So often, I could be working on any number of machines. Primarily at work, I use Windows XP, although I will probably upgrade to Windows 7 in the next few weeks. On my Dell Latitude 2100 I dual boot between XP and Ubuntu 9.10 UNR. At home, of course, we are a total Ubuntu shop, except for the one MacBook Pro. Problems do occur, as at work I sometimes would rather prefer Ubuntu, and at home, sometimes, I need to use Windows to launch some application. Case in point, I am working toward some computer certifications. The online tutorial webpage and corresponding web apps only work over Windows. So, I could either run multiple booting at home and work and need to shut down all my applications that I like to keep open or look for some other solution.
Virtualization is the big buzz word these days, and two products, VMWare and Virtual Box will allow desktop virtualization. In other words, you can run your base OS, and use one of either VM or VB to run different OSs within your running OS. While we do utilize VMWare in the office, I use Virtual Box exclusively, both for its freeness and my own beliefs. Really, there is not much difference between them both and if you can follow directions, you can add virtual machines to your OS.
You first will need to get your application. Virtual Box, http://www.virtualbox.org/, comes in many flavors, and you really need to pay close attention to the version when running Linux on your base machine. You can download VB for Windows, Linux, and Mac, and it works smoothly and similarly on each platform. In the rest of this review, I will show screen captures from VB running on my Ubuntu laptop. You can see to the left, that I currently run three virtual machines. One is my XP machine to allow me to run my certification applications. Fedora, just because I live in Raleigh, home of Red Hat, and the eeePC is Ubuntu Netbook Remix. Our school system owns about 300 eeePCs, and I am working on an image of UNR instead of using the stock Xandros that comes with them. That brings up a great point. The beauty of Virtual Box is the ability to work on preparing an image, without needing the hardware. Yes, that of course is needed eventually, but if you do not have the equipment, you can begin to work on prepping an image, or just test how an app will work on multiple operating systems.
When I began using Virtual Box a few years ago, I struggled to get some of the hardware to work. For instance, the sound on the virtual machine would not work. Or in trying to use the host’s CD player or USB port, I could not access them on the virtual machine. Sometimes the network did not transfer either. Thankfully, those changes have been made, and all work pretty smoothly. A user is presented with features, such as choosing where to boot from and when to use the USB, but it works! Another great features, found in the Guest Additions, allows the user to switch seamlessly from the virtual machines back to the host. In the past, you would click in your VM’s window, and would need to click some key combination to release from that VM. Not so now when you add the Guest Additions. You can click in one, type in the other, and copy and paste back to the original. True virtualization! And of course, you can always make your VM full screen. It works so well that one of my colleagues saw me using the laptop with XP in full screenmode and he asked, ‘So, is your Linux experiment over,’ thinking I eliminated the Ubuntu on my laptop. I quickly switched back to Ubuntu, and it left even him impressed.
Does Virtual Box have a use in education? Absolutely! It is similar to VMWare, which many use on the server side. Many Mac shops utilize Parallels to give functionality of two OS to students, and I see the same possibilities for VirtualBox. When you see some of the great Linux apps for education like Tux Paint, Tux Math, and GCompris, then you consider apps like Gimp, DIA, and the KDE education apps, I definitely see a school system utilizing VirtualBox. And of course, the geek teacher will love exploring as well.