Tuesday, March 09, 2010


One of my goals for the Big Honker was to support virtual machines.

I had thought I would run VMware's ESX on the raw metal and then have everything virtualized under that. I found that this was very limiting, first in specific hardware support (after all it's really for servers) and second in support of USB devices being passed through to the virtual machines.

I compared VMware's Workstation to Sun's VirtualBox. Besides VirtualBox being free and VMware's Workstation costing $189, VirtualBox seemed to be more flexible and simpler, at least for what I needed/wanted.

VirtualBox's download and install was easy. It bounced the network (warning me first) to install its virtual network adapter in the TCP/IP stack. More on this a little later.

One of the first uses I tried was to install Windows 98 SE which is not officially supported. There is a good dialog on the VirtualBox forums about installing and running Windows 98. After holding my mouth just right, I got it to install but could never get it to access external data, e.g. CDs or USB drives. Perhaps I could have eventually overcome this.

But I moved on to just using Windows XP Pro. This is an officially supported environment. When I went to create the virtual machine, XP was on the menu. It gave me a recommended configuration and I was ready to go.

When I finished the normal XP install, there's a drop-down in the VirtualBox menu to install Guest Additions. These are software and device drivers that aware of the virtualization going on and enable some enhanced support, things like cursor focus being transparent.

With regard to getting access to external data, XP was much easier. I just set the network adapter to be bridged and the XP virtual machine appears to be on my local network. I can also assign any USB device to the virtual machine and it has complete access to it.

Access to the virtual machine is simple. VirtualBox has a built-in server for the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). This lets me invoke an RDP session from my laptop and go full-screen. It's like I'm there!

My next goal is to get my XP virtual machine where I want it relative to software, tools, and patches and then "clone" it. Then I can create cloned virtual machines from that base and play with them. There seem to be a couple of choices from simply duplicating the virtual hard drive to snapshotting and creating "differential" disks with just the changes from the snapshot.

This is fun!

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