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Sun modernizing Solaris start-up process

Revamped approach will be faster and more useful on a wide variety of computers, company promises.

Sun Microsystems is revamping the start-up process for its Solaris operating system, scrapping an awkward, elderly approach for one the company promises will be faster, more familiar and more useful on a wide variety of computers.

Newboot made its appearance on Tuesday in OpenSolaris, the open-source version of the Unix operating system that Sun has begun releasing. In addition to the components Sun overhauled, the company embraced software called GRUB, or Grand Unified Bootloader, that's used by Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Suse Linux Enterprise Server and many other Linux versions.

Solaris can run on computers with x86 processors such as Intel's Pentium and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron. But the start-up process has been hobbled by a requirement for special-purpose software called drivers that control the computer's hardware.

Now, though, "we don't require special device drivers for boot, so the ability to just come up across a broad range of hardware goes up dramatically," said John Fowler, executive vice president of Sun's network systems group, which sells x86 servers.

It's no surprise Sun wants Solaris to run as widely as possible. Through actions such as adding Newboot and releasing OpenSolaris, Sun is trying to restore its operating system's relevance, betting that doing so will attract more developers, software partners and customers and, therefore, much-needed revenue growth.

Fowler isn't the only one at Sun happy with the change. Writing the boot-time drivers required programming tools "not available for ready money anywhere," Solaris programmer Casper Dik said on his blog. "Now that this piece of shameful history lies in the past, I am not afraid to confess."

And GRUB will make Solaris fit better in the mainstream computing industry, Fowler predicted. "It will be very well received, he said. "We'll look less alien in a way that is fundamental, right from the install."

The new start-up process begins with GRUB, which presents a menu of operating system choices. When a computer user selects Solaris, GRUB hands control of the machine to Sun software called Multiboot. Solaris engineer Jan Setje-Eiler detailed the technology in his blog on Tuesday.

Another improvement comes later in the boot process and applies to Solaris running on Sparc as well as x86 processors. This process, based on software called the Service Management Facility, can load numerous operating system components in parallel.

"It's not much different on uni-processor (computers), but on anything above uni it blazes," Fowler said.

On the blogs, Sun engineers proudly display charts that show that once Solaris got control, a dual-Opteron computer took 33 seconds to boot. Bringing up a new zone--a walled-off section of a computer that appears to have its own version of Solaris--took 7 seconds.