the other side of the lab... even a sales guy could tell they had been "decommisioned". I think the exact phrase that was used was "we'll be recycling them." ... he assumed the project was finished, "oh no, that's part of our ongoing dataflow, it's over there..." the boss chirps up, pointing to a beatup old IBM netfinity on the otherside of the room, with a tux sticker on the front of it, and a sign hanging above it that says "sparcless.blah.blah.blah" and it's list of IP addresses. If those machines are "recycled" in the functional sense rather than the scrap metal sense, they'll be running Linux, just as the netfinity that replaced them was recycled from it past life where it ran OS/2.

    Sadly we still have several hundred Solaris boxen scattered throughout the company, and the guys in engineering who negotiated 120 new workstations with him after his little visit to our lab were quite upset with us. That's why I'm posting anonymously... they're vicious and petty when annoyed.

    Since then, we've migrated 14 major applications off of Windows, Solaris, HP/UX and VMS... most of them to Linux. (I personally decommisioned the last of our Vaxen... it was fun, a large sledge hammer was used, then it was feed to an industrial crusher. Everyone with an account on the box in the end was given a chunk, makes a nice paper weight. :)

    Speaking of annoying an petty, that brings me to Solaris itself. This is another reason why many of us would rather run Linux, the os is simply painfull to use. Granted that given dozens of hours to tweak and configure it, plus a slew of other software, you can build a functional machine that won't drive you crazy... but why should I have to? The last Linux distro I installed had everything configured integrated and functional right off the cd. Vanila CDE off the cd is about equivalent to WFW 3.11. There's also a skills gap, the kid I just interviewed yesterday is comming out of college comfortable with both Windows and Linux. Is he fluent in Linux sysadmin? No. But he knows enough to get around the basics, we'll teach him the rest. Compare that to Solaris... find me a college kid that understands how to re-install a package from the original CD, we're loosing our Solaris experts as they move up in the company, or retire and can't replace them, the ones you can find are all flush with certificates from Sun that are about as meaningfull as an MSCE, and want absurd salaries. I'm sorry, but a piece of paper signed by McNeally that basically means you've successfully installed a scratch copy of Solaris doesn't mean I'm going to pay you as much as the gal that's been here for 12 years and came in at midnight on a saturday last summer to rebuild an entire system from the ground up in 14 hours to replace one that got melted in an office fire... that's pulling parts from storage through OS load up, application installation, data restore, functional checkout and delivery to the shipping doc in 14 hours.

    Part of me says: Solaris is dead. Sparc will probably go with it, and since Sun really is a one trick pony so will they. The only use for Linux on Sparc is to salvage a few more years of life out of old boxes after Sun files chapter 11. Then the other part of me looks at the list of applications that have us tied to Solaris and laughs at the idea of getting them all ported over to Linux or one of the other platforms we're consolodating on soon enough. Yes, it's almost a religious issue, but it's not because we all love Linux and want to put it everywhere, it's because we've come to hate slowaris and the arrogant bastards behind it and want it out of our data centers.

    You see why I post anonymously? ;)
  • Hell, wheres NFS ?

    Um, would you like kernel- or userland NFS? Because Linux has both. And I've been able to get about 6 to 7 MB/second sustained on my 100 MBit/sec switched network between different machines running different operating systems (not just Linux) from my NFS Linux box.

    Where's NFS, indeed... - A.P. (nice troll tho...)

    Forget Napster. Why not really break the law?

  • IMO linux has no niche on the sparc - solaris beats it on the high end, and its too big and slow compared to {open,net}bsd on the lowend.

    The only two operating systems supported on 64-bit sparcs are Linux and Solaris. Linux is noticeably and decisively faster on 1x200, 2x200, and 2x400 Ultra 2s. I have no data for much larger systems. There's no way I'd run solaris on these systems; linux is fast and rock solid.

  • Whether we like it or not, Free Solaris and the Foundation Source program are causing at least the Linux SPARC port to whither.

    Why? Here are some reasons:

    • Solaris has had a journaling filesystem for some time (albeit not of high quality)
    • Solaris has had large file support for some time
    • Solaris can mirror the root partition (not many people like Disksuite, but it seems more powerful than md)
    • Solaris is a direct descendent of the original SysV source code
    • Solaris has more mature SMP

    If Sun really wants to cause heart failure in both their open and closed-source competetors:

    • Integrate XFS into the Solaris kernel and distribution (even if it does piss Veritas off)
    • Bring back the PowerPC port, and release an Alpha port (yea! Solaris on powermac!)
    • Clean up the x86 installer (man, is that ugly)
    • Release a "Solaris for stupid people" distribution with the equivalent functionality of beos. Push it at x86.
    • And, hey Sun guys, patchcheck is certainly a step forward, but would you just port RedHat up2date to Solaris? Alternately, write a commandline/gui version with /usr/dt/bin/dtksh.

    But then again, God help us if Sun rules the world.

  • Their secondary objective is to cut the competetion off at the knees.

    As has been stated repeatedly, Sun's #1 concern at the moment is Linux. Sun is doing three things to contain this threat:

    1. Free Solaris
    2. Foundation Source (Open Source Solaris)
    3. Continued maintenance of the x86 port

    Since SPARC Linux is dying, what they are doing must be working.

    If Sun's sole objective is to sell hardware, then how do you explain the x86 port? You must conceed that you are wrong.

    They probably consider the situation contained, and are taking no further action, though I wish they would.

    However, consider this basic fact - for as much as the BSD people bitch about the GPL, you don't see them abandoning GCC. Sun is the only open-source distribution that can strip all GPL code if they wish. This is a good thing, if the GPL breaks down in court, but also a bad thing, if Sun decides to take out Linux.

  • Are your scripting skills that bad? Grab, run that through your own script that looks for any line that starts with a 6-digit number, and doesn't contain CURRENT.

    Dude, don't insult people who didn't insult you. What a jerk.

    Yes, I scripted something like this. Shouldn't have to, though.

  • What options do SPARCstation owners have for a reletively up to date distro that isn't in beta or otherwise have bizzar issues stemming from someone just trying to recompile an Intel distro for the Sparc architecture?
    I suggest giving NetBSD/Sparc [] a shot. I've found it to work very smoothly on non-x86 platforms, as all platforms are treated as first class citizens. I've had good results with NetBSD on each platform I've used it on - sparc, alpha and x86.

    While working as a Solaris admin in big corporate sparc shop a while back, I developed a NetBSD floppy-based disk wipe procedure (for systems being decomissioned), which went onto become official there. Much nicer than waiting for a Solaris CD boot. I also managed to get Linux to be the OS on the on-call laptop, after the managers had tried pushing Solaris x86 (on a laptop.. heh..), and Windows NT.

  • So, sharing my hard-won knowledge as a Unix admin over 5 years is now Overrated on this thread with most other messages at ranked at 2?
  • Sun is writing Solaris more for their high end stuff than their low end stuff, so somebody who happens to own a low-end Sun box may well be happier with Linux than with Solaris.

    There's one reason to buy an Ultra 5: you're developing software that you later intend to run on larger Sun kit, and you want a workstation that makes this easy to do. (I'm ignoring for now the use of U5s in render farms, etc).

    If all you want is a desktop PC that happens to run X Windows, then of course Linux is a better choice. But then, why on earth would you pay the premium for a SPARC based machine? A machine that's poorly supported for what you want to do? (Versus the very good support you get from Sun - Solaris just works on Sun kit, no messing around with device drivers and so forth. Etc).

    I'm sorry to be so blunt, but if you've just bought a brand new SPARC workstation and don't want to run the bundled OS, you've wasted your money. The only sensible use for Linux on SPARC is to support aging kit like the Classic than can't run Solaris 8 at a reasonable speed.

  • Maybe I'm out of date, but in the early days of the Sun4, we were told it was "Scalable Processor Architecture RISC Computer".
  • That rat-bastard Steve Jobs won't give the Linux/SPARC people the specs they need to write to the SPARC hardware! Just like he screwed Be with the G3!
  • In order to remain profitable, Shell Oil must focus on the most popular, and money-generating platform: the Ford Focus. Granted, it's not the best car out there, but everyone has one.

