Installing Solaris on a Thinkpad

Volume 8, Issue 155; 30 Nov 2005; last modified 08 Oct 2010

A closer look at the first steps towards a Thinkpad running Solaris.

Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.

James Stephens

A few more hours into the process and things are going pretty well. I'm not going to try to offer a step-by-step tutorial, but I'll try to point out the landmarks as we go and note the places where I floundered.

There's sort of two ways I could do this, I could grab the bits off of and “start from scratch”, or I could install something like Nexenta OS, a packaged GNU/Solaris offering. I decided to start from scratch.

I'm doing this on a spare disk, so I don't have to think about partitioning issues or setting things up to boot multiple operating systems. Solaris gets the whole disk.

I started with a straight install of the four CDs that comprise Solaris Express: Community Release build 27. It went smoothly, configured the display correctly (a stumbling point in early Linux distributions, especially on laptops), recognized and configured the ethernet adapter, and launched me into Gnome.

Next, I wanted to install the latest and greatest. This involves a “BFU” upgrade. To do that, I followed the instructions and installed the “O/N Specific Build Tools” package, then ran the bfu process as described. It went smoothly and when I rebooted I had the latest and greatest.

A little searching and a little digging through the forums lead me to the driver for the Atheros Chipset. Although it claims “you should be able to plumb the interface right after installing…without having to reboot first”, that wasn't my experience. But it worked fine after rebooting. After I installed the wificonfig tool, I had no trouble setting up a profile with WEP encryption. For the record, this is the “start my wifi” dance:

$ ifconfig ath0 plumb
$ wificonfig -i ath0 autoconf
$ ifconfig ath0 dhcp

Once the wifi was working, I coiled the ethernet cable up and stuck it back in the closet. That meant waiting for DHCP to timeout on the ethernet adapter everytime I rebooted. No fun. Deleting /etc/dhcp.e1000g0 fixed that.

At this point, I wanted some files out of my home directory (on the other disk). Not wanting to reboot, I thought I could get the files off a backup disk. The backup disk is formatted as a Linux ext2 partition, which I figured Solaris would be able to read. Uhm. Wrong. C'mon guys, I'm not going to be the only one with Linux disks around am I? Oh, and if you plug in a USB device and then rudely yank it out (because you can't mount it, for example), bad things happen. Instant reboots, for example. But Solaris recovered from that too.

I grabbed support for ext2 from the Solaris/Intel FAQ. It installed fine, but I haven't actually tried it yet.

My last challenge for the day: installing the build tools. I started with Sun Studio 10. It installed flawlessly. Unfortunately, it's a big honking IDE. I'm sure it's a really cool big honking IDE, but I don't want an IDE, I want a C compiler so I can make fvwm (for starters). I'm sure it has one too, but I didn't take the time to find it.

I installed gcc from the OpenSolaris download center, too. That works. But where's make?

Clearly, the next thing I need is some applications. I think I'll try getting the packages from Blastwave. Or maybe from I'm happy to build stuff from sources, but I at least need to bootstrap a build environment.

Anyway, so far, so good.

One of my requirements, wifi, was easy. If I can get display switching working, so that I can project, I'll be in good shape.


Sun puts tools like make and ar into /usr/ccs/bin.

You'll probably want GNU make as well; for things like gmake go and visit to get nicely packaged versions.

—Posted by Chris Ridd on 01 Dec 2005 @ 06:48 UTC #