For the average user, making the long-awaited switch to Linux seems quite challenging. The open source community has worked tirelessly to tempt the main stream crowd to the penguin world, and after many Linux distributions, Ubuntu has come through the ranks as the obvious choice for any newcomer willing to abandon the commercial world for the real one. Ubuntu’s slogan says it all: Linux for human beings.
In many cases, Ubuntu’s new releases do not offer obvious improvements, especially from the eyes of a skeptical Windows addict. Fortunately, April’s release of Ubuntu, Jaunty Jackalope, brings to the table the sort of features that are immediately noticeable, including an enhanced interface, improved performance, and an overwhelmingly extensive hardware support.
Indeed, with Ubuntu 9.04 there has never been a better time to switch to Linux. Nothing beats having free, open source software, with impressive performance, tight security, and the fact that it just works! Pop in the CD and test out the Live edition to get a complete idea of how exactly it will look and function. Moreover, the installation takes less than 20 minutes, and you won’t break a sweat.
Making the switch is difficult for many reasons, and that is a whole topic of its own. However, it is suffice to say that the one functionality commonly demanded by stubborn Windows users, is the ability to run certain specialized programs that are not available on Linux. Even if there are equivalents offered for Linux, it is to a certain extent understandable that users will need to either stick to their programs on Windows, or at least make the gradual shift to the Linux equivalent. This is precisely where VirtualBox comes in.
VirtualBox is a free, open source virtualizer available for (almost) all operating systems allowing you to install an OS on top of another. In this case, it is the ideal solution for the regular user looking to move to Linux. After installing Ubuntu 9.04 on your computer, and installing VirtualBox from the Add/Remove Applications, you can easily install Windows virtually over Ubuntu, thus granting yourself access to the Windows-only applications that you need. As long as your processor is relatively recent, and you have over 2GB of RAM, you should be good to go, and installing Windows virtually would be a great idea, regardless of how frequently you plan to use it.
The steps are pretty straight forward:
- Open VirtualBox and click on the New button
- This will prompt the wizard, click Next to continue
- Enter a desired name (for example: MyWindows). Then choose Microsoft Windows in the Operating System field, and Windows XP for the version
- Choose how much memory you would like to dedicate to the virtual installation (in this case, Windows XP). This comes down to personal preference, really, and I recommend half of your RAM to the new virtual machine
- For the Virtual Hard Disk, you’re going to need to create one to use it. This will be the file on your computer that Windows XP will treat as it’s hard disk. Therefore, click new:
- This will start another wizard, so click Next to continue
- Choose the type of storage. Again, personal preference. I tend to stick to Dynamically expanding storage since I’m never exactly sure how much space I will end up needing for Windows. If you’re still hesitant, check out the Virtuatopia explanation
- Choose the location for the hard disk data on your computer, as well as how big you would like the file to be. I personally think a Windows XP installation with some basic programs will need 10GB or more, but then again, that depends on the space available on your local machine, as well as the applications you are planning on installing
- Now that the hard disk file is created, click on finish to return to the main wizard
- Choose the file that you have just created for the Boot Hard Disk field and click Next
- After reviewing the short summary, click finish and the virtual machine will have been created!
NOTE: That does not mean that Windows XP has been installed on Ubuntu. It means that the virtual machine where Windows will be installed is ready to go.
Now all you need to do is to insert the Windows XP installation CD, and start the virtual machine that you had created. After that, you can follow the regular steps for installing Windows, as if on a normal machine.
The result: A fresh Ubuntu installation that provides a fast, secure, and absolutely free user experience, with access to Windows on top of Linux in case you still rely on some Windows-based applications. It is also very useful for designers looking to test how a website renders on Windows’ browsers like Internet Explorer. In all cases, it is very easy, and everything besides Windows is free and open source. You can’t beat that.