    I just can't afford, and cannot justify using Porsche hardware when Ford cars will do the trick!
  • okay, I admit, I was stretching a bit, but then, there WERE those rumors about Sun and Apple merging a while back. . . .

    And then there were the rumors about Sony and Apple, and we all know about Sony's stance on running Linux on Playstation 2.

    Then there were the rumors of Disney and Apple merging, and we all know Disney's stance about Linux running on Minnie.
  • The European Space Agency released the LEON processor under the GPL. It would be trivial (well, almost) to run a LEON emulator, fire up the SPARC Linux port, compile, install and test.

    This isn't something that requires a budget equal to the deficit of the western world. This is something any kid in their garage could do.

    In fact, this is something I would strongly suggest kids in their garage =TO= do! Build a SPARC Linux! Build the latest software for it! Sell the distributions to organizations that are junking their old Sparcstations. You may not make the Top 100 Richest People, but I'd be amazed if you didn't earn a whole lot more than you would doing door-to-door sales, paper rounds, or other toy jobs. What's more, you'd earn more than money. You'd earn a name. You can end up with a resume that stinks to high heaven, but if you've a name, you'd be favourite for the BIG money.

    (In the real world, the thing that counts most is reputation. This is followed by the name of the school you went to. THIRD comes your grades, and last is what you actually know.)

  • by danimal ( 1712 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @10:18AM (#237096) Homepage
    Both OpenBSD [] and NetBSD [] support the Sparc platform and are actively maintained.

    You might just be suprised at how well they perform.


  • Distributions make sense when there are tons of people who are going approximately the same thing you are. If a distribution is not really doing much with sparcs, it's not going to be particularly helpful.

    On the other hand, most programs build with tar/configure/make install these days, so, once you have a shell, a method for fetching tarballs over the network, and a set of tools, you can get the rest easily; it should take a couple of days, assuming the tools and libraries you start with aren't too far behind. It took me about a week (admittedly on x86), including migrating from libc5 (which I had working already) to libc6 (which I wanted to have on the new machine).
  • If Sun's sole objective is to sell hardware, then how do you explain the x86 port? You must conceed that you are wrong.

    If what I've been told is correct (and it seems reasonable), the reason for the x86 port is very simple... Sun employees, including Solaris engineers, sales people, etc. need laptops. Sun doesn't make laptops. Sun buys them x86 laptops because, well, nobody wants to carry a sparcbook around. So they made Solaris go on x86.

  • That's not true. Solaris 8 no longer supports the Sun4c(SS1, SS2, IPX, etc), but it still supports sun4m(SS10, SS5, SS20, etc.)

  • I'm deeply offended that you are offended.
  • I'm not quite clear on this, myself.

    I have a Sparcstation 10 at home and run Solaris 8. My primary reason is because I wanted an Oracle platform, and this is one of the available downloads.

    I see some other comments about heterogeneous environments, which is a valid concern. Although I find it humorous to see this coming from Linux advocates who bitch about Microsoft heterogeneous environments created for the very same reason. :)

    I guess to me the reason to buy Sparc hardware is solely to run Solaris and learn more about it. If I just wanted another Linux PC, I could buy a PC a lot faster than my SS10 for the same money.
  • why would someone prefer Linux to Solaris on SPARC

    Well apart from the fact that giving people choice is always a good thing, perhaps they're using a 32-bit SPARC (e.g., a sun4c or sun4m machine). Solaris 8 no longer supports 32-bit CPUs, and while older version of Solaris continue to run, I don't know how committed Sun are to providing timely updates for security holes, for example. I personally run Linux on my SPARC because it gives me a hetrogeneous network. I run Linux on everything, which makes admin very easy.

  • Bring back the PowerPC port, and release an Alpha port (yea! Solaris on powermac!)

    Far more interesting, to me at least, would be to revive the DG/UX port to SPARC. In the early days of Solaris, it sucked so badly that Sun paid Data General to port DG/UX to SPARC as an insurance policy in case the Solaris team didn't get it right. As it turned out, Solaris eventually got to a usable stage (and lets face it, it couldn't get any worse), so the DG/UX port disappeared into oblivion. Sad, really, as I suspect DG/UX is actually the better OS. Even more sad is that DG are dropping it completely, as was inevitable after the EMC buyout, to concentrage on storage solutions :-(

  • My guess is that since the SPARC HW is so expensive

    Actually, that's not strictly true. The new Sun Blade 100 workstation comes in at US$995, which is pretty impressive. Admittedly, it's essentially a PC with a SPARC CPU rather than a "real" SPARC, but it's there, nonetheless, and even though they've had to remove 90% of the on-chip cache to get it under the $1000 price point, performance is still acceptable. Of course, enterprise SPARC hardware still costs the earth...

  • ...Solaris is better suited than Linux for most SPARCs.

    I have, in the past, run Linux/SPARC on older machines (pre-sun4m boxes like the IPX, IPC, SS2) where the lower overhead of Linux made a significant improvement in the usability of the machine as a workstation, but that's about the only circumstance I can think of where Linux is better suited for a Sun box than the OS it was designed with.


  • SCSI hard drives NO IDE

    you can argue on performance for SCSI (*), but reliability? Of the drives I've had fail on me over the course of perhaps 50 machines, 2 were seagate IDE, one was seagate SCSI, and one was WD SCSI. As a result, I generally avoid Seagate, but not IDE.

    (*) and there are many who will claim not even then.
  • I have 3 sparcs at home off a 56k modem connection - two IPCs and a SS1. I was *given* the SS1, and got the two IPCs for $30. One IPC runs OpenBSD, the SS1 runs NetBSD (the other IPC is butchered for bits). Both work great, in their limited performance range. If it wasn't for the hellish noise the IPC makes, I'd use it as a workstation to connect to other boxes. As it is, the SGI Indy wins.

    Anyway, the point was, there are an awful lot of IPC/IPX class machines falling off the end of their life in CS labs at the moment. If only I could find a decent priced ELC, I'd have one of those too. Don't assume it's all corporate.
  • Why do you think you'd have to run different distributions of Linux on all of them? Debian runs on all three platforms. I think Debian runs on almost any 'major' platform Linux runs on; i386, Alpha, Sparc, M68K, PowerPC, ARM, and MIPS and IA64 may go out with the next release.
  • Solaris has had a journaling filesystem for some time (albeit not of high quality)

    Since 2.7 is not really a long time - what, 18 months? 2.6 had no native Journaling file system, you had to buy a 3rd party prodct like Veritas Filesystem. By the way, if Veritas is reading this, RELEASE A LINUX VERSION. VxFS and VxVM rock. We have a Linyux version of the NetBackup client, how painful was that? Linux has good VFS support now, it wouldn't be very hard...

    Solaris can mirror the root partition (not many people like Disksuite, but it seems more powerful than md

    Disksuite is not part of solaris. In fact, until later in the 2.6 lifecycle, Disksuite didn't come with Solaris - it was a for-purchase product. It wasn't free until SUN started repacking VxVM to ship with Solaris.

    Solaris is a direct descendent of the original SysV source code

    As direct as anything else aroundt today is. Technically, you should all be using MP-RAS anyway, if you want a historically accurate UNIX.

    port RedHat up2date

    Are your scripting skills that bad? Grab, run that through your own script that looks for any line that starts with a 6-digit number, and doesn't contain CURRENT. Appent the 3rd column to the first, separated by a -, and ftp into sunsolve to get the patch, untar it, and patchadd it. I could write the working script in about 10 minutes. In fact, I think I am going to do that for the rest of the afternoon.

  • But that's exactly what open source is about.

