If you're a Windows user and you've been messing around in the Linux world like I have, you've probably tried a number of virtualization solutions. The most popular of these being Virtual PC from Microsoft or one of VMWare's products.

But have you ever wished you could have the virtualization features of VMWare Server with the ease and simplicity of Virtual PC? It turns out now you can, and if you're still using either VMWare or Microsoft's offerings, you've been missing out.

There's another little known player in the virtualization market that you need to take notice of: VirtualBox from Sun.

VirtualBox is a dual proprietary and open-source product. This means that they provide an open source version with everything you need, but also provide a commercial version with some extras (so they can make a bit of money from the product). The commercial version also happens to be free for personal use, so there's nothing stopping you from using it either.

The first thing you'll notice when downloading and installing Virtual Box is that (like Virtual PC) it's pretty slim on the download at 60MB. It installs in a jiffy and you'll be up and running in no time. The next think you'll notice may not be important to you, but it is to me: it actually looks like a commercial Windows application and is very intuitive to use (especially if you've used either Virtual PC or VMWare before).

Unlike Virtual PC, VirtualBox is under active development. This translates into the fact that they support almost all popular operating systems out of the box, including official support for Windows 7 (which hasn't even been released yet). Ubuntu also installs without any glitches, unlike on Virtual PC which requires a bunch of hacks. I guess it helps that they're not pushing a particular operating system. VirtualBox supports 32bit and 64bit guest operating systems and comes with virtual machine additions that work seamlessly for Linux, Windows, Solaris and OS/2 guests. There's even 3D acceleration support for Linux guests in the latest release.

Everyone that uses virtualization is going to be concerned with performance, and I'm happy to report that VirtualBox kicks butt in that regard. My own tests have shown much snappier performance than what I've gotten used to, but if you don't want to take my word for it, have a look at Michal Strehovsky's blog. He's done a performance comparison utilizing a number of benchmarks, and VirtualBox comes out on top in every category.

I've kept the best for last though. VirtualBox loads and runs both VMWare .vmdk and Virtual PC .vhd images with no conversion required. Any reason you've had not to try it should have quickly evaporated with that news.

So to summarize, you're pretty much getting VMWare features with the convenience of Virtual PC. Throw in better performance than its competing free products and you have a winner in my book.

VirtualBox has completely won me over and I think it may just do the same for you. Go give it a try.

Synaptic and Nautilus running on VistaIf you're a Windows user and you've been meaning to mess around with Linux (particularly Ubuntu), you're now very much in luck.

Claudio César Sánchez Tejeda has put together a CoLinux package of Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron called Portable Ubuntu.

CoLinux allows you to run a Linux operating system that cooperates with your existing Windows installation. This means that you don't have to dual-boot or fire up a Virtual Machine in order to experiment with Linux anymore. You can run Linux almost the same way you would run any other Windows application. And to sweeten the deal, any Linux app you run in this environment will integrate into your Windows desktop, thus allowing you to overlap Linux apps with Windows apps. It even incorporates seamless copy and paste.

CoLinux clearly beats the pants of virtualization and finally makes it extremely easy to test the waters with Linux as a Windows user.

This is all possible because of the modified CoLinux kernel which cooperatively schedules resources with the Windows NT kernel, rather than having the computer resources delegated by the host computer. The desktop integration is possible because of Xming, a Windows implementation of the Linux X Window server.

Installing Portable Ubuntu

Installation is straightforward. Simply download the Portable Ubuntu archive from SourceForge here, extract it to a folder and run the run_portable_ubuntu.bat file. Portable Ubuntu will even run from a Flash drive on any Windows machine you stick it in.

After a couple of seconds or so you'll get a splash screen while the Ubuntu operating system boots up in the background. Once that is done you'll have the Ubuntu taskbar at the top of your screen from which you can launch and install Ubuntu applications. It only works on 32bit systems though, if you're on a 64bit Vista or XP system you're out of luck. What is also awesome about this is that you don't even need to configure an internet connection, it will piggy back of your Windows machine's connection.

If you're planning on installing software and messing with your Ubuntu system you'll need the root password: 123456

Installing Mono

Mono will install successfully using my existing instructions here, but only if you increase the drive space!

When just installed your Ubuntu drive space will be limited to about 400 MB. This obviously isn't enough to install a lot of software in, so if you plan to install Mono you'll want to extend the drive image size. I've put together a little tutorial on how to do this here.

Once that's sorted and you've gotten Mono installed, have a look at getting BlogEngine.NET installed from the instructions here.

And who knows, when you see it all work painlessly for yourself you might be hosting your next blog on an inexpensive Linux VPS before you know it :)


I am a software developer / architect currently interested in combining .NET technologies with open-source operating systems. 

I am a member of the open-source BlogEngine.NET development team and focus mainly on ensuring Mono compatibility for the project.



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