Every once in a while I need to use windows centric applications at work. IE is the least of my problems since it seems to work semi-reliably under Wine. But sometimes I need to test things in a full Windows environment, or run into an app that is just to much pain in the ass to install on Linux. This is why in the past I commandeered an old decommissioned desktop barely capable of running WinXP and I plopped it under my desk as my “windows machine”. I would then rdesktop to it whenever I needed to something windows centric. The machine was aged, but it worked quite well when I had a really old and slow laptop. You could barely tell the difference between the two as they were both crawling at the same speed.
Now that I got upgraded to a much newer, and much nicer machine the difference between the two became noticeable and somewhat annoying. My laptop is set up as dual boot with Windows XP but since I can do 90% of my work from under Linux I have my whole working environment set up and ready to go when I boot Ubuntu. Rebooting into windows every time I needed to do something there would be silly – especially since I’m used to working in that two-machine mode anyway.
So I figured since my machine is several times powerful than that puny desktop, I could probably emulate it and get comparable and better results. When I tried virtualization in the past it usually performed poorly due to my hardware specs. So I never really used it extensively. It was more for novelty value – for example installing an obscure Linux distro in a VM to check it out. I never really used virtualization on a daily basis, because of the poor performance. My current laptop however seemed strong enough to be able to handle an OS that was not a huge resource hog. That security talk from last week gave me the final motivation to get it all together and actually set up an environment which I could use regularly.
I briefly talked with the security expert after his presentation and naturally we chatted about virtual machines since this was major topics he discussed. He mentioned he was all about virtual machines. For example, he said liked to keep his work and play environments separate. So when he took his work laptop home, he started a virtual machine in full screen mode and then did all his casual browsing and entertainment from there. He could install whatever he wanted without making the machine unstable, and didn’t really really worry about viruses that much since he could always just roll back to the last clean snapshot. So if this guy could do this, then so could I.
So I installed VirtualBox on my machine, then grabbed Windows 2k CD and created myself a virtual machine of my own. End result is that my 2.4 GHz dual core laptop with 2GB of RAM is able to comfortably run a Windows 2000 session. And by comfortably I mean that I’d be actually using both machines to do real work. So on the Ubuntu site I may have the following things running:
- Komodo Edit
- Several gVim sessions
- Seveal open Konsoles
- 2 rdesktop sessions
On the VM side I would have the following open:
- Adobe Reader
Both environments remain responsive, and there is no sign of slowdown at any point. VirtualBox even has the so called “seamless mode” which removes the VM window and makes the program windows appear as if they were running natively. Kinda like Parallels on OSX. Still, the Windows apps in this mode are sort-of confined to a single virtual desktop (I usually work with 6 or 7) which limits the usability of this mode. Also, they only see the virtual file system, so after experimenting a bit I switched it back to windowed environment. I sort of like the clear separation – and the VM window almost feels like just another rdesktop session which works out great for me. And now I can literally take my “windows box” with me everywhere I go.
If you haven’t tried this yet, and you have the hardware for it I highly recommend jumping onto the virtualization bandwagon. If you are already on the bandwagon, let me know what OS’s do you run virtually and how you use them!
[tags]virtualization, virtual machines, vm, virtualbox[/tags]