    • Program XYZ does most of what I want
    • Program XYZ doesn't do fribblefrabble
    • Program XYZ is open source
    • I download XYZ, and add fribblefrabble functionality to it
    • I tell people that ask about fribblefrabble for their own that I have a modified version of XYZ that does that
    The fact of the matter is, it may not be possible for every system that's running to get to the net to grab patches. Or that it needs funny settings. Or something else like that. Sun provoded a little tool to use to make your life easier, so you don't have to spend 5 hours comparing your 'showrev -p' to the last patchlist. Modify it to do what you want, don't complain about it.
  • by TBone ( 5692 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @11:04AM (#237127) Homepage

    Both basically say Solaris 8 doesn't run on old systems or is too slow on not as old systems. Microsoft doesn't support your 25Mhz 486SLC with 4M or ram any more, why should Sun support your old hardware with it's new software? That hardware is almost 10 years old. You still have the option to run Windows 3.1 on your old 486's, run old Solaris on your sun4c and sun4d platforms. In fact, that solution is more viable than M$ platforms, because you have the option to build your own software from source, and not use the binaries that are out for newer versions.

    Backward compatibility is nice, but it's gotta stop somewhere...

  • by Jeffrey Baker ( 6191 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @10:18AM (#237130)
    Slackware [] has a port to SPARC in their -current tree, which will freeze to 7.2 sometime this summer. They also have an working Alpha port.
  • I second that.

    I know someone whose Sun 4c's main hard drive died. The second hard drive was ok but he couldn't boot.

    I loaded NetBSD on the second drive. It was beautiful, and he was very impressed. It emulated all the Sun binaries he needed, and the speed seemed as good as better as it was under SunOS.

    He had never heard of NetBSD, but he was quite reassured by the (C) Regents of the University of California messages that scrolled past on bootup...

  • I haven't seen much discussion of benefits of
    Sparc Linux over Solaris. The main one to me
    is the use of virtual consoles and the fact that
    I can setup a console with a decent rows/cols.
    Perhaps it's my ignorance of SunOS working against me, but after years of dealing with
    Suns, I haven't once come across info as to
    how to get virtual consoles, or better than the
    default text mode on a sparc. And this is
    done by default when you install sparc linux.

  • The buzzword standard is POSIX, now known as Unix95 and Unix98. That's the Unix standard.

    To the best that I can tell, the free software untiites conform to the "I thought it would be cool to..." standard. Sort of like "I thought it would be cool to dump man pages and use info pages, even though man exists on every Unix machine on the planet, and I have to get info from and it requires GNU terminfo and GNU readline and...". In some circles, GNU stands for "Get New Utilities".

    If you know Unix, as a user, you know Solaris as a user. I came from an OSF/1 (ow) and IRIX background, and hit the ground running (because of the POSIX standards). I used Solaris and IRIX as a user and a developer long before I was had to manage the systems, and this adherance to standards made life easy both as a user and a sysadmin.

    It's not an obvious case where free software wins anything, it's a difference in paradigms: do you add every imaginable bell and whistle, or do you stick by the rules and do what people expect. For some people, one paradigm works, for some the other works. I happen to like consistency--I think it makes life easier.

  • by Jonathan C. Patschke ( 8016 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @04:59PM (#237140) Homepage

    Note: By ``Linux'', I mean ``operating systems based on the Linux kernel''. Likewise, I mean ``operating systems based on the Linux kernel for SPARC platforms'' when I say ``S/Linux''.

    Well, I realize this is an unpopular opinion for this forum, but, I feel that it's a valid one, as I've run both Linux and Solaris on many, many SPARCstations (everything from a lowly Sun 4/440 through the gamut of SS10/SS20 configurations, on SS1000 servers, and enterprise-class UltraSPARCs), and have had to work with both operatingsystems on a fairly close level day-to-day for the last several years.

    To put it gently, Solaris is a far better operating environment than Linux (for most things. Solaris sucks as a workstation, for counterexample), on the SPARC architecture. If you've only seen Solaris on the x86, and are are convinced that it blows, you're entirely correct: Solaris/x86 blows. Solaris/SPARC shines.

    For the longest, I ran Linux on my SPARCstation/LX simply because Solaris 2.6 demanded too much hardware. The streamlining that's taken place in the last two releases makes it a valid option again on the older hardware (except for the -old- sun4 and sun4c platforms, which aren't supported).

    Really, what it boils down to is the audience. Right now, Linux has very little to offer over Solaris, and is missing a few features that are critical for the majority of people that run the newer SPARC hardware. People like me (ie: Developer/Sysadmin for demanding corporation) don't have the time to hack Linux all day long to get it to work on hardware (we need it to ``just work'', just like the lusers, but for different reasons so we can't offer our expertise with the SPARC platform. Also, since many of us work in high-security environments, we can't open-up our machine to be probed and compiled-against, either.

    It's not-at-all that Linux sucks or that it runs awfully on a SPARC (on the contrary, S/Linux blazes (compared to Solaris) on low-end hardware), it's just that Solaris works, and there's no reason to switch away from something that works that well.

    Here's why I use Solaris on my systems. If Linux obtained these features, people like me might switch on a few machines (ie: machines that don't have to run certified software configurations (like Oracle) to meet SLAs):

    • Solaris actually has a useful single-user mode, where you can update critical system libraries (libc, for instance), apply patches, and recover broken filesystems. To do many of these things in Linux, you need a bootdisc, because almost none of the necessary tools are statically linked.
    • There is no decent SPARCv9 optimizing C compiler for Linux.
    • Hardware support is also lacking. Granted, I may have to rollback to Solaris 2.6 to use my old SPARCstation IPX, or even 2.5 to use my 4/440 (boatanchor), but it's still Solaris, and administration is largely the same as when I walk over to a E6500, which, last I checked, will not run Linux.
    • System partitioning, CPU affinity, and other concurrency features are in their infancy on Linux. Progress is good, but it doesn't compare with Solaris, yet.
    • Linux still has to be powered down to add/remove things like CPUs. For big sites, this isn't acceptable.
    • /dev/sdwhich-one-it-is-today isn't a problem under Solaris. Device node-names are closely tied to hardware--partition-nodes, especially, and are very predictably named. The last time I ran S/Linux, I couldn't determine any rhyme or reason behind the order in which Linux detected drives--it clearly wasn't based on SCSI ID. The only time I've had anything similar happen in Solaris, is when I had to reinstall a controller card in a disc array--the disc array suddenly has a new serial number, and Solaris detected it as an entirely separate controller (which is desirable behaviour, usually).
    • Solaris uses standard SYSV packages. No rpm/deb/tgz stuff to mess with, and the format has remained stable for as long as I can remember (unlike rpm, which just broke compatibility in whatever-the-version-is-that-ships-with-RH7).
    • Solstice, for all its flaws, is quite a timesaver (and ass-saver), and it does actually work most of the time. Disksuite and Adminsuite are enormously helpful, and I can't think of anything in the same category under Linux. If the words "Linuxconf" or "control-panel" are in your response, you've never used Solstice fully.
    • While not the fault of Linux itself, all the commercial Linux software is targeted to the x86 platform. That means I can't run Oracle or DB/2 or lots of other things on a S/Linux server, unless I run it through Solaris emulation mode (ewww....). In the same vein, I can't get the Veritas Volume Manager for Linux, so I wouldn't want to run most of the commercial applications on it, anyway (at least, not for paying customers).
    • Using LD_LIBRARY_PATH instead of /etc/ means that my users can customize their library setups however they want, without me needing to make system-wide changes just to satisfy some broken app that can't figure out how to dlopen() a file in the current directory.

    That's not to say that Linux doesn't have its share of practical advantages:

    • You never know how much you'd miss /dev/urandom until you don't have it. You have to implement a random-number generator in user-mode if you want one on Solaris. You can run prngd to simulate it, but it's not nearly as convenient as a real /dev/urandom is.
    • If you can't afford Sun's compilers, gcc and libtool behave much better on Linux than they do on Solaris.

    The fact-of-the-matter is that Solaris is a very, very nice operating system, and those who run it are reluctant to switch just because it does its job so well. And, if you don't have a receptive target-audience, your development project (in this case, S/Linux) doesn't move forward very quickly.

    For your average J Random BOFH, it's the same price, too (I really don't need the Linux source for most things). If you need the Solaris source for some site-specific customization, Sun has it available.

    In summary, Linux really is a nice OS, but Solaris is a very, very, nice OS, and it's got the full support of the OEM, and is the same price as Linux, and runs the vast majority of the same software. I mean, if you like Linux, you'll still run Linux (and that's a good thing), but if you have no preference, which would you choose?

