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Sun VirtualBox (xVM): A Virtualization Environment for Linux, Part 1

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A. Lizard shows how Sun VirtualBox virtual machines work on Linux hosts. In Part 1 of the two-part series, he offers a complete description of where to get the virtualization software, how to install it, how to tweak it so that its useful features such as USB support between guest and host, shared clipboard, and shared folders between guest and host without having to set up a SAMBA network will actually work for you. While this is primarily for Debian users, this should also be of use to other Linux distribution users, especially Ubuntu.
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This two-part article evaluates Sun xVM for desktop users running a Linux host. The VirtualBox OSE (OpenSource Edition) is not reviewed here due to its lack of USB support for guests but because it is unsuitable for desktop use by SOHO users. xVM also runs on Windows and OSX. Part 2 covers installing a Linux guest in xVM, resources for more information or for help on the package, and the conclusion when I give my overall impression of the virtualization package.

I expect a desktop OS—whether running on a VM or not—to:

  • Access the LAN
  • Have access to USB scanners, printers, and other devices

Work normally along with its applications within the VM

And when running within the VM, I expect to have some form of bi-directional folder sharing between the guest VM (i.e., apps in either guest or VM need to be able to read/write to folders within the shared folder) and the host platform and a bi-directional shared clipboard. These features are non-negotiable; any virtualization software that doesn't support these features are not suitable for general home or office use.

One can use VMware Server and xVM at the same time, and there are no problems with using a common shared folder between these VMware and xVM guests and hosts. This should ease the transition from VMware Server to xVM.

Installing xVM

Go to the Sun xVM VirtualBox download page, download the binary version most suitable to the workstation you plan to host it on, and install it using your distribution's installer.

For Debian, this is:

# dpkg -i _1.6.2-31466_Debian_etch_i386

(The version number will match whatever you actually download, of course.)

A wide range of Linux distros are supported on the host, as well as Windows and OS X. The version I used was Debian Etch 386, because I'm running Debian Lenny here. However, most of what's here should apply to most Linux distributions.

Whether my recommendation makes sense for you depends on the way you work. I keep all my user data in /home/username on the Linux client that is accessible to applications from all guests; it doesn't make sense to me to remember which OS home directory has the data for any specific project in it. For me, the utility of having virtualization means I can use applications from any OS I please to process any of my data that suits me. So I can use OpenOffice in Linux to write an article and do the final editing in Word on Windows for Windows-using editors.

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