So far, we’ve used Microsoft Windows platforms for all our work on proloquor.net. Windows supports just about every tool we require, but sometimes life is easier when working with a different Operating System. Does that mean you have to buy another computer? Not if you know how to virtualize that hardware on your existing Windows platforms. Here’s how.
An Operating System (OS) is the suite of core software that runs on your computer. It technically provides no end-user functionality, but rather exists solely to support applications that do. Modern Operating Systems allow multiple applications to run simultaneously, but you can technically only run one OS at a time.
If you need the services of multiple OS’s, but don’t want to buy a second machine, you could partition your hard-drive into two volumes and install a separate OS in each. After installation, you need to modify your disk’s master boot record so that you can be prompted for the OS to start when your computer first boots. Tools to both partition your drive and modify your MBR are available with existing Operating Systems and through 3rd party vendors, but you’re still limited to run only one OS at a time.
Instead, consider installing a second OS on your system as a Virtual Machine (VM). Virtual Machine software emulates a real PC environment, including the processor, memory, storage, and even peripherals. You can install any OS and application software that’s compatible with the host hardware.
Ubuntu Linux running in a Windows 8 VM
While there are many VM systems available such as Oracle’s VirtualBox, the market leader is VMware. VMware has a variety of products, ranging from large-scale enterprise Platform As A Service (PAAS) down to free VMware Player for non-commercial use. Player works fine for our purposes.
Installing A Virtual Machine
Download the free version of VMware Player from the VMware site and run the installer. Accept all default options.
Before launching VMware Player, you need to have the installation media for your ‘guest’ Operating System ready. Since we have a Windows host, we’ll want a Linux ‘guest’ VM, and the distribution we’ll use today is Ubuntu. Download the latest .iso image for desktops, preferably the 64-bit edition, to your host machine and store it someplace safe. Today we’ll store our image at c:\VMs\ubuntu-14.04.2-desktop-amd64.iso.
Launch VMware Player and click Create a New Virtual Machine. Select Installer disk image file (iso) and enter the path to your Ubuntu image. Create an initial account for your VM, including your full name, user name, and password, then assign a name to your VM itself. An important step is to assign a disk size for your VM; 20GB doesn’t sound like a lot these days, but it’s plenty for a basic development system. Bump it to 30 or 40 if you wish, but select Store virtual disk as a single file to maximize performance.
That screen in this wizard sets up the rest of your virtual hardware. You may want to increase the amount of memory your VM consumes, but stay within the recommended limits. Finally you may want to change the type of network adapter your VM uses. The main choices are:
- Bridged: Your VM is directly connected to your local network.
- NAT: Your host provides an IP address to your VM via Network Address Translation (NAT), and is not directly accessible to other systems on your local network.
- Host-only: Your VM is only accessible to your host.
NAT is probably the safest choice for most applications. When you click Finish, your VM will boot from the .iso image and run the OS’s installer automatically.
Initializing Your Linux VM
When the installation finishes, the VM will reboot again and present you with a login screen. Use the credentials you set up earlier to login.
Install VM Tools
VMware presents itself as a specific computer platform to the OS. As such, your OS needs drivers to interact with its virtual hardware properly. VMware provides these drivers, as well as an install script to run on your VM, as a virtual CD-ROM. To mount the CD, bring down the VMware Player menu outside of the VM, and go to Player -> Manage -> (Re)Install VMware Tools… . This creates a virtual CD drive that the VM should mount automatically, typically in the /media folder on Ubuntu.
Click on the VMwareTools-X.X.X-XXX.tar.gz to unpack it and install it in a temporary location. From that archive, click on vmware-install.pl to install the drivers and utilities.
Once installed, you should find more display resolution options, better support for sound and other peripherals, and even the ability to drag-and-drop items between your host and guest VM.
Update Your OS
Every Operating System has built-in utilities to update itself, and your next steps is to make sure they’re running. There will likely be a lot of updates required right after installation. For Ubuntu, Find the Ubuntu Software Updater app and use it to download and install all available updates.
Ubuntu also has an integrated software repository that offers a single source for 1000’s of applications. Based on the Advanced Packaging Tool (apt) for Debian and related releases, you’ll use the Ubuntu Software Center to retrieve just about any additional software you require.
For most jobs, a standard Windows platform is sufficient for our needs. For a few applications we’ll discuss shortly however, a Linux box is certainly handy. Once VMware Player is installed with a suitable guest OS, you’ll have an independently running Linux host with no additional hardware investments.