Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
Linux Part 17
by Alan German
native applications for just about anything, and even
specific Windows' programs can often be run using Wine,
but there are still a few Windows' packages that refuse
to behave properly in the Linux world. Now,
as we have seen in previous articles in this series, it
is easy to set up a dual-boot Linux-Windows system, and
hence have the ability to run any misbehaving programs
directly under Windows. But, perhaps there is another way
to bring these renegades to heel inside of Linux.
Enter VirtualBox, an open-source package overseen by
Oracle Corporation, that allows virtual machines using
any one of a number of operating systems, including
Windows, to be setup in the Linux environment. Of course,
one needs a copy of the Windows' operating system of
choice (e.g. Windows XP) in order to make this happen
but, after that, it's a fairly straightforward process to
run Windows and hence Windows' programs
There are downloadable versions of VirtualBox available
for many Linux distros; however, for Ubuntu, the simplest
way to install the correct version of the software is to
use Synaptic Package Manager. Just search for virtualbox,
mark the open-source edition (OSE) for installation, hit
the apply button and, after a few minutes, VirtualBox is
ready to use.
Now, you could run VirtualBox from a terminal window but
it's more convenient to add a program launcher to the
applications menu. Navigate to System Preferences
Main Menu System Tools and add the launcher
to this menu item using Command = virtualbox.
Now the fun begins. Running the program brings up the
VirtualBox OSE window. The first thing we need to do is
to create a virtual machine by clicking on the
New icon to launch the New Virtual Machine
Wizard. The first screen prompts for a name for the
virtual machine so you can enter something really
esoteric such as Windows XP. By default, the
OS type and version are set to Microsoft Windows, and
Windows XP, respectively. The subsequent settings can
essentially be left at their default values, so that we
assign 192 MB of memory to the virtual machine, and
create a new bootable hard disk, initially with 10 GB,
but with dynamically expandable storage, and named
We are almost ready to load an operating system on our
virtual machine. But, here is the first trick. We need to
enable the CD/DVD drive in the virtual machine so that it
will be able to read data from our master disk. We click
on the Settings icon and then navigate to
Storage the CD icon (currently marked as Empty)
and set the CD/DVD Device to the physical host
drive present on our system.
With a copy of the Windows XP distribution disk inserted
into the CD drive, we now press the Start
icon and the virtual machine roars into life with a
Windows XP installation in process. Now, it's just a
matter of being patient, answering the prompts as they
arise, including entering the serial number associated
with your copy of Windows XP, and letting the
installation reach completion. The VirtualBox window now
displays a running version of Windows XP, as shown in the
screenshot below, where both Windows Explorer and Notepad
are in use on the virtual machine.
There are a few more features (and
tricks) worthy of note with the operation of the
virtual machine (VM). One such item is that the mouse and
keyboard may be assigned to the host machine and/or the
virtual machine, and their status is subject to somewhat
confusing warning messages.
When first starting the VM, a warning message indicates
that the Auto capture keyboard option is
turned on such that the VM will automatically take
control of the keyboard and all keystrokes will be
directed to the VM rather than to the host machine. The
message further states that the mouse and keyboard status
may be toggled using the Host key (the Ctrl
button on the right side of the keyboard). However, a
subsequent message indicates that the guest OS (Windows
XP) supports mouse pointer integration that
automatically uncaptures the mouse when it is
used on the VM.
For Ubuntu users running
a Windows XP VM, the above doesn't seem to be much of a
concern. By default, both devices are initially operative
on both machines. Pressing the host key does indeed
causes the host machine (Ubuntu) to take control of the
keyboard such that text can no longer be entered in
applications running in Windows XP. However, toggling the
host key once again, or simply clicking the mouse inside
the VM's window, re-enables use of the mouse and keyboard
on the VM.
A very useful feature, if you find the VM's window to be
too small, is that it can be easily be resized by
right-clicking on the VM's desktop and adjusting
Properties Settings Screen resolution, just
as you would on a real Windows' machine.
One final trick for use in our first exploration of
VirtualBox is to enable a means to exchange files between
our Ubuntu host and the virtual Windows XP machine. Now,
this may seem like a bad idea given that a major benefit
of using a virtual machine is that it is isolated from
the real system and, once shut down, it effectively
disappears from the planet. However, we will need to
install those misbehaving Windows' applications, and it
may not be convenient to do so by first loading them onto
a CD which is currently our only access to the
virtual machine for loading operating systems and
It may seem reasonable that such file exchange should be
accomplished using the now ubiquitous USBkey; however,
from information gleaned from the web, support for USB
devices in VirtualBox seems to fraught with difficulties.
Another option is to set up a shared folder on the Ubuntu
host that can be accessed by the VM. This process is also
not all that intuitive, but a little web-based assistance
proves to be very worthwhile.
In particular, there is an excellent how-to Youtube video
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5f1p3fZJPc) on the subject from David
Steinlage of http://davestechsupport.com that gives precise instructions.
In effect, you need to create a folder in the Ubuntu file
system, point to this folder as a shared folder in the
VM, and map it as a network drive with an appropriate
drive letter for use by Windows.
With the VM running, the main trick is to use the Devices
Shared Folders menu item in the VM's window, and
then find the tiny icon a folder with a plus sign
in the right side bar that is the Add shared
folder option. Using the drop-down menu for the
folder path, select Other... and browse for
the shared Ubuntu folder. Next, be sure to check
Make Permanent so that the shared folder will
be available each time you run the VM. Checking the
Read-only box is optional, depending on
whether or not you wish the VM to be able to write (i.e.
store) files to the shared folder.
Once the shared folder has been defined, the final step
is to go into the virtual machine itself, select Start
My Computer Tools Map Network Drive,
assign a drive letter (the default is drive z:), and
browse for the shared folder. This will be found under
something like Virtual Box Shared Folders
Now if you wish to install a Windows' application in the
VM, all you need to do download the installation file,
store it in the shared folder on the Ubuntu machine, run
the virtual machine, use Windows Explorer to open the
mapped drive z:, and double-click on the file to start
the installation process.
And that's about all you need to know to get started in
order to run Windows programs in a virtual
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Ottawa Personal Computer Users' Group (OPCUG), Inc.
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