October 17, 2009

Virtual 'computer' reality

I have to admit that when it comes to technology, nothing they have designed has ever really surprised me. I mean I live in age of technology, and have read science fiction since I could barely read. But last weekend I was truly amazed and what is possible on a home computer. This is a story about 'virtual' reality.

If you read my last blog, you'll know I wanted to try out a new computer operating system called Ubuntu (a type of Linux) but was a little worried about all the technical things you had to do to get it onto the hard drive. But there turned out to be an alternative.

You see, up to now, if you wanted to have two operating systems (OS) on the same computer, you had to fashion them like having two homes under one roof. You could be in one, but not the other. If you needed something in the other OS, you had to leave the first one, lock it up and go next door and unlock that one. Anyone who had to deal with this was very good at carrying things between the houses on floppies, CDs and now flash drives. Not something I really wanted to do.

But in my research, I kept coming across this word 'virtual'. To use the house analogy, it's like building a house inside another house. You can spend all your time in either house or go back and forth with ease. For the computers, the main limitation is how much memory (RAM) you have. Turns out I have 4Gig of RAM, and Ubuntu needs very little, so this just might work.

I used a free program from Sun Microsystems, one of the pioneer companies in computers, called appropriately VirtualBox. It really couldn't have been simpler as it only took 10 minutes to create a 'virtual' computer to load my Ubuntu on. By virtual I mean that the Ubuntu disc that loads the program thinks that it is loading onto a separate computer, when actually it is just guest on the host computer.

Sorry I can't explain it any better than that. But to me, this is so incredible. Even for my laptop, I could probably add more operating systems like Windows XP or Vista. The cool thing is that as far as the 'guest' system is concerned, it is it's own person. Something goes wrong, like a virus or something, I don't have to worry since the 'guest' isn't real. I just delete it and try again.

Ubuntu running inside Snow Leopard

I thought, since it worked so well with Ubuntu, I'd try another, Windows XP. And it worked flawlessly. And because its all virtual, I can move between the operating systems with the flick of a key, just like walking between rooms in a house.

Windows XP running inside Snow Leopard

Yes, you can physically load different operating systems on one computer but it can be complicated and potentially damaging if you don't know what your doing. But, if you have enough computer memory, a virtual environment is a great alternative.

Running both Windows XP and Linux Ubuntu
on my Mac OSX Snow Leopard desktop
It's like looking through a window onto a different world

Here are a few links that might be helpful if you want to try:

VirtualBox: free download
Quick Guide to Installing Ubuntu on a Mac (using VirtualBox)

And you're just in time for the next free upgrade in Ubuntu called 'Karmic Koala'. For more information, go to Ubuntu.com.