Goodbye dual boot, hello virtualisation

I confess, I nearly did away with Linux last week. Something was consistently going wrong and for the life of me I couldn’t work out what – the result was that, at far-too-regular intervals, my machine was hanging/locking/freezing. At first I took it as it came (good moment to sit back and stave off the back pain) but after a few weeks it was becoming untenable. Until – finally – I stumbled across the message threads (for example) that suggested setting “pci-noacpi” in the boot script. Blow me if it doesn’t work, though I’m sure I’m missing out on all kinds of clever stuff!

As a result, I’ve decided to stick with Ubuntu Gutsy as my base operating system, for the time being. There’s a whole stack of reasons – advantages and disadvantages – and I wouldn’t advise Linux (even Ubuntu) for just everybody. I’ll get round to documenting these over the coming week or so.

This shouldn’t necessarily be construed as some massive switch from Windows to Linux. There are still things I either need, or like to do in Windows, so I am sticking with a hybrid configuration; however, as already discussed, with its smaller footprint (about 650Mb of memory in active use, rather than the 1.2Gb I found was required for Vista in the same scenario) Linux is the preferred base OS for virtualisation. Perhaps the biggest leap of faith is the fact I have just deleted the dual boot: I’m finding that running XP in a VirtualBox virtual machine is just as usable, and far more accessible than having to boot into a separate configuation to access Windows-based applications. It also means I’m working with just one set of files, rather than synchronising between my virtual file store and real, though of course equally virtual file store.

This last point was quite an epiphany for me. At the start I was concerned about what might happen, should the virtual hard disk get corrupted… until I remembered I was equally concerned by (and experienced in) real disks getting corrupted. The answer, of course, was doing a backup. Then, of course, one remembers that everything is virtual, imaginary, made up combinations of electronic signals to give us the impression of data. Phew, but in a good way.

The configuration I have now is much simpler than trying to manage dual boot – there are less file systems to mount, less apps to install and keep up to date, etc. And of course, I can access all my applications at once. On the data side, I still need to delve deeper into questions of file sharing between base and virtual machines – in principle it is quite simple (for example, using virtual network shares in VirtualBox) but I still don’t understand how things like indexing are handled, or for example what is the performance hit on very large files, if they are accessed over a pseudo-network.

For now at least, everything is working fine, and so I can get on with writing about technology, rather than playing with it 🙂

Goodbye dual boot, hello virtualisation

5 thoughts on “Goodbye dual boot, hello virtualisation

  1. Jon

    What are your feelings based on your experience as to whether Linux is ready for either
    (a) The enterprise to replace Windows on the desktop or
    (b) The average SME who wants to reduce IT costs by not getting locked into the WinTel platform?

    Brian

  2. Brian,

    That hinges on the word “ready”. Is Linux a viable mainstream operating system? Yes. However, I wouldn’t recommend any organisation large or small to buy bunch of random, white box PCs and stick any flavour of Linux on it (and I know, nor would you!). Linux has a number of strengths (smaller footprint, licensing costs, access to open source software pool), and so does Windows (user familiarity, simpler administration, application compatibility) that would need to be balanced against the weaknesses of each.

    For organisations that do their own admin and have the smarts, the decision should be quite straightforward. I certainly wouldn’t advocate Linux without a support contract, for anyone who doesn’t have the UNIX skills… but then, nor would I for Windows 🙂

    More to follow, as mentioned.

    Cheers, Jon

  3. Thanks Jon

    I guess we are yet to see that tipping point when companies, especially small ones, can confidently make a choice between Linux or Windows. Support issues aside, as you point out they are applicable to both platforms, one of the biggest obstacle Linux faces is end user training/familiarity. Most non-IT users would be familiar with Windows with very few having exposure to Linux. For a small company that could be a very important factor as (a) end user training costs are minimal if they stick with Windows and (b) a wider choice of support companies to choose from.

    Looking forward to hearing more about your trials and tribulations

    Brian

  4. Aye to that – the other factor at play is Linux itself. Ubuntu has done a great job in packaging up a distro that can have much more appeal for the masses, but there’s still a way to go before it reaches (say) Mac standard.

    I for one would applaud a locked-down-linux initiative, which incorporated a similar level of beta testing as Windows or Mac.

    Jon

  5. me, myself and I says:

    We’re a small, no, microscopic company. Since we are a software shop, we maintain about 10-12 servers. All but one test/antivirus server box are running Linux. If it wasn’t for Windows software which we need for development because our customers ask for it, we’d probably mainly switch to Linux on the desktops also.

    The maintenance cost is somewhat higher, but putting admin, licensing and business administrative costs together, Linux comes out way ahead, at least in our case.

    The Windows-only software we still need to run gets ported to Linux. As soon as our customers upgrade, it’s likely that some more users will switch to Linux.

    I don’t see a problem with distributions. As long as you have skilled admins, they can build up whatever you as a user might dream up, in terms of configuration and package management.

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