    I mean, let's look at why Linux was a success to begin with. Linus wanted an affordable, professional-grade Uunix-like OS that would run on his 386. If I want an affordabe, professional-grade, Unix-like OS for my SPARCserver 1000, I go to and download Solaris 8.

  • by Phexro ( 9814 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @10:24AM (#237142)
    go look at debian []. debian 2.2 was released with support for 6 architectures, and there should be at least one more for 2.3.

    2.2 is a bit out of date (xfree 3.3.6, glibc 2.1.3) but it's very stable. and you can always try life in the fast lane and use the testing or unstable branches.

    disclaimer: i'm a debian developer. i'm biased in favor of debian, but only because it's the greatest linux distro ever, while all the others suck rocks.
  • Linux on Sparc is hardly being dropped. Debian supports it, Mandrake supports it, slackware supports it. "Redhat" is not the whole of linux.

    Not that RedHat has completely dumped Sparc, either. They just didn't release a 7.0 or 7.1 for sparc. They didn't release a 5.0 or 5.1 either. It's just taking more time. 6.2 is still the most stable redhat version anyway.

    Now, all that being said, Do you have an ss5-170? The turbosparc processor in a 170mhz SS5 is only partially supported, only in recent kernels, and is considered unstable. If you have a 170, you may be SOL. But that's just one version of one model of sparc.

    2.4 does have some issues on 32-bit sparcs. It's coming along, they are working on this. 2.2 still works great.

    If you have a 170, I completely understand not being able to install any linux distribution. If not, you're probably a victim of poor documentation.

    I have linux running on an SS2, an LX, and an SS10 with dual SM51 cpus. Stuff still definately works.

  • The main thing I have encountered when using Linux on SPARC is not finding a distro that supports it but INSTALLING software. A substantial number of the applications that I have tried to install have not been ported to sparc linux, which defeats the purpose. To few developers too little time to port applications to every single platform. What is the point of running an OS that you can't find applications that will compile on it? I'd much rather use solaris on sparc for this single reason.

    Whaddyamean "Port"?

    tar xvzf foo.tar.gz
    cd foo
    make install

    Almost always works for me, what's your problem? I've found very few apps that i can't get to compile on my sparc system.

    OK, so maybe Corel WordPerfect for Linux and a few other big, commercial apps don't exist for sparc linux. Big deal.

  • IIRC, Open Firmware, the BIOS that is on PCI based Macs and other PPC based computers is based off of an IEEE standard that was derived from OpenPROM. The earlier Pre-G3 PCI Macs have some semifunctional to broken implementations of Open Firmware(OF). Many of those Macs have issues with OF like not having video drivers or having buggy video drivers for the built-in video hardware. The worst OF implementation is on the 6400 and 6500 models though. Those models refuse to deal with PCI bridge chips and won't boot off of the internal SCSI bus. This is probably a good reason for Apple not supporting them in Mac OS X.
    That aside though, the ROMs in PCI cards for Macs are in Forth for Open Firmware. What I would like to know as a weird thing is, would a PCI card for a Mac would work in a SPARC or vice versa? Granted, drivers for the card would be another problem.
  • When you buy decent Suns (U2s, U60s, or better) you get exteremely good quality systems.

    We have 500+ in my department alone, and the failure rates are miniscule compared to PCs. They also don't become obsolete as fast.

    One advantage if you're using Linux too is that the hardware is much more static. i.e. you can make an image for Ultra 60 machines that's going to work with every U60 you buy. If you buy a PC from a vendor, you'll often get different parts inside, even though they consider it the same model machine.
  • It has to be said that although support for other architectures is in existence, Linux is primarily an x86 OS. However I think if you asked Sun nicely it might be possible to get financial/hardware/web support for the Linux port and producing binary apps to run on Linux for Sparc. Why?, I hear you ask, surely Sun will be pushing Solaris and don't want this upstart anywhere near their nice boxes if they can possibly help it. IMO, there's a lot of reasons why Sun and other companies (HP??) should do this, and that is that by funding development of a Linux port for their particular processor, mere compilation opens their machines to a huge list of software, and people will buy boxes based on performance and stability, instead of buying a box 'cos it runs Windows. Linux seems to be the only game in town for kicking MS and Intel off the top of the PC market.
  • Of course people are ticked off about the SYSV switch, since SYSV sucks. That's why Redhat sucks, too.

    Now seriously, the existance of different distributions of Linux with different schemes shows that what Linux is, is not dependent on whether the system is SYSV or BSD. The reality is that parts of the operating system really should be selectable and pluggable, and to a great extent Linux is (though if you choose a single distribution, it may not be). I've taken Slackware and completely rebuilt the init/rc setup from scratch (and isn't either BSD or SYSV anymore). Try that with Solaris. Of course maybe you won't want to. But some people do. That's not the only thing that people want to be able to change and tweak about their systems. Linux just makes that easier, and the BSDs aren't far behind.

    Now for a big multi-processor giant-RAM box running a monster database using something like Oracle, I'd be running Solaris without a doubt. I'm not into the "we only run one OS" mentality. I just put each one in its proper place. There is no one single best OS.

    My old 32-bit Sparc 5's run great on Slackware and OpenBSD. I haven't tried NetBSD so that can't be judged. I also run Solaris 7, but it's quite sluggish. It might be a bit faster if I can get rid of all the window stuff (which is eating up RAM like crazy).

  • by SpaFF ( 18764 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @10:13AM (#237168) Homepage
    Well I personally would want to do this because I have a better understanding of how to maintain a Linux installation as opposed to Solaris. Also, performance wise, Linux smoked Solaris 8 on my Ultra 5. Now this may be because I have no idea how to tweak Solaris, so if you can point me to some material on how to make Solaris' file I/O not suck a big fat one I'd appreciate it.

  • I'd bet, is simply that there are zillions of people out there with x86 hardware, and very few with sparc hardware. Sure, some die hards like myself will purchase old sparc gear just for the fun of it....

    But, without getting into a big architecture war ehre... there is no reason for joe average to spend a dime on Sun hardware; and in cases where there IS a reason, it's usually because the supported applications work on Solaris/SPARC.

    It's not that there is no SPARC support for linux, it's just that there is 1000 fold more support for x86.
  • In order to remain (become?) profitable, RedHat must focus on the most popular, and money-generating platform: the x86. Granted, it's not the best chip out there, but everyone has one.

    I just can't afford, and cannot justify using Sun hardware when x86 machines will do the trick!

  • As far as I'm concerned, that's exactly what Sparc's are used for... Solaris.


  • Is SPARC an acronym for something or is it just a catchy name?

    Anyone know?

  • hehe I agree... I have no idea where he was going with that one, considering both cars can run on the same gas...
  • I doubt that management would want an IS running on machines I bought off Ebay...

  • by Fluffy the Cat ( 29157 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @01:42PM (#237180) Homepage
    I can run Debian on my Macintosh SE/30 machines?

    Yup. Debian is the only dist which still keeps M68k up to date.
  • The rumors of it's death have been greatly exaggerated. I work on SPARC/Linux stuff in my spare time... just one of a very few people that do. Some things are lagging (32-bit sparc support in the 2.4 kernel, for example), but plenty of new development is in the works.

    As an example, over the last weeks or so, support for the new $1k Sun Blade 100 machine has come to fruition. Already, it performs better than any Ultra5 or Ultra10 running Linux (yay commodity hardware) and is cheaper as well. (This is not an endorsement for running out and buying one for SPARC/Linux... yet... it still needs a lot of work, but it on it's way).

    Though admittedly much of the work being done to get Linux working on the SB100 (and the similar AX1105 and Netra X1 products) with hardware loaned by Sun, one thing that's a tad annoying is the lack of support from Sun... when compared to other vendors with a unique hardware platform. Compaq, IBM, SGI, HP, Intel, etc... they're all more into it than Sun is... I think that maybe only Apple is less enthusiastic about Linux running on their hardware (but then you have IBM to pick up the PPC slack).

