A decent virtual Linux

In my quest to get a decent dual-OS box (without dual booting), I gave the free VMware server a spin instead of Workstation. The experiment was short lived and lead me back to Workstation with a slightly different approach, and I’m pretty pleased with the resulting Ubuntu virtual machine. Server’s main advantage over Workstation is that it runs as a service; it’s loaded during Windows startup, and can fire up virtual machines without you having to log in. That’s a good deal on a box that you want to just leave running, but it’s a significant boot overhead for a desktop machine.

There are also several workstation features missing that make it swings and roundabouts. Server uses Apache+Tomcat to provide a management interface, and the additional boot time made me jaded against server straight off.

Knowing I wouldn’t keep it, I took a gamble building my test Ubuntu box. I chose “persistent” disk instead of allowing VMware to manage snapshots. As a second gamble, I optimized the disk for performance rather than safety. The performance was much, much better than I expected.

But I wanted full access to my Window’s file systems, and to share folders with server you have to mess about with “VIX“. So I un-installed server and reinstalled Workstation. (Only one reboot required was a nice surprise).

Server and Workstation virtual machines are interchangeable, so after rebooting I simply started my Ubuntu VM up again.

So here are the steps to a nicely performing Ubuntu 10.4 beta 2 virtual machine:

  1. Persistent disks optimized for speed,
  2. Give the machine at least 1Gb of RAM and as many CPUs as you can,
  3. VMware -> Edit -> Preferences -> Priority -> Input Grabbed: High,
  4. sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade,
  5. Install the generic-pae linux image/kernel,
  6. Reboot the VM, reinstall VMware tools (sudo vmware-tools-upgrader) and reboot the VM again,
  7. When you need an extra performance kick, full screen the VM and select Exclusive Mode.

If you’re not so worried about performance and just want clean Windows/Linux integration, there is also the “Unity” view option. The only downside I’ve found so far with Unity is that when you go back to regular mode, the gnome bars go away, which is kinda annoying.

Windowed:

Unity (dark task bars = Linux, light = Windows)

So I’ll see how this plays out of the weekend. It’s not quite the performance I hoped to get (don’t get the fancy desktop effects/transparency you get running Linux by itself). But I might try taking it one step further and giving the virtual machine complete access to the SSD drive.

2 Comments

Well, I tried giving a Virtual Machine direct access to the SSD and main HD, and it failed miserably. I’m guessing that is a Windows 7 security interaction issue :(

Oh, and last time I tried putting a Virtual Linux on the SSD, I didn’t do anything fancy (like make it persistent, or make turn on the kinds of options needed to make it perform well).

I may have to try moving it over and seeing how it performs.

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