Virtualised life

There are various occasions when we take a backseat in experimenting with new software, courtesy our fear of unstable windows. Not to mention our hesitance to try our hands on those colourful Linux distributions, debating if its really worth to spare a partition for the new OS. And after last dose of Bart’s PE, many brave guys must have burned a few not so good CDs and others fearing to risk a disk, not sure if their .ISO will work. And lets remember our biggest fear, reinstalling OS and all our programs due to various reasons. Have you ever thought if there is any one solution to all these problems?

To all those troubled guys, here is the single solution that fixes all your problems- Virtualization. Virtualization deals with creating various virtual machines under one single physical machine. The virtual machines share hardware resources with the physical machine.

The advantages of using virtual machines are numerous. You can install and run multiple operating systems(guests) on a single machine(host) and switch between them easily using the host machine without need to logoff from any of them. That means running vista, Ubunto, Fedora, Red hat etc in various windows under your windows XP!

Apart from that, you have the facility to create shared folders between the host and guest PCs, enabling data sharing. Install all your programs under the virtual XP and save its state. Always run virtual XP and in future if there is any issue with it, just switch back to the saved state on a click! Else install and use not frequently used and large programs like office suit etc in virtual XP to save your host registry from 20,000 entries.

Else just create a virtual PC, don’t install anything, and boot it from you Bart’s PE live windows CD or even through an ISO on your host HDD! Great way to test your live Windows before burning to CD.

There are various tools available in market that supports virtualization. From freeware to free to try ones. But the one I chose taking into account its functionality, ease of operation and cost (free!!!) is Sun Virtual box. Download the software from home site, some 30 Mb size.

Installation and usage:

Installation is easy and neat. After you install it, run the application. You are welcomed by the first run menu that directs you to creating a new virtual PC. Steps are given here under to set up a virtual PC.

  1. Click on New tab in welcome screen. This runs a virtual machine wizard to create a virtual machine.
  2. Set a name to the virtual machine and select the type of OS and its version you plan to install. Else select others and unknown version if you just want to make a virtual PC. Click next.
  3. Select the amount of RAM you can spare to your guest machine. The Rule of thumb is to assign 1/4th of net memory to the machine for a 512 MB machine, half of memory for 1 GB memory machines etc. Keep in mind not to starve your host PC for memory and to take care not to over assign memory to a single machine when you plan to install multiple machines. A machine to run Bart’s PE requires just 64 MB memory where as a XP machine requires at least 256 MB for guest machine and at least an equal amount for the host. When done, click next.
  4. Select the virtual hard disk. Since this is the first time, you need to create a virtual hard disk first. Click  new to enter the create VHD wizard. In hard disk type, select dynamic expanding type store since it is created quick and is advantageous. In a dynamic expanding storage, the actual amount of space occupied by the VHD on the host HDD isn’t equal to the set limit, but equal to the actual being used or required as of then. For example, when you create a 10 GB dynamic VHD, and install XP on it, it occupies just around 2-3 GB space and grows as guest claims disk space, till the specified limit is reached. Select type and click next.

Set the size depending on the OS you plan to install in the virtual  machine. Click finish to complete VHD wizard.

  1. Select the created VHD and click next and then finish to complete the virtual machine creation wizard.
  2. The virtual machine is created. Select the machine and go to settings. Here you can anytime alter the resource allocation of the virtual machine. Set video memory, boot order and snapshot( saved system state) location.
  3. In CD/DVD ROM tab, you can mount a bootable ISO or set your machine to boot from your optical drives. Also you can enable floppy drive, USB drives, network adapters etc.
  4. To create a shared folder, its location has to be set but it can be enabled once guest OS is installed by installing virtualbox guest additions on the guest OS. Procedure is described at later stage.

Installing guest OS:

Make sure you have enabled CD/DVD ROM in your virtual machine and insert the installation media in the optical drive. Start you virtual PC. It opens in a window, but looks the same way your pc would have behaved during XP installation. Proceed the same way as you do when installing XP on you physical PC. Don’t run any more applications on the host PC since it may create competition for memory and CPU usage.

NOTE: While in virtual machine window, your mouse pointer is grabbed inside it  and you need to press your right CTRL key to free your pointer. So, don’t panic!

Once finished installation, open XP. You may notice that only the virtual HDD is accessible and no contact be made to your host HDD. Now shared folders has to be set up to create data transfer channel between the physical and virtual PCs. Get out of virtual PC pointer hold and click on Devices tab on the running virtual machine window. Click install guest additions. A setup window pops up inside the virtual machine which sets up guest additions. After this, you have access to shared folder, and your mouse pointer isn’t grabbed anymore.

After setting shared folders, install software inside your virtual machine. When done, save its state to which your machine can be restored if it encounters any problem in future.

In a similar way, many virtual machines can be set up on a single host PC, depending on its hardware resources (memory mostly). Have a happy virtualization!!