    Work on a 64-bit compiler to have a 64-bit userspace, glibc support, etc. is going well from what I know. Some people are playing with it and working on it. Hopefully this can become a reality once gcc 3.0 hits the net.

    Also, you seem to completely count out SuSE... their 7.1 release is quite good, and has everything you'll need or want. I personally run Debian, which I'm quite happy with. If you have a thing for Slackware, it's maintainer (Dave Cantrell) is still actively working on it despite the recent layoff there.

    Finally, there are several excellent resources for SPARC/Linux stuff out there... there's the UltraLinux [] page and all the mailing lists listed there. On OPN (Open Projects Network... if you're into IRC), you can find a #SPARC channel, where I'm sometimes around to answer questions. I hope this helps quell your concern... we definitely can use more people banging on things, 32-bit and 64-bit alike, but it's definitely not dead.

  • OpenBSD has always had very strong support [] for Sparc. AFAIK, Theo still works on OpenBSD using his Sparcs.

    I do wish there was more Linux support for Sparc, but it's not the end of the world. Most people who have Sparcs already have an OS that makes them happy. It's not like Sparc-Linux is going away just because RHAT decided Sparc isn't in the best interest of their shareholders.

    Nor is the Sparc platform going away. Sun4 architecture is elegant and well documented. Compared to developing Linux for Mac/PPC, developing for Sparc is a breeze. With Apple you have to reverse engineer it onto a closed architecture. With Sparc, the vast majority of the stuff is documented and based on open standards.

    In a few years, 64 bit UltraSPARCs are going to start appearing on the surplus market in large numbers. Like the pizza boxes that us Sparc nuts use today, there are going to be a bunch of cheap Ultras available for geeks to tinker with. Continuing to develop all Sparc-capable OS'es is important. []

  • Let me rephrase my post so that it doesn't attract the attention of crack-smoking moderators who'll mark anything offtopic if mentions anything besides Linux in the first sentence. If you had actually read beyond the first sentence, you would have seen that the rest of the post was all about Linux.

    I wish there was more Linux support for Sparc. A few distros losing interest in SPARC is not the end of the world. Most people who have Sparcs already have an OS that makes them happy (and that OS is not always Linux :-O!!!, so if that makes you upset as a Linux zealot, get off your ass and start working on SPARC-Linux! It's that simple ;-) Sparcs kick ass, they're really sweet, elegant machines. Get one off eBay and have fun with it.

    Linux for SPARC is not going to die just because RHAT thinks Sparc isn't profitable. Debian, Slackware and others have good SPARC distros and they've attracted a base of smart, motivated Linux developers to keep things going

    Sun4 (the 32 bit Sparc platform) is as strong as ever. The architecture is elegant and well documented. Compared to developing for Mac/PPC, developing for Sparc is a breeze. With Apple you have to reverse engineer it onto a closed architecture. With Sparc, the vast majority of the stuff is documented and based on open standards.

    In a few years, 64 bit UltraSPARCs are going to start appearing on the surplus market in large numbers. Lots of folks picked up SparcStation 2's, 5's, 10's, and 20's for cheap from surplus sales or from eBay. Like those pizza boxes that us Sparc nuts use today, the Ultras will soon be very accessibly to hobbyists and do-it-yourselfers. We're going to need better support for all our OS'es on UltraSPARC.

    NOTE: the phrase "OpenBSD" was excluded from this version of my post it order to keep it on-topic. Grahhh... moderators."

  • I have to say though that sun hardware is MUCH MUCH MUCH more reliable than PC hardware. I've personally owned lots of sun machines over the last 10+ years: IPC, SLC, LX, SS10, SS20, U10 and they have very reliable hardware. The machines have been left on for 24x7 and stuff just doesn't fail. I have pc hardware that costs less, but I've lost power supplies and hard disks. Brushless fans last about a month and I thought I caught on, but even ball-bearing fans on pc's don't always last.

    I'd be interessted in hearing how people get their PC hardware to last...
  • Well, I upgraded them for faster machines. (faster is always a relative term) I still have the IPC, kind of as a keepsake. It ran from around 1990 or so until about 1999. By then it was REALLY slow and was maxed out on memory. It also has 207m of hard disk space. ha ha. The LX replaced it, and is still in service (runs as an ISDN answering machine, mail server, webserver, gateway, etc). The SLC I gave away (it was an alarm clock for several years - runs silent with speaker for sound and oclock on the display). No space. The SS10 became my desktop machine after the LX, then I sold it to pay for the SS20. I recently retired the SS20 (5 years?), just to try out a dual-intel machine. (after I figured out how to get a sun usb keyboard working with it - I like the sun open, close, cut, copy and paste buttons).

    I have the ultra-10 here at work (paid for it out of my own pocket).

    I use sun monitors with all my systems. They sync for PC's and you can buy 21" ones used for between
    $250 ~ $500.

    Now that I think about it, I had 3rd-party memory in my ss20 once and had to return it. I also had a scsi drive screw up in 92, when I accidentally cut power to the system and fsck errors diverged but I reformatted it and it was fine.

    My experiences with PC hardware has been bad hard disks. I had an ASUS P2B-LS motherboard
    fail (onboard ethernet died), Abit bh6 (ide #2 died), 2 diamond video cards (older), countless fans - case fans, power supply fans, cpu fans. Keyboards, cdrom(s), mice.

    Also, when the suns lose power, they usually come back up afterwards. The pc stuff sometimes reboots, sometimes it doesn't. weird.

    I wonder if comparing to some of those compaq proliant machines might be more apples vs. apples. I wonder how they do. Inside they look pretty robust.
  • ipx = sun4m
    lx = sun4m
  • whoops, sorry I'm full of crap. ipx is sun4c. lx is sun4m. doh!
  • by furiousgeorge ( 30912 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @10:18AM (#237189)
    Scalable Processor ARCitecture
  • Sun makes and sells Solaris, but they do not actively support Linux. Period.

    Oh, really? I guess you're just ignoring Cobalt, which has the leading market share in dedicated small linux servers. A quick visit to see rack after rack of blue slices at any convenient internet data center should convince you, if you must see to believe...

    As an aside, I like Linux (a lot), but honestly, there is still not a lot of overlap in what Linux and Solaris are good for, although that's changing some over time. If you want a big SMP box, Solaris or True64 are far and away the best choices on the planet (although I'm a dyed in the wool Sun guy, I think Compaq has the best Unix anywhere right now). Linux has a LONG way to go before it's really able to do SMP with these big boys. (On the other hand, if Linux fits the problem, a single CMOS mainframe makes a lot more sense than all those silly Cobalt boxes, as more and more people are figuring out...)
  • Go buy Adrian Cockroft's book on Sun Performance Tuning. It's a wealth of information about how to make Solaris dance to a number of different tunes...
  • Well, due to the lag before the UltraSPARC III, there hasnt been any real reason for anything but real hobbyist work on Sun machines. The single or dual cpu workstation are too expensive price/performance wise to merit serious porting work for clusters, and for the highend, the scalability of Linux compared to Solaris make it worth little to make a port. Not to mention the dearth of idle 8+ cpu Suns of any current generation.

    Maybe the UIII can make it interesting again.
  • by segmond ( 34052 )
    There is SuSE Linux for Solaris, and we all know that SuSE is a great company. ;) So, there is support for those who need it. Personally, I can't ever run Linux on my Sparc, I choose to run Solaris, and if it is a very slow machine like my IPX, I run something funky like NetBSD and OpenBSD.

  • by spankenstein ( 35130 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @10:45AM (#237195) Homepage

    Have you actually ever used Linux?!?

    I have installed, used and deployed Linux on Intel, SPARC, and alpha with massive amounts of success.

    Linux runs very well on the Alpha and SPARC (and by SPARC the includes the UltraSPARC). Ask NOAA. They do weather pattern studies with a huge cluster of Alphas running Linux.

    I'm sorry to go off on this rant but damn people. Does anyone here read anything other than slashdot? There are well documented benchmarks comparing Linux to Solaris on the SPARC architecture. There are many HUGE installs of Linux powered Alpha clusters. These are generally very well pubicised through the tech industry and the Linux "community".

