Virtual machines are useful

Well, now, THAT is a profound title, eh?  Ok, so I’m not a Pulitzer prize winner.  Nothing more to say, move along.

Recently, a co-worker asked me if I knew anything about Linux.  I responded ‘a little’.  What I did not realize was just how little I knew.  Oh, I know all about the DOS commands that were flavored by CP/M, which, in turn, has it’s roots in Unix land.  I can muck around a Linux command line and do really simple things like create directories and delete files. I relayed the extent of my knowledge, knowing it would be of little use. I then suggested that it might be beneficial to install a Linux distro inside a VM, that way you can play and screw up with out losing anything but time.  There are several good VM’s out there, and a few of them are free.  I went with Sun’s product ‘VirtualBox.’  I wrote about it a while back.  Anyway, installing into the VM can be tricky.  Fortunately, Sun’s product, which is very versatile-hats off to them, allows you to set video memory, hard drive types, I/O, USB, allow it to communicate with the ‘real’ hardware, etc.  I tried setting an early version of gOS but had all kinds of issues (video, mostly), so I’m trying gOS Spaces.  Point is, just about any operating system can be installed, you just have to know what hardware requirements the OS will require.  I was a bit intrigued with this gOS thing (it was preinstalled on a few really cheap computers sold at Wal-Mart-I should have known better and went with Red Hat or Fedora.) 

Once you have your new operating system setup, you can pretty much experiment all you want without harming your ‘true’ operating system.  I did something stupid and filled up my pReact OS desktoprimary hard disk with VM’s, but that was my stupidity. Performance inside the box is pretty impressive.  Seems to run applications at nearly full speed. 

My next step is tune the virtual machine to better match OS’s I’ve been playing around in, especially gOS Spaces-which looks more like OS X than anything else.

Things you can do while running the OS in a VM include PAUSING the whole VM, taking snapshots, mounting disk drives (floppy, hdd and optical) on the fly, using it as your primary OS.  I’m using it as a learning tool, but I also want to setup a VM running Windows 98 for my son so he can play the one game the Vista (and XP) don’t like.  I suspect I’ll have similar issues with the video as I did with gOS.  I’ll post my success or failure at a later date.

One of the more interesting operating systems I’ve played with is one called ‘ReactOS’.  This is a DOS/Windows clone and is surprisingly complete.  It is still in development, so it crashes ALOT, but it can run a number of old DOS apps as well as simpler Windows applications.  

Sun’s VirtualBOX is just short of AWESOME.  So far, the only drawbacks I have found are the inability to specify the type of video and an occasional problem shutting it down.  I can overlook that last issue since the thing is, after all, just short of awesome.



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