Out with the Old in with the…VirtualBox

I’ve used VMWare on and off ever since it first came out. Both the server and workstations products revolutionized the data center and brought huge power to a developer. These days I’m back into more pure software development so a desktop virtualization product that I can use to have multiple OS configurations for running servers, databases, or experimental tool configurations is a must have. My base OS is Win XP Pro running on an IBM ThinkPad T61p.

I’ve had the latest version of VMWare’s free Server product running on my laptop, but I’ve had it. I use my laptop as a…well a laptop and it seems that VMWare Server is not capable of playing nicely and EMC seems rather uninterested in fixing it. What’s the issue? If you take a laptop in and out of standby every 10th time (an average estimate) you will get the glorious BSOD. I’ve poked around the internet and forums and stuff without coming up with a solution. Even a complete disable of the VMWare services did not stop this issue. Before you say “Hey Beren you idiot it must be something else.”; I uninstalled the product and not a single BSOD since in about 4 weeks.

No BSODs == good

No VMs == bad

I had heard of  Xen and VirtualBox from Sun Microsystems, two open source VM tools. I’m not exactly a fan of Sun (apart from Javs of course), but after trying Zen a few times in teh past I wasn’t that impressed. I decided to give VirtualBox a shot – I might as well try the upcoming release (v3). Straight off was a hopful sign: a download of only 25 MB! Wow – I downloaded and installed it. All smooth and well run. My networks were identified during the process, virual disks created, and I could immediately start to install guest VMs. Hey look it even supports OS/2!

Not having my OS/2 disks handy (although I still have a set of C-Set++ floppies) I decided I would install a Fedora Code 11 guest VM since I’m been wanting to try that distro out.

Stepping thru the Wizard was a breeze. I mounted the Fedora ISO file thru the main details panel (when no VM is running you can interact with this) and then hit the “New” buttona dn stepped thru all the defaults. After that I had a Fedora OS up and running in about 5 minutes. FDC-11 has an installer icon right on the desktop when you boot with an ISO so just click that, restart the machine and step thru the final wizards and that is about it. 15 minutes was all that took.

My Fedora OS has everything working right including the network connectivity, which will be needed because as with all VM products there is a bit more work to do in order to have a really useful VM. You need to install some extra “stuff” in order to get higher resolutions and graphics support working the way I like it. I found a decent set of instructions here. I ran thru these with a few minor instances of “huh?”, “d’oh”, and “sheesh”, mostly because I wasn’t reading carefully. Once I understood that with this version of VirtualBox the Additions tools are already included – you don’t need ot download anything extra. Then it took me a couple of minutes to figure out where they actually are.  The menu option is right on the main menu for the running Guest OS (see the pic below). Once that is installed you restart your machine and things super cool. You can change the resolution of your screen by just changing the window size. Also – the mousing action in and out of the window is now seamless with your base OS.

Now that I have a basic configuration that looks cool I can use the Snapshot feature to save it in case I toast it. That’s also quite easy to do right from the main menu of the running Guest OS under the Machine menu.

With the base VirtualBox product running and the default setup of the Linux machine using Fedora Core 11 the entire config is consuming about 80 MB of RAM. Performance is very snappy – I did increase the graphics memory to 32 MB, but I didn’t really notice that this did anything for me.

I have to say that so far I am very impressed with this tool and I’m going to keep it on my machine. My next thing will be to get Eclipse installed with the Google Web Toolkit so I can play around without risking my main Eclipse installation. I can also see how I like Fedora Core 11…so get ready for two more blog posts 🙂 I’ll update this post if I see any ill effects from having this tool running on my system. Very cool!

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