December 6, 2005

First look: BeleniX live CD

Author: Mayank Sharma

BeleniX is a free live CD based on the OpenSolaris kernel. With it you can have Solaris, which once ran exclusively on SPARC servers, powering your modest desktop computer. But with few applications and lacking an installation script, the Live CD does little more than slake a nerd's thirst for a taste of Solaris.

Named after Belenos, the sun god in Celtic mythology, BeleniX is being developed at Sun Microsystem's India Engineering Center in Bangalore. The ISO is available in a 230MB bzip compressed file, which you can download through HTTP or BitTorrent.

Boot up

From the modified GRUB bootloader, it took my 1.4GHz Celeron IBM laptop with 256MB of RAM about 10 minutes to boot BeleniX. It took almost the same time to boot on a 1.7GHz desktop with 512MB of RAM. For comparison, Knoppix 4.0 takes two to three minutes on both machines. A little searching on Google reveals that the lethargic boot is due to a setting in the OpenSolaris kernel to make it more stable. The kernel boots with DEBUG turned on. The developers of BeleniX are testing turning off debug selectively for a couple of modules. Their tests show a reduction of about 2.5 minutes.

Unlike Knoppix, BeleniX doesn't use a compressed file system. Nor does it make use of an existing Linux swap partition, as it differs from the OpenSolaris swap format. This version of BeleniX has a rather conservative approach while sizing a RAM disk, so except for the kernel and essential system libraries, everything else loads off the CD.


When the CD-ROM disk light stops glowing, you are staring at a beautifully done XFCE desktop running on top of xorg. This is auto-configured using the ddcxinfo utility ported from Knoppix. Essential devices like the monitor, keyboard, and mouse (synaptic, PS/2, and USB) work properly. Wired network cards are auto-configured through DHCP and USB sticks are auto-mounted.

After a 10-minute boot, you'll want to do more than just appreciate the Xfce desktop. There's Firefox to browse the Web, Thunderbird for email, Vim for basic text editing, XMMS to listen to music, Gaim for instant messaging, ImageMagick for image manipulation, gcc3.4, and Super Tux, a Super Mario clone.

There's also a shell which would be of interest to anybody who wants to see the OpenSolaris way of doing things. If you pop in a USB storage device, it doesn't show up on the desktop, but it can be accessed through /rmdisk. To view memory/processor usage, there's prstat -- OpenSolaris equivalent of top, and pmap. Documentation is available at the Sun documentation Web site, since OpenSolaris doesn't have manpages yet.

The current version doesn't include a hard disk anchoring script. A Perl script that prepares a Solaris partition and installs the live CD is on the to-do list for the next version, due this month. You can also take a look at a thread which discusses the process to install BeleniX manually or to help the developers with the script. Remember, this is an open source project.

Another priority for the project is support for 64-bit hardware. This will initially be limited to AMD64 since that's what the OpenSolaris kernel supports.

Final thoughts

The developers' documentation in a blog and on the forums details the process of making OpenSolaris sit pretty on a live CD. In its current state, BeleniX is more of a learning tool than a usable distribution. However, if the developers keep to the roadmap, this could soon change. Apart from the disk installer, faster bootup, and 64-bit support, BeleniX is scheduled to sport a compressed file system and offer an alternate Gentoo platform by the end of February.


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