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Linux tips and tweaks

Install and run VMware Player and use virtual machines

It seems like there is a new Linux distro every week and it is hard keeping up with the latest releases. It's not even worth giving any examples, because by the time you read this they will probably have been replaceed by an even newer version! Some of them look very interesting, but you can't change Linux distros every time there's a new one and the solution for those curious about this operating system is to run them in a virtual machine. All it takes is disk space and with 1Tb drives common now, it's quite possible to have a dozen or more distros on your disk. A virtual machine is a program that works like a computer emulator and you can install an operating system and software software in it. This enables you to try the OS and apps without actually installing anything on your real computer. If you have Linux or Windows, the good news is that VMware has free software for creating and using virtual machines called VMware Player. If you have an Apple Mac then it's tough luck because the Mac version, VMware Fusion, costs $49.99. Let's see how to install the free VMware Player on a Linux PC and use it to try different Linux distros.

Go and download the VMware Player and save it to disk. You'll get a file called VMware-Player-3.1.3-324285.i386.bundle. Double clicking the .bundle file probably won't get you anywhere because Linux doesn't know what to do with it. It'll save you a bit of typing if you rename it to VMP.bundle and move it to your home folder. Now open a terminal window and type sudo sh ./VMP.bundle (or type su and then sh ./VMP.bundle depending on your Linux distro). This installs VMware Player and it will be added to the menu alongside all your other applications.

Start VMware Player from the menu and you'll see an option to create a new virtual machine. A virtual machine is the computer emulator that lets you install and run another operating system. Click it. The new OS could be one that was downloaded from the internet and in this case it will be a .iso file, or it could be on a CD or DVD. You don't have to choose .iso or CD/DVD right now and you can create a virtual machine with a blank hard disk and install the OS later. Let's choose to install the OS later.

VMware Player

On the next screen you can choose the guest operating system and this can be Windows, Linux, and others. Select Linux and then in the pop-up list below, select the Linux distro you want to install. In this example we will install Linux Mint 10. Mint isn't on the menu, but it's based on Ubuntu which is based on Debian, so we can choose Debian as the Linux OS we're going to install. (Not every Linux distro is listed, so just choose the closest one.)

VMware Player

Click Next and then give it a name, such as Mint 10 or whatever OS you're installing, and change the filename to reflect this

On the next screen you can choose how much disk space to use. Linux distros are small and 10Gb is more than enough to install an OS and applications. If you plan on testing video editing applications you might need more, but for everything else, 10Gb is fine.

VMware Player

That's it, the virtual machine is created. In this example we haven't installed anything yet, so put a CD/DVD in the drive, select the virtual machine and click Play Virtual Machine. It will start up and the OS will start installing. The virtual machine appears as a window on the desktop and the OS is installed on its virtual hard disk drive. Try it with a Linux live CD and the distro starts up in the virtual machine. There's usually a desktop icon to install the OS and clicking this will install it on the virtual machine's virtual hard disk - nothing affects your PC, it's just an emulator remember.

VMware Player

When you run a Linux distro in a virtual machine VMware will prompt you to download VMware Tools for Linux. Go ahead and do this, they are useful.

You now have a Linux distro up and running in a window on the desktop. It works fine, but it can be enhanced. Go to the Virtual Machine menu and select Install VMware Tools. This inserts a virtual CD with software on. In the Linux distro, use the file browser to open the CD and copy the file off it, it will be something like VMwareTools-8.4.5-324285.tar.gz. Put it in the distro's home folder and then double click it and extract the files from it. Open a Terminal window (we're working in the virtual machine) and change to the folder you just extracted. Type perl vmware-install.pl to install the Linux tools. You'll need to enter su first or use sudo depending on the OS.

The VMware Linux Tools enable things like better integration between the guest OS running in the virtual machine and the real OS running on your PC. For example, you can define a shared folder that the guest OS can access on the real PC. It's useful to give it access to the home/Public folder because this enables you to save files on your real PC and load them in the virtual machine and vice versa. You also get drag and drop, so you can drag a file from the guest OS and drop it on the real PC's desktop, and files can be copied to the virtual machine by dragging and dropping too.



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