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Virtualization - A handy way to evaluate Linux

Table of Contents:
1. Introduction
2. Prerequisites
3. Installing VMware Player
4. Creating a virtual machine
5. Booting and installing Linux
1. Introduction
Virtualization is, simply put, a process that creates a computer on software lev
el. This computer that you emulate, or "virtualize", on software level, is calle
d a virtual machine. I would not get into technical details here, but there are
inherent advantages to using a virtual machine. The major advantage is that the
need to partition the hard drive is eliminated, and hence the user can try sever
al operating systems or Linux distributions before deciding which one is best fo
r him. The alternative approach where you would reformat and partition the hard
disk again and again is fraught with hazards of data loss and permanent damage t
o hard drive (hard drives are not meant to be formatted again and again, you see
!) Another advantage is that you can install OSes on a virtual machine directly
off an ISO file, so you don't need to burn so many CDs. Finally, even if your mi
nd is set regarding what distribution you will be using, you can practice instal
ling it once to see if you have any problems with it, rather than commit yoursel
f to the installation process and panic once it starts asking scary questions!
I will be walking you through the installation of Linux here, but the theory app
lies well to every other OS, including Solaris, BSD, and even the more esoteric
OSes like Plan 9!
2. Prerequisites
You'll need the following:
- A computer with 1 GHz+ processor and atleast 512 MB RAM. This is essential! A
ny less RAM would not do, since the virtual machine would need 256 MB or more or
RAM for itself. You'll not enjoy true performance on anything short of a 2 GHz+
processor with 1 GB or more of RAM. You'll also need about 2-3 GB of free hard
disk space, at least.
- VMware Player 3.0. The thing with virtualization is that newer and newer tech
nology is quite quick to come by, and your version of VMware Player might be out
dated. VMware Player 3.0 lets you create virtual machines (you had to leap over
several hurdles to get the job done with VMware Player 2.0 and below), so your j
ob becomes quite easy!
- A CD/DVD or ISO image file containing the operating system. Most probably you
have received this in the OSS club meets.
VMware Player is not the only software that lets you do virtualization, but it i
s the best. VirtualBox has huge issues, and Xen has queer licenses I quite disli
ke. Qemu is too difficult, though if I get enough responses with this article, I
might write a virtualization guide using Qemu.
3. Installing VMware Player
First of all, we'll need to download VMware Player. It's 89 MB or thereabouts, s
o be warned! Do note that one download would serve everyone, so one person could
download it and share it with the rest. I have a copy with myself, so if you do
not wish to bother with the download process (it is rather cumbersome, truth be
told), I will be returning to Jodhpur shortly, and you could collect it from me
Those brave souls who wish to try the download process could click the following
There's a download button towards the left hand side of the screen. Click it. Yo
u will be presented with a form. Enter your name and email address in the upper
form and click "Continue". You will be asked for some more information, and at t
he end of it all, you will receive an activation mail. Click the link. Now you h
ave a VMware account. Go back to the download page. You will be presented with a
list of downloads. Select the first one, the link that says "Binary (.exe) (89
MB)". Download and install. The installation is quite straightforward, though us
ers of Windows Vista and above will need to provide administrative access to the
4. Creating a virtual machine
Once the installation is complete, an icon will be placed on your desktop. Doubl
e click it to start VMware Player. You will be presented with a screen with an e
mpty list on the left and four menu options on the right. We'll be creating a vi
rtual machine, so select "Create a New Virtual Machine".
In the screen that follows, select the "I will install the operating system late
r" radio button and click "Next". You could select either of the other two optio
ns but I do not recommend it since it starts up the Easy Install process which a
utomates the installation, which won't help you practice for a real installation
In the next screen, select "Linux" as the guest OS type. Under the dropdown, sel
ect whatever distribution you are installing and click "Next".
Choose an apt name for the virtual machine you are creating and click "Next".
In this step, you will be required to set the hard disk size. VMware would sugge
st 20 GB for pretty much everything, but for evaluation purpose, an 8 GB hard di
sk would suffice. Click "Next".
You will be presented with a summary screen. Click "Customize Hardware" and sele
ct CD/DVD (IDE). On the right, select "Use physical drive" if you will be using
a CD to install Linux, or "Use ISO image file" if you are installing from an ISO
file (in which case, remember to click "Browse" and select the ISO file too!) C
lick OK, and click Finish to power the virtual machine on.
5. Booting and installing Linux
You have been provided with leaflets for the installation of a couple of Linux d
istributions. Follow the instructions therein. Note one thing, however -- since
the hard disk for your virtual machine has nothing on it, it is perfectly alrigh
t to let the installer use the entire hard disk (the 8 GB you allocated) for its
Happy hacking, and if there are any questions or difficulties, feel free to repl