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OpenSource VirtualBox better than its proprietary competition

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I remember my first experience with Firefox when I noticed that it was free AND better. Wait, something free should have some tradeoffs, right? Well I’ve had that experience again, this time with VirtualBox. Read on or just go get it now! Yes, it runs in Vista, XP, Linux and Apple (beta.)

How I got to VirtualBox

It was early ’06 when my friend Mark Wash said I’d better get up to speed on virtualization technology. I yawned. I don’t get it; who need to run a machine inside a machine? Suffice it to say, I soon “got it.” So, I set out to find which would be best for my needs (multi-OS, need for sandboxing, etc.) and my budget (oh so low). Microsoft’s was out since I wanted multi-OS. I liked VMware’s functionality and experience. The trial version showed its stuff. The availability of the VMPlayer was great. The beta versions were ridiculously slow.

Then, there was Parallels. Can you say “carbon copy?” It seemed to be identical. But little by little, the gaps in what it could do became more apparent. Many VMWare features were listed in Parallel’s support forums as “maybe someday” features. But the price! How could I go wrong? Without making this a Parallel’s bashing post, it was clear that using an Ubuntu guest within an XP was somewhat frustrating since the guest tools didn’t really work, nor did USB support. And an XP guest within an Ubuntu host? Don’t even go there! I suppose the version for Macintosh is more reliable.

It was as I was lamenting these issues in an Ubuntu forum that someone asked if I’d tried VirtualBox. No, never heard of it. Turns out it only came out in January, 2007 as you can see in their progress log . Having worked with various open source projects, one tries not to set high expectations, but off I went.

Eureka! A “just works” experience

I can’t even guess how complex it must be to program a VM, but VirtualBox makes it look easy. It just works! The availability of a version for the most recently released version of Ubuntu was a nice touch. Installing this was amazingly easy for a Linux application. The interface is clean, new VM setup a cinch and maintenance of VMs is easy to monitor. Oh, and want to move a virtual drive from one OS to another? Just put it in an accessible spot, go to the virtual disk image manager and add it, then create a virtual machine linking to this disk. I setup a fat32 partition so these can be accessed from either OS without being moved.

The feature set of VirtualBox is impressive, providing a much more ambitious goal than Parallels. Taking snapshots (not an option in Parallels) works slick. Click to close the guest window and it can save the state of the machine very quickly. Just try stuff like the host + A to automatically resize your guest screen. So slick.

Figure 1-Note Shared Clipboard can have copy / pasting going in either direction, both or disabled.

You can have a remote display allowing you to setup a virtual machine on a remote server and send all only the KVM info across to your client machine. There’s a complete CLI functionality that provides for an amazing range of control. (These last two I’ve not explored yet.)


  • VirtualBox now supports using VMDK files so that you can take a disk image created under VMWare and just start using it in VirtualBox (a wish list item in Parallels I might add.) Though I didn’t need this ability, I tried grabbing an old VMDK image I had backed up to try it. I received a nasty error message, perhaps because there were snapshots on that VM?
  • Initially upon installing v. 1.4.0 into a Vista host, I found that after my Ubuntu guest auto-activated my mouse in the window, my keyboard was gone and the mouse was confined inside the edges of my Ubuntu guest! This required a hard reset of the machine. I uninstalled VirtualBox, reinstalled and have not had the same disconcerting issue.
  • The default “host key”, the right Ctrl key, is not my first choice and so I change this to my scroll lock key. Now don’t laugh: It’s probably obvious to most, but when they say host + F they mean “hold down the host key while pressing F” Somehow, it just seemed wrong to hold down the Scroll key and this led me into wondering why no hot keystrokes worked.
  • Note that when Ubuntu auto updates the Linux kernel, the VirtualBox will abend upon running after the next reboot. I panicked and changed the grub menu default to us the prior kernel at boot time until a nice forum poster named onero gave easy instructions for an update.

Written by scottledyard

2007, July 1st at 9:38 pm

Feisty Fawn herd 5 + Wireless Broadcom 4318 = Challenges

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Hoping for that “Just Works” experience, I instead found it “Hard Work” getting the Wireless network to function on my HP dv5000 after installing the latest 7.04 alpha Herd 5.
The apparently best info on this I found at an Ubuntu forum post. The initial post, though updated regularly (Thanks, compwiz18!) does not quite get it since his script only checks for versions up to Edgy.

kosson has an update for a 64-bit + Herd 4 solution there.