  • Slackware-current has support for sparc, and if you wait (another month hopefully) for the next release, it will be official. yeah slack!
  • by Vincepb ( 39681 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @10:11AM (#237203) Homepage
    I'm pretty sure the Debian Sparc devel tree is pretty active.
    Maybe you should give that a try.

  • Don't say "This isn't a troll..." and then proceed to troll. The practiced trolls will see you as an amateur and lots of another people will be in the least convinced by a short post of generalitiies.

  • SPARC's OpenPROM is really, really cool.

    What an understatement. OpenPROM 3.x absolutely rocks. PC BIOS makers could learn a thing or two from OpenPROM. (Yes, it's command-line instead of a GUI. Deal with it.) Device aliases have saved my bacon countless times.

    Embedding a FORTH interpreter in the PROM for the boot monitor ("BIOS" for those of you who have never journeyed beyond PC-land) might seem like overkill, but I've heard a couple of sysadmins who apparently had their bacon saved by the ability to run arbitrary FORTH scripts before an operating system is loaded (remapping devices and whatnot).

  • I've done the same with Windows, but the only time I crashed Linux because of high loads was with a faulty kernel (2.4.2 with reiserfs, I think).

    It's also well-known that x86 hardware is crappy at context-switching (i.e. it's really expensive), and isn't the Ultra 5 a 64-bit RISC chip? *Of course* it's going to be better.

    BTW, you should try to phrase your posts a little better. Your post came off as something like a troll at first glance.
    I'm an assembly guru ... What's a stack?

  • He's a C++ monkey. It's a stream operator that's overloaded with a counter-intuitive function that always returns true.
    I'm an assembly guru ... What's a stack?
  • by mcneight ( 61095 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @01:05PM (#237213) Homepage
    Most of these posts deal with either
    a) Why Linux sux and {*BSD,Solaris,Win2K} rox
    b) Why Linux rox and {*BSD,Solaris,Win2K} sux
    c) Which distro is best for SPARC

    and they all miss the point.

    Red Hat was the first to notice it, and perhaps other distro's will eventually, but the fact is that Sun doesn't *like* Linux. They don't appreciate Linux treading on their SPARC/Solaris turf, and they really don't like Linux being chosen over their own software for high-end installations. So, rather than play fair they play dirty. They give away their "tuned, high-performance" software to users with fewer than 8 processors in order to maintain/increase market share. Then, when your computing needs require more than 8 processors, you get to pay up (*cough*M$*cough*). This is happening to *BSD as well. Notice that NetBSD/sparc64 [] isn't as complete as it could be, and OpenBSD/sparc [] doesn't even support the UltraSPARC yet.

    Compaq makes and sells Tru64 Unix, but they actively support Linux for Alpha.
    IBM makes and sells AIX, but they actively support Linux for S/390 (and, I believe, their RS/6000 series now).
    SGI makes and sells IRIX, but they actively support Linux for MIPS.
    HP makes and sells HP/UX, but they actively support Linux for PA-RISC and Itanium (well, at least they are starting to).
    Dell sells Windows, but they actively support Linux for x86.
    Sun makes and sells Solaris, but they do not actively support Linux. Period.

    Go to [] and you will see what I'm talking about. On the first page is an article on how to transition from Linux to Solaris. Dig deeper, and you'll find their page on UltraLinux [], and at the bottom it says:

    Note: Sun Microsystems does not provide support for the Linux operating system, either directly through Sun's Enteprise Services division, or by any indirect means. Linux users who wish to receive commercial support for their Linux systems should contact the vendor of the operating system distribution, or investigate third-party organizations that may help them.

    People are complaining about a lack of feature support or completeness in Linux for SPARC, and the truth is that there aren't enough UltraLinux zealots out there to overcome the corporate inertia or the free Solaris bait.

    I'm sure Dave Miller can tell you all about the progress made with the Linux/MIPS port while he was working for SGI, and then how far it went after SGI lost interest (and I'm talking about the SGI of 1996-97, not the SGI of today).

    And if you are looking for a guide on how to go about making Linux work inspite of a companies best efforts, take a look at the Macintosh versions of the Linux/PPC or Linux/68k ports. Apple never has released detailed hardware developer information for the old 68k hardware, but Linux and *BSD run on them anyway, because of the dedicated volunteers who chose to make it work.

    UltraLinux isn't dead, but without Sun (or Fujitsu or some other large SPARC-based entity) showing some interest, then it's all up to a handful of volunteers, and they'll get to it when they get to it (unless you [] get there first).
  • Is it just me, or does /. have a larger percentage of people who don't understand the concept of sarcasm? BeOS users complained that Steve Jobs (head of Apple) wouldn't give Be (makers of BeOS) the technical specifications (design documents) needed to get BeOS working (the state in which an OS does bootup and not crash) on G3 macs (little blue and white machines that have crappy media subsystems.) He was relateing that to Sun and Linux. Get it? Alright let me try aga... never mind...
  • by DragonWyatt ( 62035 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @11:21AM (#237217) Homepage
    Put Linux on an E450 and compare it with Solaris on an E450 and you would get a much better comparison.

    I admin an E250 running Linux, and in my experience, it blows Solaris (2.6 anyway) away on the same hardware.
  • Lotsa people have been saying it - Slack on SPARC. Few have been saying why it might be a good way to go, though.

    Slack, IMO, is much more like Solaris or SunOS than RedHat or Debian. Being Linux though, it would probably maintain any performance advantages typically found over Solaris.

    It's also very, very clean and maintains very simple configuration methods. The Slack scripts are simply the most elegant I've seen (and I've used 5 or 6 distros) and are really easy to work with. No more hunting through the seemingly endless collection of dialog boxes in LinuxConf for what you want to change.

    Finally, since there's also an Alpha and an x86 version, you can have boxes with different architectures that are configured and used in almost exactly the same way, which is a plus that any distro that maintains versions across several platforms has.
  • My guess is that since the SPARC HW is so expensive (someone mentioned a 450.. have you PRICED a 450 recently?) that most guys that WOULD develop for it can't. And it's not like Sun is helpin' w/ the port....
  • by supabeast! ( 84658 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @10:46AM (#237231)
    An Ultra 5 is pretty much just a PC with an UltraSparc CPU. Linux was designed with this kind of hardware in mind, Solaris is meant for bigger servers running SCSI disks and such. Put Linux on an E450 and compare it with Solaris on an E450 and you would get a much better comparison.
  • Having had various bits of Sun kit pass by me in recent times, I've taken the opportunity to install Linux on each one and try it out as an alternative to Solaris.

    Wind back to August 1998 - I tried originally installed Red Hat on an old Axil (that's a Sun clone, in this case of a SparcStation 20). It was an absolute nightmare as there weren't any easily-obtainable bootable CDs, and we ended up netbooting it. The thing panicked repeatedly, and as for compiling kernels we might as well have compiled using pencil and paper for all the good it did.

    Now come to the present day. I use the Slackware SPARC port, which in my view is absolutely excellent.

    Here's the rundown on what was good (and bad) from each distribution I tried:

    • Red Hat: Admittedly not tried it recently, but seemed to suffer from quite a few problems including kernels not compiling. Last tried 2.2.0, I think it was RH6. Install was reasonably trouble-free once we got it netbooting, and installation using the console port was fine.
    • SuSE: Ruediger [] will kill me for this, but I had no ends of problems with it. The console port is not supported very well for installs, so you have to connect a monitor up to it - which for most people won't be accessible. That said, it seemed to work fine once installed and screwed down. Installed via CD, taken from SuSE's website.
    • Debian: Mostly my unfamiliarity with Debian let me down here, but I've got a nameserver box running it quite happily now. It's a SS20 with 32M RAM and it ticks along fine, coping quite adequately with huge zonefiles. Installed via CD taken from a local Debian mirror.
    • Slackware: A newcomer, but I'm a Slackware whore anyway so I was pretty good with it. Disadvantage is that the ISO just installs the bare essentials, so you have to download the rest of slackware-current and install it later. Big problem in that it didn't detect the basic network card on a SS5, SS10 or SS20 for an NFS install, but seemed to work OK on an Ultra5.
    I haven't tried any others, but I'm eagerly awaiting the final Slackware distribution.

