VMWare Workstation has made me a virtualization convert. I have downloaded the Live CD images for OpenSolaris 10, Fedora 9 and 10, Ubuntu 8.04 and 8.1, Mandriva2009 and openSuse11 and installed them into virtual machines running on Windows XP Pro SP3 as the host. VMWare sets up the “hardware” environment to be fairly generic so there aren't any hardware driver compatibility problems.
Each install was the basic desktop OS and application install without any customization. I decided early on to stick with just Gnome desktops for consistency and to keep my own lack of familiarity with KDE out of the investigative process. The next stage of the process will be to try installing the OS onto a target system and see what gets broken. Even within the constraints of running inside another OS and a “wrapper”, they run remarkably well and seemingly at almost full speed.
All of the VMs are set to 256 MB RAM space and 8GB drive space which is a bit cramped but every single one of them worked! OpenSolaris10 had to be opened up a bit and it was reset to use 512MB of RAM.
Future use will pare down the install to operate with X and Java with an application replacing the desktop. Part of the exercise is to investigate which distribution would be the best future OS candidate for the new product. I've gotten to work a little with each of the Linux installs. They all have slightly different approaches to solving issues. Its been fun to poke around and compare what works well and what doesn't.
The only distribution I didn't get to work successfully was Debian 4.0, but it was first distribution tried and it is also the oldest of all of them. It will get a second try.
OpenSolaris10 was tried simply because it has built-in Sun Java. The application to be tested runs in a J2SE VM. At present openSolaris has that and zfs as its two small potential advantages over any Linux variations. Yes I know that all the Linux variations have Java implementations so openSolaris really doesn't have that much advantage.
Even the distribution I'm using here might be a candidate. I'm currently running Xbuntu 8.1, essentially a “lite” version of Ubuntu with a xfce desktop. Its running on a 700 Mhz P3 with 512 MB of RAM and a 20GB hard drive. Its an old Compaq ENPRO in a small case named paqman. At least from a user viewpoint it runs as fast as Debian 4.0 on a 2.8 Ghz P4 with 2GB of RAM. I didn't even think about Xbuntu as a candidate until just now. Obviously the P4 has performance advantages but for writing blogs etc. the Xbuntu P3 system is plenty fast enough. On a P4 it ought to run plenty fast enough for the new application.
Since I'm interested in home servers, this technology has some interesting possibilities. Think about a DMZ on a single host. Or think about it as a way to operate a secure web browser on a public WiFi connection. Assuming that you've kept a snapshot or a clone of the virtual guest OS and applications, you could shutdown the session when you're done and wipe everything out with a keystroke. Next time you want to web browse on a WiFi connection, call up the cloned copy and start clean and fresh.
A VM and host OS is an interesting and useful alternative to dual-booting. The big advantage I've already tested is that files can be copied in both directions. I've tried copying files from an XP and Vista NTFS partitions to a Linux ext3 partition and vice versa without worrying about having an active FAT partition or running Samba! As for Samba, using a VM system is an excellent way to test Samba configurations without having to run 2 systems with monitors and keyboards or disrupt an already setup and running Linux server.