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Aside – Failures in Interface Design

Posted by Preston on 2009-06-10

Today I was rather happy to have my “new” Solaris/Sparc lab machine. It’s a Sun Blade 1500 – obviously it’s not a Sun server, but I don’t need a full Sun server for lab testing.

Frustratingly, the person who sold it to me had setup a firmware password, but couldn’t recall what that was, and had neglected to mention that. With a wiped hard-drive, it was somewhat … challenging to fix. Thankfully, I had a hard-drive left over from a Sun Blade 100 that managed to boot the 1500 into single user mode – which enabled me to clear the firmware password.

That wasn’t the failure in interface design.

The failure came when it was time to install Solaris 10 on the machine. Having burnt the DVD, I hooked up monitor, keyboard, network, etc., and started the install process. Since I don’t run DHCP, I started the process by running through my DNS server, finding an unused IP address, and thinking up a hostname that obeyed RFC-1178.

Picking the hostname (luyten – the name of a nearby star, and therefore apropos for a Sun host), I started the graphical installer, went through the network configuration and got a strange error about the DNS server being invalid. However, the DNS server was perfectly fine. I thought at the time, “OK, maybe IPv6 isn’t happy on the lab network”, so I restarted the install process and made sure to leave that option off.

It was then when I got the same error, that I noticed the following in the console display window:

Unable to run cmd:/usr/sbin/sysidput

Doing a bit of Googling, it didn’t seem that the solutions around were specific to my issue, but I decided that I’d follow one of the suggestions, which was to install in text mode.

Imagine my surprise then when in text mode, the Solaris installer told me it couldn’t use the IP address I’d entered because that was already in use on the network.

Now, I know the issue was my fault – I assumed that because an IP address was unallocated in DNS it wouldn’t be active, and didn’t think to check, but, I’ll go so far as to say that this is an example of stupid interface design, with one very key issue:

  • On something as low level as operating system installation, any OS installer should tell you that the IP address you’ve picked is already in use.

Honestly, “Unable to run cmd:/usr/sbin/sysidput” is not a sufficient explanation of “duplicate IP address”.

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