Saturday, June 01, 2013

linux at home: running a linux mint 15 virtual machine on windows 8

Windows 8 desktop with task manager and VMware Player booting Linux Mint 15
Back in my last job I got into the habit of installing every Linux distribution when it was newly released. The primary reason was to keep tabs on the evolution of the various distributions. The secondary reason was because VirtualBox, and later VMware Player, forgave a host of sins when trying to install Linux on bare metal, not the least of which was lack of driver support for the latest and greatest peripherals that were evolving at a mad pace on their own. I quickly discovered I had far greater success installing Linux virtually than I ever did directly on a notebook or desktop computer. The icing on the cake was the rapid realization that I didn't have to wipe a drive when I wanted to install a different version of a different distribution. VMs were basically very large disk files, and as long as I had enough disk space (growing from the hundreds of gigs into the single terabytes) I could just create another VM, install yet another Linux variant, and keep on truckin'. The others were idled (stored as it were) until I needed to run them again, or eventually deleted when no longer needed.

Right now, at home, on my Samsung Series 7 700Z7C notebook, with 8GB of DRAM, a quad-core i7-3615QM notebook processor, and 1TB of disk media, I have four individual virtual Linux machines; Fedora 18, CentOS 6.4, Ubuntu 13.4, and the latest installed today, Linux Mint 15. All of these are 64 bit, have a modest 20 to 40GB of disk space allocated to them, 2GB of VM memory, and two cores. I don't have enough horsepower to run them all, but that's not my intent. My intent is to have a reasonably executing Linux environment with any one of them as needed on the Windows 8 desktop along with any number of simultaneous Windows development tools. So far that model has worked just fine for me, and I don't see it changing before I'm ready to step up to my next notebook sometime towards the end of next year.

Linux Mint 15 was released this past week. I downloaded the ISO, created a blank VM, and booted then installed Mint on that blank VM. Because Mint is derived from Ubuntu it follows Ubuntu's minimalist installation procedures, which is determine your language, location somewhere on this planet, the type of hardware you have automagically, and then to stuff everything it thinks you need on the machines storage media. You can argue all you want about not being allowed to exercise fine-grained control over the installation, but time is money, disk space is so vast and cheap these days, and I really don't have the time to screw with it much anymore. If I need something specific I'll fix it after the system is installed and operational.
Linux Mint 15 login after installation on the VM
Installing Mint 15 went without a single hitch. When it finished it booted into the primary account I'd created called, rather creatively, mint. I have all my Linux VMs set up this way; accounts and passwords are the distribution name, and they all automatically log in and behave like a regular Windows 8 desktop application when invoked. I will say that the login screen for Mint 15 is the best I've ever seen for Mint, if not for Linux in general. Starting from login and going through the general operation, someone (or a number of someones) have gone to a lot of trouble to pay attention to the details of building a solid working desktop environment. This attention to this level of detail shows in Mint 15, and I certainly appreciate it.
Basic desktop showing a well designed and laid-out Cinnamon menu
I've installed Cinnamon on several distributions in lieu of Gnome 3, and I have never seen Cinnamon look this polished or work as well as it does on Mint 15. Kudos to whatever it was they did, it works quite well.
Checking on any updates that need to be installed after the initial base install
One of the aspects of any distribution I always check is what has to be patched as soon as the base installation finished. Linux Mint 15 was no different than any other, but it surprised me in only having 30 packages to update. By contrast I've had hundreds come flowing down the internets after a base installation, and this was only after snagging a copy of the installation ISO 24 hours after its official release. And these were minor fixes and updates, not a whole-sale kernel update in the bunch.

My only real complaint is looking for release notes, especially for class 1 fixes. This isn't the first distribution that allows you to read the release notes and then not supply them; Ubuntu is pretty notorious about this as well, and Fedora can be pretty forgetful as well.
Installing the updates
Once again a tip of the hat to the engineer that designed a clean download dialog. This is reminiscent of Ubuntu, but with a bit more polish and clarity. A minor nit is the layout manager doesn't keep the upper widgets (everything from the top to the "Show individual files" toggle) tightly packed as the dialog is stretched.
Finding and installing Chromium from the Linux Mint repositories

Checking the version of Chromium, which is two major releases behind regular Chrome
The final task I performed before I wrapped it up for the day was to find and install Chrome. Linux distributions don't ship bog-standard Chrome like you would experience on every other OS besides Linux, but instead ship Chromium. That would be fine except the version of Chromium that's shipped out to Linux is usually one to two versions behind regular Chrome. I must give praise to the ease of finding and installing Chromium. It's the easiest it's ever been. But in the end I'm going to uninstall Chromium and install Chrome just like I have for every other Linux distribution I've brought up. Such is the pity considering how easy it was to get Chromium going on Linux Mint 15.

I've come to regret recommending Linux in the past, but if someone were to ask me today what Linux distribution I would recommend I'd have to tell them to at least try Linux Mint. This version of Ubuntu (as that's what it is) is directed at folks who really need to get work done. The desktop is more "classical" than Ubuntu or Gnome 3, and lacks all the distracting desktop glam effects that have accreted all over KDE. I need to dig in a little deeper and check out gcc and Java, but I was very happy when I installed the VMware Tools onto Linux Mint 15 and it executed without a hitch. It may be that in the not too distant future I'll pair down my VMs to just two, CentOS and Linux Mint. That'll give me a stable RPM-based distribution (RHEL) and a DEB-based (Debian) stable distribution that keeps up with the latest kernel and tool chain.

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