"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." (Robert A. Heinlein)

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Virtualbox: The joy of virtualization


Among the many things I dreamed of before buying a new desktop one was being able to play with some virtualization software. A virtualization software is a program that allows you to set-up and run on your (physical) computer, usually called host computer, a virtual machine, called guest computer. The virtual computer can behave like a real computer and run a different operating system. Virtualbox is a virtualization software released by Oracle under GPL V2 license. I had already knew about Virtualbox since I use it at work and it has been literally life-saving in many occasions.

Installation and first machine

Installing Virtualbox is quite trivial: it is available in Ubuntu software centre repositories or it can be downloaded as “.deb” package (among other formats) from its download page. Once installed Virtualbox starts with the VM Manager window from here new virtual machines can be added and managed.
Selecting the “New” button a virtual machine creation wizard starts asking, at beginning, for the machine name and OS.
then the memory (RAM) size
and the selection of the virtual hard drive.
if you choose to create a new virtual disk the hard drive file type is asked, many formats from various virtualization software are available. If you aren't planning sharing the disk with a different program the VDI (native Virtualbox format) is the best choice.
next question is about choosing dynamically allocated disk space hard disk file or a fixed size one. The dynamically allocation make a best use of your disk space while the fixed size disk should be better for performances.
last step of the virtual hard disk creation is then choosing the file location and the disk size
Once the new machine is started it's possible to select a boot media from the “Devices” menu. I, just for test purpose, did choose the lightest disk image I had available i.e. the “System Rescue CD” I used to backup the EEEPC installation.
Here System Rescue CD at boot menu
and here is it while running

Conclusions

What am I going to use Virtualbox for? Firstly it is a marvellous toy for who, like me, enjoy testing new Linux distributions. Using a virtual machine allows to test a fully installed distribution (not more test only live editions) and taking “impossible” screen-shots like at boot menus. Another obvious use is running some needed-but-Windows-only application with a higher degree of compatibility than Wine will ever allow. I'll soon try Virtualbox USB support with my , sadly Windows only, scanner drivers.