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How To Run Linux Within Windows



November 12th, 2008 00:57 am | by Ed |

The OS wars continue. Microsoft thought they had a killer OS in Vista only to find out that tens of thousands (myself included) hate it. Ubuntu has recently released version 8.10, nicknamed "Intrepid Ibex" (no, I don't know what an Ibex is let alone an intrepid one). Large numbers of people are either "upgrading" from Vista back to XP or just plain switching to Linux and declaring freedom from Microsoft entirely.

Thing is, changing your operating system is no small thing. It means very basic, fundamental changes to your computer and the way you work with it. This makes it very easy to understand why people are hesitant to make the change.

There's all kinds of questions to be answered, most of which you won't even think of until you've had a chance to run the new OS for a while and become familiar with it. If you're moving to an OS that you already know, like a Vista victim user switching back to XP, that's one thing. Trying out one that you've never seen or used is another idea entirely.

Fortunately there is a couple of ways to go. The first thing that a lot of people will suggest is to get a "Live CD" and boot from that. A "Live CD" allows you to run the new operating system entirely from your hard drive without affecting your current Windows install at all.

The only real problems with the "Live CD" is that I have found booting from and then running entirely from the cd is slower than running an installed OS, which kinda takes away from the performance. There is also the problem that running from a "Live CD" means that every time you start it, you're basically starting over. Bookmarks, saved files, everything, gets lost when you shut down because it's NOT saved on your hard drive. In fact, you can run a "Live CD" on a system that doesn't even have a hard drive (great if it's fried!) as long as you have a working CD Rom drive.

The answer that I like best is the virtual machine. This is a program that allows you to run a virtual machine within your Windows OS. That virtual machine is essentially a second computer running within your physical computer. You can do a full install of a new OS on it and run it just like it was a new machine only without having to shut down Windows or affect your Windows installation.

You can save files, bookmarks, email and whatever else. This is probably the best way to test drive a new OS short of installing it on a spare computer. What's cool about it is that the Windows install doesn't get touched, nor does the rest of the hard drive. You can even leave the VM running while you switch to another Windows task.

I've been using this myself for a while and it's pretty cool. Earlier today I had Ubuntu Linux running in a VM with a FireFox browser open with pages loaded in several tabs. I then switched out of it to windows where I had it's FireFox opened up with a bunch of different sites in several tabs. The two are treated very much like completely separate machines in every way.

To do this, you need three things:

The VM Ware Player. You'll need to fill out a brief questionare and accept the terms of agreement. This download is fairly large (about 175MB) and will take a little while.

Once that's done, you need to get an image of the Ubuntu Install Cd. The current version right now is Ubuntu 8.10 and you want the desktop edition. It's around 700MB in size and will definitely take a while.

Finally, you'll need a Virtual Machine Image for the VM Ware Player, This includes a file that defines a virtual 1GB hard drive for the virtual machine to run on. (yes, you'll need to have that much free space on your physical drive to allow that file to exist, but that is the only place the VM will write to.)

Once you have all the files, you're ready to begin.

Install the VM Ware Player, accepting the defaults for installation works fine. Next, extract the files from the OS.Zip file you downloaded and put them in a directory of their own such as C:\ubuntuvm or something like that.

Now move the ubuntu image (as of this writing that's ubuntu-8.10-desktop-i386.iso ) to the same folders as the OS files. Right click on the OS.vmx file and select "open with" and choose Notepad.

Look for this line:

ide1:0.fileName = "c:\image.iso"

and change it to:

ide1:0.fileName = "ubuntu-8.10-desktop-i386.iso"

When that's done save the file and quit Notepad.

The next step is to double click on the OS.vmx file and the VM Ware Player should start up. When it starts it will automatically load the ubuntu file and you can then go ahead and install Ubuntu on the Virtual Machine just as if you were installing it on a real computer.

Now you can use the VM to run Ubuntu, install applications on it, save files and use it just as you would use Windows. It gives you a chance to take your time and learn some of the ins and outs of Linux... like how to install software with the Synaptic package manager, how to install things that need to be compiled first.

Ubuntu comes with a full suite of applications for all kinds of needs. Openoffice.org to handle spreadsheets, word processing or Presentations. For tasks that it doesn't come with software to handle, you can usually find something to take care of the job by using the Synaptic package manager. Installing new software is often a matter of selecting it from a list and allowing the manager to download and install it.

It shouldn't take long for a lot of people to decide that Linux is the way to go for full time use and make the switch permanent. Or you could decide to just have both available thanks to the VM Ware player.

Technorati Tags: vm ware, how to, linux in windows, vm ware player, os wars, linux, ubuntu, virtual machine, free operating system

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