Sunday, May 25, 2008

Wish you were here, virtually

Linuxville is such an interesting place, every knook and kranny has details and depths to explore. Besides being able to take it with you (live-CD's), you can as if you had a computer in your computer, run a second OS to see if the grass is greener. It is called a virtual machine and it is all the rage. There are realities in running virtual machines called sharing resources. So, if you only have 512MB of memory, you would use 256MB of it to run the other operating system. That other operating system would appear to be just another application running but would "Virtually" be another computer (with less resources) running at the same time as your main OS. The effect is that things respond slower depending upon the load. It is not that bad if you have a lot of memory and a higher CPU speed. So, why on earth would you want to do this madness? What is the reason you might want more than one OS anyway?? Well, if the Wine emulator isn't working for you, you could install MS Windows as a virtual machine and run window's apps. Or like I said you could see if other Linux distros are better than what you have now. It is actually more cool because you don't have to burn a CD, just download the ISO file and run it virtually.
Virtual Machine software comes in various packages and depends upon your distro if you can easily use them. VMware is probably the oldest, most well known, then there is VirtualBox which is new and very nice to use. It is a wrestling match to install Virtualbox in Mepis but I will make the effort and tell you all about it. What I am using now is Qemu and it is so slow as I only have 512MB of memory and using KDE eats up a lot of that. But, Qemu is very easy to use. OK, here is one thing in Linux I really want and virtual machines is a big part of it. I want one application that allows me to play or view all the media files on my system. The separate programs are wonderful, but one "front-end" to manage and view it all would be great. I have raved before about Elisa Media Center as being a good looking application for this purpose. I have had terrible luck installing and getting it to run on my Mepis system, no problem in Xubuntu. I have discovered a few more apps that will do the job. They happen to be mini-Linux distros. The first one is called Geexbox. It has quirks but works on my system. Then there is LIMP which also works and Womp which works too. These distros are tiny and are just meant for playing media. I will have to see if they are fit for my needs as I don't need them to stream video or drive a TV tuner card, just view and play what I already have on my computer. Then to have the ability to use or play with all those small Linux distros is great fun. DSL or Damn Small Linux, Wolvix and Puppy Linux and several more are all great to explore. I can save my CD's for permanent collections. Those big distros I'd rather just use the live-CD, they seem to run better. The bottom line is that having as much system memory as you can afford is useful for any OS. Use older hardware if you must but realize how hard it is to support it. You will end up running older versions of Linux to do the job. Please let go of your 8088 and your 386, even 486 cpu's are a trial to support! I would consider a serious upgrade if your stuff is hitting 6 to 8 years old. Then you can enjoy all the modern gadgets and widgets.
Here is another edition of "Linux Truths", this time with a question attached. There is no one Linux that does it all because developer groups tend to focus on certain out comes, so that you can have an out-of-the-box experience. Which Linux distros seems to have the most extensive assortment of popular applications in their repositories, allow app installation without extra steps and have all this without resorting to a DVD size ISO? I ask this because .deb's compiled for one distro might not work in another. Is there a distro that has the depth and breath? Don't say Debian because I know of many applications I can't find in Debian, you have to compile them from source yourself to run in Debian. Ultimately compiling source code allows you to have custom distros. That is the very mechanism that makes software run in your distro, on your computer, specifically. To have software compiled to the "Debian" standard is a general specification. If Ubuntu, based on Debian, is designed differently than Debian, you can't actually expect all software compiled for Ubuntu to run on Debian and vice-versa. The differences might be small, but are just enough for stuff to not install or run. This is why distros usually stock repositories with software compiled to run in their distro. Same source but compiled to run in a different situation. I want to tell all you standardization cheerleaders that it is not a Linux flaw, it's a feature. This is why the same "Linux" can run on so many different types of hardware.
Does this take the fun out of Linux, no, we just see what other folks are using and experiencing. Then we try it, if we have problems or success we share it, voice it, blog it for others to be warned or encouraged. In Linuxville we call that community!!

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