    Linux on a Sparc copes wonderfully with lots of database transactions and loads of I/O, certainly better than an Intel box will. In my day job [] we've had really good success running MySQL on a Sparc, but we're now porting to Oracle on Solaris (but only really cos they haven't released it for Sparc Linux!).

  • I got a Sparcstation IPX a few years back, and it included Slowaris 2.5.1. Unfortunately, /usr was on the external drive and I didn't have the necessary SCSI cable to hook that up and, in my impatience, I decided to just throw OpenBSD on it.

    Having run OpenBSD 2.4 and RedHat Linux (using the 2.2.x kernel if I remember right), I would definitely say that OpenBSD is much quicker than Linux on the Sparc platform. (Tiny factors get multiplied on that speed of a box. ;) OpenBSD is also fairly simple to administer and maintain, but Linux is definitely the more 'compatible' operating system if you're looking to run lots of software on your box. I just ran fvwm, GTKYahoo, TinyFugue, and ircII on it for the most part, but even Netscape with Solaris compatibility was acceptable. Even KDE (back in the pre-1.0 days ;) ran at a usable pace.

    If you have a fast enough box, though, and don't need the level of security and stability that OpenBSD provides (Linux may or may not be as stable as OpenBSD on sparc, but I have not used it enough to know for certain; and it's definitely easier to make OpenBSD secure than to make a typical Linux distribution that way), then Linux is the way to go. As to Slowaris, why bother when it's easier to make the fun applications (from GNOME or KDE to pingus to Mozilla to whatever) run under Linux and they run faster anyhow? Use Solaris if it's the right choice for your application, but don't use it if it's not.
  • Why was this modded as a troll ?

    It's a simple _question_.

    People that think linux is the magic bullet to solve every computing problem don't deserve moderator points. Or to be taken seriously.
  • Heh.

    Your history of SPARC processors and sun machines is basically entirely off :)

    the sun4c was _not_ the first SPARC architecture. The plain old sun4 was. As seen in the sun4/110 VME workstation, (first desktop sparc box).

    The Sun4c was infact sparc V8, iirc.

    Sun4m != SuperSPARC. The sun4m is a _family_ of processors, of which, SuperSPARC happened to be one member. There was also superSPARC II, microSPARC II, HyperSPARC (ROSS/Cypress) and probably others I am forgetting. the superSPARC specifically added larger e-cache and multiple execution units.

    The ultras have been shipping since '95, iirc.

    For those interested, the maunal for Suns C compiler gives the sparc arch version and so on for each of these processors, and you can target code at any of them specifically (in addition to specifying their cache configuration - hows that for an optimizer ?)

  • by bmajik ( 96670 ) <> on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @10:42AM (#237246) Homepage Journal
    SPARC is hardly dead. It was just _very_ recently that Sun dropped support for sun4c architecture machines from Solaris (sun4c's are things like Sparcstation 1, 1+, 2, SLC, ELC, IPC, IPX..)

    The Ultra is not so different. Its V9 of the architecture. Saying that SPARCs are dead because UltraSPARC is the future is like saying the PIII is dead because the PIV is out.

    The UltraSPARC has been shipping for a _long_ time. Even so, many many places run production systems on sun4m (ss5, ss10, ss20, etc). Additionally, there are a boatload of clone manufacturers with Sun4m offerings.

    I also disagree with the equivalency statement you make regarding OSes.

    Solaris is unusable on an old sun4c. So is linux. I suspect OpenBSD is better, but cannot be sure. Incidentally, one way to really help these machines is to put fast modern disks in them (fast as in high xfer rate and very low latency)... perhaps the fs speedups checked into obsd 2.9 will breathe some more life into the older sun4c's..

    On the other end of the spectrum, Solaris is by far the most feature rich of the oses you list. Linux is [cheerleader speak: on] _so_ not even in the same ballpark. Wheres the multi-pathing ? Wheres the kernel re-entrancy. Wheres the support for more exotic sun hardware ?

    Hell, wheres NFS ?

    IMO linux has no niche on the sparc - solaris beats it on the high end, and its too big and slow compared to {open,net}bsd on the lowend.
  • by Kinthelt ( 96845 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @10:18AM (#237247) Homepage
    How many OSes does the SPARC need?

    At one glance, I can count Solaris (aka SunOS), OpenBSD, NetBSD, and Linux. All of them are generally equivalent. And the SPARC is a dead architecture. Sun is no longer creating SPARCs, they're only making UltraSPARCs (64 as opposed to 32 bits).

    I personally use OpenBSD on my SparcStation 2.

  • Well, yes, our SPARC boxes sit on a fast LAN so download speed is not an issue (although a 600 MB iso image is likely to be limited by the BW of the source still)

    Convenience is the real issue.

    All through the early 1990's I would ftp to and check to see if there was a new release of gcc or emacs or some other piece of free software that I would build and install.

    Now, there are simply too many packages for me to do that. I can't help but compare the rich suite of free software on my Linux box at home to the Solaris server at work and see how much easier it was to install SuSE 7.1 on a 20 GB ATA-100 and have loads more functionality than I do on our Sun LAN. Things like teTeX, ghostscript, gimp, KDE and GNOME, etc. take time to build from scratch.

    On a LAN, homogeneity helps.

    That being the case, we don't have much incentive to try to keep a zoo of Solaris/SPARC and Linux/SPARC at the same time. It is sufficiently annoying for us to straddle Solaris 2.6 and 8 in the midst of a sea of corporate Wintel desktops.

    Also, when looking for binary desktop software, such as Netscape or Acrobat reader, you'll see Linux/x86 a lot more than */SPARC.

    The convenience of a plethora of prebuilt open software is compelling. The economics of the Linux/x86 (for which all binary apps are targeted) are another reason that we will probably be moving to Linux/x86 from Solaris/SPARC on our desktops sometime in the next year.

    We'll still retain our big Sun servers, but the desktop Solaris solution is not as exciting as it was many years ago. It's the passing of another era.

  • Thanks for the valuable tip!

    (Since I'm not root, I'll see if I can get my local overworked sysadmins to consider enriching my life this way and unburdening me of all this build/install by hand...

    P.S. The web page gets extra credit in my book for its author's first name.

  • It pains me to admit it, but the market for Linux on non-x86 platforms just isn't as big. (I run Linux on Alpha, PPC, ARM, and x86 at home, Alpha nd x86 at work. Oh, and I work in the Alpha microprocessor group [].)

    One of the classic strengths of open source and free software is code quality improvement through peer review. The trouble is, most of the people testing and debugging are on x86. So you get better coverage, more bugs found, and more bugs fixed on x86 than on any other platform. Second tier platforms don't do as well because they have a smaller user base, and thus a smaller developer base.

    In other words, support for x86 is less suceptible to bit rot [], because the features get exercised more often.

    Just one example is the kernel source. Virgin 2.4.3 fails to build on Alpha. (How exactly did Linus et. al. miss that?) While it built and ran on my PPC machine, it ignored keyboard and mouse input. (Aparently nobody noticed the ADB support for older machines was broken.)

    Compaq literally shovels money, hardware, and other resources at RedHat to keep Alpha in its line of supported platforms. It's worth more to us to have it than it is to them.

    IMHO, open source project leaders shoulds actively try to get their code tested on as many different platforms as possible. It shakes out additional bugs and improves the code. (And I don't just mean CPU architectures. If it works on x86/Linux, check it on ARM/NetBSD, Sparc/Solaris, PPC/MacOSX, and every other paltform you can get your hands on.) Unfortunately, that takes time, effort, hardware, and other resources that are usually in short supply.

  • I have to say though that sun hardware is MUCH MUCH MUCH more reliable than PC hardware.
    Sorry, no.

    Bought an Ultra 5 last October. Had it running since then. Now machine was supposed to change places. Shut it down, moved from left desk to right. Tried to bring it up again. ZAP! - Machine dead. No boot device.

