bsduck Interesting. How does current Solaris compare with Illumos?
Many Solaris 11 key features (Oracle VM for SPARC using LDOMs, Silicon Secured Memory (SSM)) apply to SPARC only or are oriented to large scale clusters. Some important differences regard ZFS (Solaris ZFS vs OpenZFS) and Zones (illumos zones are an evolution of Solaris 10 zones, while in Solaris 11 zones were reworked).
I've seen countless times users (even seasoned sysadmins) say that ZFS development on Solaris was dead, but this couldn't be further from the truth. For starter, Solaris ZFS anticipated OpenZFS in adding native encryption and sequential resilvering of about a decade. Over the years, I've been following development on both sides and I've seen OpenZFS more often imitating Oracles's rather than the other way round. shadow migration, share.smb, vdev removal, recursive zfs diff are features which afaict still do not have an equivalent on OpenZFS.
As for Zones, Solaris 11 took quite a different approach to them. Namely, while Solaris 10 branded zones are still supported on 11, development for branded zones was dropped completely. So, the sort of killer feature which on Illumos is provided by LX zones (much better than any BSD's linux compat layer), sparse zones, bhyve zones, nipkg zones (OpenIndiana), pkgsrc zones (OmniOS)...is not available on Solaris 11. On the other hand SunOS 5.11 integrated non-global zones better within the installer and the OS itself, with regard to CrossBow/VNIC (exclusive IP always configured by default), the IPS packaging system (recursive zone packaging), while non-global kernel zones and immutable zones were added.
Random differences crossing my mind:
Solaris lacks a good virtualization solution for amd64 (VM for amd64 is based on Xen). Illumos provides both bhyve and KVM and can isolate them inside dedicated zones.
Solaris 11 includes PF as firewall, while illumos can only offer IPF.
the IPS packaging system has been refined and improved over the years on Solaris, while I didn't see this happen as much on illumos. Yet, IPS is still a core component of illumos, sustaining the framework used to build illumos-gate.
Solaris uses GRUB, illumos uses FreeBSD bootloader
Solaris provides Developer Studio (SUNPro), GCC and LLVM; illumos only supports GCC
illumos has a new sound API based on OSSv4
illumos has better NVMe support
...other differences which I won't delve into
bsduck Does it have better hardware support?
As far as desktop is concerned, no. Workstation market died with the end of Sun, bringing any hope of future desktop-side development with it. Desktop hardware is, with minor tweaks and additions, frozen at the state it was in 2010, both on Solaris and illumos. Since then, Oracle basically turned Solaris into a big iron bootloader for its database and VM, while on illumos all the companies doing serious development (Delphix, Joyent, Nexenta, RackTop, and now Oxide) focused, again, on server, and more specifically on cloud computing. OpenIndiana was destined to be a dead end from the very beginning.
Nowadays, finding a laptop where to run illumos or Solaris directly is almost impossible, unless you limit yourself to 10-12 years old models. This is mainly due to wifi support.
On the other hand, Solaris (and indirectly illumos), is supported by Nvidia, which regularly releases a version of their proprietary drivers for Solaris. Also, ethernet support is solid and good on the SunOS land. This means that the best way to run Solaris/illumos bare metal in 2022 is putting it on a desktop PC with Nvidia graphics and wired connection.
Solaris, naturally, supports all the generation of SPARC64 CPUs born after the acquisition from Oracle, which is SPARC T3 to SPARC M8. Old SPARC workstations are probably better served by OpenBSD and NetBSD due to resource restraints and software availability issues.
bsduck Outside pkgsrc, are there package repositories with a decent choice of software?
Sort of: there is the free OpenCSW repo for 11.4, labelled as localhosts12 (targeting the former upcoming Solaris 12) and unixpackages -former sunfreeware- which requires a paid subscription and is meant for businesses. SVR4 packages for Solaris 10 will usually work (better to install them in a Solaris 10 zone, to avoid conflicts), given the backward binary compatibility with SunOS 5.10.