I don't know where I'll be on New Year's day in the year 2000 and I don't know where I'll be when Intel finally ships its first 64-bit processor, code-named Merced, later that year.
But what I do know is that I won't have to wait that long to start running a 64-bit operating system, especially since Sun Microsystem's Solaris 7 just joined the ranks with Digital Unix as one of the few 64-bit operating systems available today.
The release of Solaris 7 is even more exciting than Digital Unix though, because the current Solaris installed base and growth potential has further reach.
Overall the enhancements for Solaris 7 make a great upgrade for current Solaris customers. In addition, the new 64-bit architecture gives the product a year or more advanced jump on competing lines from Intel-based OS products. However, we will have to wait and see just what applications come forward to support the new 64-bit architecture.
I found Solaris 7 to be pretty stable throughout my testing, as I didn't experience any crashes or other strange behaviour.
As one can expect, the product's 64-bit memory addressing capability heads the product's feature list.
In addition, the 64-bit environment is currently only available on Sun Sparc platforms.
Solaris 7 is fully backward compatible with 32-bit software, so you shouldn't have any problems running your old 32-bit code in the 64-bit environment.
In fact, none of the tools and add-ons that Sun ships with the product haven't yet been ported as 64-bit applications. I did not experience any difficulties with the third-party applications that I installed either.
In addition, if you want to run the Solaris 7 as a 32-bit environment you can. During the installation, I was able to select whether I wanted to install the 64-bit environment.
Another key features of Solaris 7 is support for Dynamic Reconfiguration, which allows system administrators to disable, remove, and replace hardware peripherals on the fly, without having to bring down the system.
Dynamic Reconfiguration is only supported on higher-end Sun Sparc stations.
Thus I was unable to test this feature on the lower-end Sparc and Ultra systems that I used to test the product. Solaris 7 does not provide support for Hot-Plug-PCI, the Intel-based equivalent to Dynamic Reconfiguration.
Solaris 7 currently ships with Netscape's Communicator 4.0.5 in addition to Sun's HotJava Web browser. However, I was required to perform a separate install to add Communicator to my systems.
As far as ease of installation and use, Solaris 7 remains one of my favourites among the Unix-based operating systems. Sun has taken some pains to further ease the process of installing and configuring the system, but it is still Unix after all. Various additions throughout the years, such as the graphical "admintool" and Solstice Disk Administrator, make the system easier to manage, especially for those without a PhD in Unix.
With Solaris 7, Sun has made a few steps even easier. One example that I particularly liked was the installation process of add-ons, such as the Solaris Documentation and the Solaris Easy Access Server 2.0. For these, Sun hired InstallShield to create new Wizard-driven installation programs. Overall, improvements like this will go a long way to win over converts from other platforms, but there are still quite a few areas that Sun could make easier to manage.
The base Solaris 7 OS, which ships pre-installed on Sun Ultra workstations, provides the core improvements to the product. To get additional features, such as Sun's Web Server, Windows NT, and NetWare integration, or additional Solaris Administrations tools, you will need to purchase one or more of the three server option packages for Solaris. Only one of these, the Solaris Easy Access Server (SEAS) 2.0, which is aimed at departmental level installations, is currently available. However, Sun is expected to ship two other server options in the near future.
SEAS 2.0 is the default server packaging of the product.
So if you buy a Sun Ultra server, it will come with Solaris 7 and SEAS. SEAS actually adds quite a few useful features to the core Solaris platform, including the Sun Web Server, Solstice Internet Mail Server (a POP3/IMAP4 mail server), and Solstice Admin Suite, which includes a host of graphical management tools for Solaris.
In addition, SEAS also includes a bundle of Syntax's TotalNet Advanced Server, which provides added file and print support for clients running Microsoft or Novell client requesters. But this feature does not yet support the ability to integrate with Windows NT domain architectures. Sun is planning this capability for a future release slated for early 1999.
If your Unix site is in need of more power, this update is for you.
In addition to getting more power, you're more than likely to be the first shop on the block to deploy a 64-bit architecture.
Those other guys will just have to wait until the millennium to catch up.
The Bottom Line
This latest release of Sun's popular Unix operating system adds 64-bit memory addressing as its top feature and looks to be a solid upgrade for current Sun customers.
Pros: 64-bit memory addressing; support for Dynamic Reconfiguration; LDAP client support; comes with Netscape Communicator; utility updates such as sendmail 8.9, pgrep, pkill, and traceroute.
Cons: All components software and server add-ons in the Solaris Easy Access Server 2.0 remain 32-bit; lacks support for Hot-Plug PCI; could benefit from ease-of-use tweaks.
Platforms: Any Sun Sparc-based machine with 64MB of RAM and 256MB of disk space; Intel version requires an Intel Pentium 100 (or higher), 32MB of RAM minimum, with 600MB of drive space.
Price: Available on application.
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