    It turns out, harddrive is as dead as dead fish. The I opened machine; it's the same shitty Seagate Barracuda IDE drive in there that Seagate sells to people building shitty Seagate Barracude drives into their PCs.

    So much for glorious Sun Hardware.

  • No really. I'm not trying to flame. But you're an idiot. 5 hours to install linux on a sparc? It took me 3 hours to install linux on an iBook before the iBook was actually supported. (lots of hand tweaking). And I didn't know ANYTHING about macs back then.

    original Sparc is the probally the 2nd best supported architecture for Linux, and Ultra(32bit mode) is a close 3rd. My personal SS10 and SS20s run SuSE(bleck) and Debian(It was easy). The only difficulty I ever had with installing linux was support for install via console port. (since I gave away my sun keyboards to my friends).

    I'm not some sort of genius either. I'm just some dumb schmuck that bought a couple sparcs of eBay thinking it might be a cool challenge to run Linux on a non-intel. Well that "challenge" disappeared rather quickly.

  • by ozbird ( 127571 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @01:18PM (#237272)
    I've been running Linux on a variety of Sparc boxes (mostly SPARCStation 20's, but also on an E250.) I'm using RedHat 6.2 since I also use RH on PCs, and the fact that you could run the same operating system on different platforms is a big selling point to management. ("No, I'm not playing - I'm investigating seamless interoperability between our existing hardware platforms, boss." ;-) RedHat dropping support for Sparc knocked the wind out of that idea. (Yes, I could switch to a different distribution, but once you've learnt the ins and outs of one, changing to another is about as much fun as changing versions of Windows.)

    The biggest stumbling block to using non-Intel platforms with Linux is application support. Look for Sparc (or Alpha) versions of Acrobat Reader, Applix etc. and you won't find them - sure there are "Linux" versions, but only if you're running on Intel platforms. Netscape was available for Sparc Linux (built by RedHat?) but it stuck at around 4.51 compared to the "current" 4.77. Given the prospect of explaining to my users why these applications aren't available, and Solaris seemed a lot easier despite the ridiculous licensing fees. (The DiskSuite RAID tools are very nice, though.)

    IBM seems to be doing the right thing by providing a machine for Linux developers to try their applications on the S/390 - presumably this is also open to the likes of Adobe to build Acrobat Reader for this platform. I'm not holding my breath for Sun to follow suit... yet.
  • by stilwebm ( 129567 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @11:31AM (#237274)
    Actually, Linux is dreadfully slow on the Sun4c architecture. The hardware MMU does not work with Linux, so it is all done in software. While it does reduce overhead to run Linux, I found it was still quite slow on my SS2. For Sun4c machines run OpenBSD/NetBSD. You will notice a difference. The hardware MMU on Sun4m and later SPARC CPU's is well supported by Linux.
  • by davem ( 132579 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @01:49PM (#237276)
    As the creator of the Sparc port I guess I ought to say something. To be honest, I work exclusively these days on the 64-bit port. UltraSparc is enough to take all of my spare time when I'm not working on the networking. And yu will note that at least in Linus's tree, UltraSparc tends to be the most uptodate non-x86 port, I send updates on an almost daily basis to Linus. I tried to keep 32-bit Sparc chugging along but I stopped wanting to give the impression that I could keep up, I simply couldn't do it all. I could have kept trying and doing a half-assed job on both the 64-bit and 32-bit ports. I'd rather concentrate my energy on one port and do a good job.
  • by rgmoore ( 133276 ) <> on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @11:17AM (#237278) Homepage

    I think you're making his case for him. Sun is writing Solaris more for their high end stuff than their low end stuff, so somebody who happens to own a low-end Sun box may well be happier with Linux than with Solaris. Telling him to compare Solaris with Linux on an E450 isn't very useful if his box is an Ultra 5. He needs to compare them on the platform that he's going to be running them on. The fact that the Ultra5 is more comprable to a PC may be evidence that he should look at a PC instead of a Sun the next time he goes shopping for a new box, but as long as he's talking about current hardware he needs to consider what OS will get him the most out of it, which it sounds like even you admit is Linux.

  • SuSE [] just released their latest version (7.1) for SPARC. [] It includes the 2.4 kernel and KDE2.

  • by locutus074 ( 137331 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @10:20AM (#237288)
    They have an alive-and-kicking Sparc distribution. In fact, I just installed it a week or two ago on a Sparc 10 I recently acquired.

    If you want bleeding-edge stuff, change "stable" to "unstable" everywhere it occurs in your /etc/apt/sources.list and upgrade at will. :)


  • by marm ( 144733 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @10:46AM (#237296)
    Red Hat may have dropped their SPARC support but there's still plenty to choose from:

    Debian [] has active ports for both SPARC/UltraSPARC with a 32-bit userland and an UltraSPARC port with a 64-bit userland. The 32-bit SPARC port is much more up-to-date and complete, and basically is at parity with Debian-x86. It has a stable, testing and unstable branch just like Debian-x86 and thanks to the clever Debian package management and development tools is kept up-to-date with the main x86 tree automatically. Due to Debian's widely-ported and volunteer nature the SPARC port is likely to be supported for quite some time.

    SuSE [] is also widely ported, and again, has a SPARC port which is essentially at parity with the main x86 version - 7.1.

    Slackware [] also has a SPARC port, but if you are used to Red Hat or Solaris it may be too much of a culture shock with things like its BSD-style initscripts and primitive package management.

    All of these are modern, up-to-date distros, which (Debian especially) I prefer to Red Hat.

    Try them out. You might like them.
  • by Golias ( 176380 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @10:22AM (#237316)
    So I thought I'd throw this out to the Slashdot community for discussion. Is there any hope of saving Linux on the Sparc?

    Answer: Yes... If there are enough people who want it badly enough to contribute to the code.

    Linux is not a product that you ask for and hope somebody will do it for you. It is a project that exists because programmers who care about it are working on it for their own use... anybody else who benifits from that work is just a pleasent bonus.

    Those who do nothing other than utilize the "free" OS software, and can't even be bothered to submit the occational bug report... They can wait around for whatever the GNU/Linux damn well feels like writing.

    In spite of the provacative tone I have chosen for this message, look into your heart and I think you will agree that I might have a point here.

  • by Hairy_Potter ( 219096 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @10:10AM (#237350) Homepage
    Even though I run an old version of Solaris, 2.6, it's still .2 better than the latest Linux, 2.4.

    So I suggest Linus take a move from the marketing people and call the next major kernel release 3.0.
  • by jtotheh ( 229796 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @10:09AM (#237356)
    Why do you want to do this, why would someone prefer Linux to Solaris on SPARC? I'm genuinely curious
  • by Dancin_Santa ( 265275 ) <> on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @10:10AM (#237388) Journal
    There is hope for the future of Linux on Sparc! It's you. Oh, you're not up to the task?

    Then all is lost.

    No, there is another... *gazing towards the ceiling tiles*

    Dancin Santa
  • Win2k has got you all beat by about 1997.4. Though it only beats OSX by MCMXC.

    Dancin Santa
  • by catpyss ( 321548 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @11:17AM (#237401) Homepage
    I just installed Debian on a SparcStation10 this past Sunday. I run Debian as my home operating system, and noticed no difference between the x86 and SPARC versions. Everything worked the same

    I do, however, take issue with the person who asked the question. Merely because Redhat dropped "stable" support (they still offer non-official support) for SPARC doesn't mean it is dead. If I am not mistake SuSE has now added SPARC to their list of supported archs.

    The final thing to keep in mind is that SPARC hardware has a much lower userbase than x86. There are much fewer vendors and suppliers. Also, SPARC hardware is very pricey and is usually aimed at corporate dollars.

    Still, hopping on Ebay to get an old SS10/20 is a good idea. SPARC's OpenPROM is really, really cool. I installed Debain on mine with no floppy, no CDROM, no keyboard, and no monitor. Try that with x86.
  • by dhamsaic ( 410174 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2001 @10:20AM (#237405)
    SPARC is CRAPS backwards. :)

The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the `social sciences' is: some do, some don't. -- Ernest Rutherford