VMWare Server + Xubuntu

Lately, I’ve been interested in the use of Virtual Machines, fueled in part by the free-ness of products such as VMWare Server and Virtual PC 2007. For a couple months I’ve been using Microsoft’s IE6Test virtual machine in Virtual PC 2004. I do a lot of freelance web development, and as such, I need to test in various web browsers.

Virtual PC 2004 has gotten the job done for its intended purpose – however, I’ve been annoyed with certain aspects of it. It’s sooo slow, and oftentimes, if I have Firefox and IE7 already open, it will simply fail to start the virtual machine due to a lack of RAM (This partly because I’ve only got 512 measly megs).

Without any particular attachment to VPC, a week ago I stumbled upon VMWare’s Virtual Appliance Marketplace. If you’ve never checked it out, it’s a whole bunch of prepackaged, ready-to-run virtual machines, with the configuring done for you. It’s like buying a brand new computer for free! My interest in VMWare’s offerings was piqued.

Anyway, one thing led to another, and finally today I decided I wanted to give the latest version of Ubuntu (Feisty Fawn) a whirl. Why, what a perfect task for my new totally free VMWare Server!

I decided not to go the prepackaged route, because I wanted to see what installation was like. Also, I decided to go with Xubuntu instead of Ubuntu, because Xubuntu’s system requirements are a bit lower than regular Ubuntu, and as I mentioned above, I’ve only got 512 MB of RAM.

Well, I downloaded the ISO image via a torrent, and fired up VMWare Server to create a new virtual machine. They’ve even got Ubuntu as one of the distros of Linux in the “New Virtual Machine” wizard, which is pretty cool.

I set the disk size to 10 GB and the RAM to 128 MB, as that is the recommended minimum amount of RAM for Xubuntu.

After setting the CD drive to the Xubuntu ISO, I fired up the virtual machine.

Xubuntu (and I’m guessing the other Ubuntu flavors) runs as a Live CD, from which you can install the OS onto the hard disk by running an Installer program that is conveniently located on the desktop. Pretty slick – although potentially confusing for new users, I didn’t have a hard time catching on.

I ran the Installer by double-clicking it, and was a bit annoyed by how slow everything seemed. It took more than a minute before the installer asked me what language I wanted to use. Even after it asked, it took a while before I could click the “Forward” button. All in all, things seemed very unresponsive – not at all what I had been expecting, even if it was in a virtual machine.

A few steps later, the installer was getting ready to partition my virtual hard disk – and it froze. It seemed like it was working, but after leaving it alone for 10 minutes, it was still in the same place. VMWare reported that it was reading the CD like crazy, and my computer’s hard disk was intermittently accessing (presumably the ISO), but it wasn’t moving anywhere. I decided to try rebooting (I know, I know, Windows mentality – it’s hard to kick the habit). This time, the installer froze in the exact same way at the language screen!

At this point, I was a bit frustrated. Then I remembered something that I had forgotten about when I should have been remembering it – using the graphical installer requires 192 MB of RAM! And apparently, it actually does. It would probably be helpful if there was some message in the installer reminding users of this fact.

In any case, I shut down the VM, upped the RAM to 192, and started it back up. And guess what? It installed without a hitch! The installer screens also loaded much quicker, more along the lines of what I was expecting (although there were still some undesirable delays between when a page was viewable and when it was clickable). I’m now in and exploring Xubuntu!

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