Here’s what I tried (keep in mind I had a wired internet, so I didn’t install anything off of the CD):

  1. Installed ndiswrapper-common and ndiswrapper-utils (links to ndiswrapper-utils-1.1)
  2. Downloaded compwiz18’s tarball and extracted to Desktop. The files were ndiswrapper-setup, drivers-32.tar.gz, and drivers-64.tar.gz.
  3. Attempted to run compwiz18’s ndiswrapper-setup script, but it abended. Dug into script and manually kept on going.
  4. Extracted drivers-32.tar.gz which contained bcmwl5.inf and bcmwl5.sys.
  5. To check if anything was already installed, executed:

    redboot@HPdv5000:~/Desktop$ ndiswrapper -l
    No drivers installed

  6. To install, executed these two: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by scottledyard

2007, March 4th at 11:08 am

Posted in Ubuntu, wireless

Resetting Ubuntu password is easy

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Never having “lost” my password in Linux, I’ve always bypassed articles about how to reset passwords (though I’ve noticed that Linux software available to reset XP administrator passwords are not gratis). Not sure why I set the Ubuntu server password to something I’ve forgotten, but I thought, “Oh, well. I guess I’ll reinstall.” But then, I figured it might be worth a shot to see about resetting it. Within minutes I had it reset! There seem to be many sites that give various guidance, but specifically for Ubuntu (6.10 Edgy Eft in my case) here’s all it took:

  1. At system boot, when Grub menu appears, select Recovery. Eventually, a root (#) command line appears.
  2. Use “cd /etc” and “tail passwd” to see the last part of the password file. You’ll see your login name.
  3. Use “passwd login name” and it will prompt you for a new password.
  4. Press Ctrl-D and the X window will begin and you’ll be able to login.

Sure glad I took the 2 minute route instead of the 2 hour route!

Written by scottledyard

2007, February 25th at 10:40 am

Posted in Security, Ubuntu

USB Linux trial

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Started the 5199 class yesterday and was thinking about running a small Linux distro on a USB.
Bought a $30 1Gig USB from Sams and tried it in the Vista machine as a ReadyBoost drive just to see if it was a speedy one. It is not. The Event Viewer showed that it didn’t pass due to low write speed of 1028kbs (1 Mbps?) I also tried my 1Gig Flash Voyager and it failed with Vista reporting that it only had a 110MB portion that was fast.
Looked at pendrive linux and attempted Ubuntu on a USB. It took about half hour to setup and when I attempted to boot, it looked like it would work, but I bailed after 5 minutes! Besides, it indicated that it was a Live CD version. Duh! I can do that just burning a CD or two. So I tried the DSL version which is described at:
I also downloaded a torrent of Xubuntu 6.10 Live and burnt it as a comparison.
Neither ended up booting properly. They both seemed to be booting for half a minute of so. They seemed very slow. I’m going to try a different route. The Live CDs are so easy and work well. They just lack the ability to save configuration changes.

Written by scottledyard

2007, February 11th at 6:20 pm

Posted in Linux, Ubuntu, Xubuntu

Setting up a thin client network using Edubuntu

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Yesterday, Camilo arrived with a student, Grant, to setup a practice Terminal Server using Edubuntu 6.10 and a bunch of old computers as thin-clients. It was a resounding success and clearly this kind of system will and can be employed in the MayaTech’s Guatemala classrooms.

As with any lab experiment, there were some unresolved issues and some follow up tasks that need to be addressed. They are listed here:

[Oops. Not added.]

Written by scottledyard

2006, December 23rd at 8:29 pm

Posted in Edubuntu, LTSP, Ubuntu

Firing up Edubuntu and LTSP

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On the 5th Camilo wrote saying that he wanted to explore using thin client computing to alleviate the lack of PCs in Guatemala. See our thread of conversations on email that ensued where we investigated installing Edubuntu 6.10. After a few days of playing around, I got it running without being able to log in, but Camilo was able to login and email me last night (the 12th) This could be pretty cool. We’ll see. We’re going to try setting up a lab on the 22nd. Maybe I’ll setup a 2nd drive. Maybe time to get another IDE drive to just have for booting into Edubuntu purposes. Maybe get that layer 3 100/1000Mbps switch working? Hit Ebay?

Written by scottledyard

2006, December 13th at 7:21 am

Posted in Edubuntu, LTSP

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