Been playing with Sun’s xVM VirtualBox software again for a couple of days. I find virtual machines fascinating. Clearly emulators have been around since the dawn of computing, and in fact, the whole concept of writing software is in some ways emulation. But the complexity of emulating an entire PC, within a PC, just makes me giggle.
In the daylight hours that I’m obliged to work I spend a lot of time dealing with virtualisation as it’s an increasingly popular technology, and I’ve messed around with virtual machines at home, but VirtualBox really is pretty smooth.
And I’m using it to satisfy my other geekery interest – Linux. Anyone unlucky enough to have read this blog for a few years will know that I used to have much more Linux in the house, handling web, mail and a bunch of other things. Over time it became clear that I was just doing it for the sake of it and that open source and free Windows software really was enough to get me by. This was even more true when we bought new PC’s with XP licenses (I’ll leave that statement hanging, so you get the implication).
I’d messed with Linux desktops for quite a while, originally with SUSE and a little Red Hat, but I’d never gotten on very well with the X Windows environment, it was always too painful to me. So for a long time I stuck to a server implementation of Debian (never got X working on the graphics card that I used in that machine) and stuck to the server side. Lately however the desktop distributions have come on in leaps and bounds and coupled with Linux versions of Firefox and Open Office, they really do provide a significant amount of functionality that I use day to day at home.
So I stuck Ubuntu on a virtual machine and it runs really well, very impressed. Despite the fact that it’s a VM it runs pretty quickly, more than useable. I suspect other than games I could quite easily live with Ubuntu as my main OS and these days WINE is pretty good at supporting most games (if I understand it correctly). The reason I won’t move fully is that I have a legit version of XP on this machine, it works fine, does everything I need it to do and plays games. Which is exactly why Linux is still the underdog in the desktop wars and why you find people so upset about the bundling of OS’s with hardware.
The reason I started looking at VirtualBox again was actually nothing to do with Linux, I wanted to see if I could build a little sandbox running XP, in which I could install and run software that I’d downloaded to make sure it worked as expected and didn’t cause any issues, before installing it on the real image. VirtualBox provides really nice snapshotting which can ‘roll back’ any malicious installs. I’m really not sure how the XP licensing works though. Can I run the same licensed version of XP on my machine, and inside a VM on the same machine legitimately?