Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Free the Support Tools Bundle!

If you aren't already familiar with the Support Tools Bundle, you probably ought to check it out. It contains many very useful tools, at least one of which you absolutely need if you support more than one Solaris server.

I consider many of these tools to be critical components of our current Solaris architecture. As such, updating the tools is a part of our regular patch process. The tools are also integrated in our JumpStart JET templates. And herein lies my frustration.

You can only get the support tools as a bundle. If I want to get the latest SNEEP, I need to download the whole bundle. It's only ~ 40MB, so I can live with that given today's bandwidth. Unfortunately, when you unzip the shiny new file you are faced with something I consider a monstrosity. A shell archive. Why?

The next design flaw we encounter is the extraction method. The shell script exits unless you run it as root. If all I want to do is extract files, why should I be root? This undermines the principle of least privilege if I just need to put files in my home directory, or /var/tmp.

So let's assume we recklessly assume the role of root and execute the shell archive. We are presented with a choice to install or extract the files. Hopefully you want those files in /var/tmp/stb because that's your only choice. Again I ask, Why? Is there some flaw in using gzipped tar balls? I'm not a big fan of using zip, but it accomplishes a similar goal and would be acceptable.

How about a simple plan? Use a gzipped tarball that extracts one directory for each product and an installer in the root. That way I can just extract it and get the product updates into my JET server without having to go through an extra step. If you are skilled enough to know why you need the tools in STB, you can handle a tar.gz file. UNIX has survived the test of time by leveraging simplicity and standards. When we get too fancy we undermine the platform's greatest strengths.

As with any feature (and use of a shell archive is indeed a feature) we should ask the question, what is the value of this extra complexity? I would suggest the answer to that question is "none". Let's whack it and get back to standards, Sun.

Recommendations for you!

I just have to ask the question... Is anyone else who spends a LOT of time on Sun's web sites getting ready to rip out their fingernails when the site pops up the "Recommendations for you" box and forces you to close it? I'm a paying customer with a valid contract. I don't need to be treated like a mass marketing target.

The Internet provides great new business opportunity, and wild possibilities for creative marketing. But let's hope personal customer relationships which were once important haven't been replaced by marketing shotguns designed to bug 1,000 customers as long as one or two click on the shiny links.