SmartOS vs illumos: Navigating the Challenges and Embracing the Opportunities in Open Source Operating Systems



Open source operating systems have gained significant popularity in recent years, offering users flexibility, security, and customization options. With the acquisition of Joyent, the future of SmartOS has become uncertain, causing concerns among its user base. In the meantime, illumos aims to attract new developers and simplify its platform build. This article compares SmartOS and illumos and discusses the challenges and opportunities for these open source projects.

SmartOS: Past and Present SmartOS, a popular open source operating system, has experienced considerable development and investment since Joyent’s acquisition in April 2022. With regular updates and a thriving community, SmartOS users have access to new features and improvements. Additionally, Joyent actively engages with the community through office hours events on Discord, providing support and answering questions.

The Complex Build Process for illumos One of the main obstacles for illumos is its complex build process. The platform build, comprising a UNIX operating system and various user mode libraries and executables, presents a significant challenge for newcomers. While efforts are being made to improve the build process and documentation, it requires more resources and expertise to simplify the process and attract new developers. Acknowledging this challenge and working with the community are essential steps towards addressing the issue.

The Importance of Users and Contributions To sustain an open source project, inspiring users to adopt and contribute to the platform is crucial. illumos draws contributions from various sources, including community-driven distributions and companies with a vested interest, such as Oxide. While efforts are being made to enhance the build system, it is essential to prioritize other factors like hardware support, maintaining modern development tools, and addressing security issues. Striking a balance between system improvements and other development tasks is vital given the limited resources available.

The Desire for a User-Friendly Build Process Several users have expressed frustration with the current platform build process in illumos. Sprinkling environment variables and workarounds should not be the norm, and efforts to modernize the build process are necessary. The demand for a more user-friendly and accessible build architecture is critical to attracting more developers and sustaining the project in the long term.

Comparing SmartOS and illumos SmartOS, known for its simplicity and elegance, has attracted a dedicated user base. Many users appreciate the ease of installation, powerful virtualization features, and minimal maintenance required. On the other hand, illumos faces challenges in enhancing its build system, making it more accessible to developers and reducing dependencies on undocumented configurations.

The Impact of Vertical Integration and On-Premise Server Purchases Oxide, an emerging player in the market, aims to provide vertical integration and hyperconverged hardware solutions for on-premise server purchases. By using open-source Rust-based firmware and presenting a cloud-like API for provisioning, Oxide offers an alternative to DIY cloud infrastructure with better support and a consistent experience.

The Need for AWS-Like On-Premises Solutions While AWS dominates the cloud market, large enterprises still operate their data centers and require on-premises solutions. Many existing options fall short in providing a complete AWS-like experience, often requiring collaboration between vendors and complex configurations. Oxide’s offering aims to bridge this gap by providing a comprehensive on-premises cloud infrastructure that simplifies management and compatibility.

Conclusion: The comparison between SmartOS and illumos highlights the challenges and opportunities faced by open source operating systems. While SmartOS continues to be actively developed post-acquisition, illumos struggles with its complex build process and the need to attract new developers. The emergence of Oxide as an integrated hardware and software solution provider for on-premises cloud infrastructure adds a new dimension to the discussion. As the open source community continues to evolve, addressing the technical hurdles and user experience will be vital for the sustainability and success of these projects.

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