My foray into desktop virtualization

Our company has been providing virtual machines (VM’s) based on Xen for a couple years now. I’ve logged into client VM’s and rebooted Zope or worked on a skinning product for Plone on the filesystem. I’ve restarted VM’s and have an overall understanding of how they work. I didn’t realize how virtualization could help make me more productive in general.

I’m a MS Windows type person (makes my partner crazy sometimes as he is a die hard Linux geek) and I decided to upgrade to Vista on my work machine this past weekend. My partner kept insisting that I use Linux as my “base” and put Windows on “virtualBox” or “VMWare”. I didn’t like the idea because virtual machines for the desktop just seemed to run slower and I spend a LOT of time in Windows. So I fought it. I had let my partner create a dual boot for me with Kubuntu and WindowsXP about six months ago but the hassle of restarting my machine to boot into the other OS got to be too much, and guess what? I spent most of my time in Windows. I do all the project management, bookkeeping and Windows/IE testing for clients.. so I was constantly having to reboot back into Windows to test client sites or get invoices out.

I decided that I’d rather have Windows Vista as my base/core OS and create the following virtual machines:

  1. WindowsXP (I have a CiscoVPN client that I have to use to log in to a few of our clients intranets that does not play well with Vista),
  2. LiveCD VM (so I can test various Linux distros),
  3. A Vista VM so I can test applications (some apps just don’t play well with Vista at all..so this gives me the opportunity to try them out, configure them, and if they work, install them on my core OS.. otherwise I can just dump the VM and start over if I bork something)
  4. A Debian VM for testing Plone (so I don’t have to use our client server resources everytime I want to do some testing) – again if I bork something I can always dump and rebuild

I did some research and came up with three options for adding virtual machines to my Vista desktop:

Microsoft Virtual PC

VMWare

VirtualBox

All three products met my needs for creating virtual machines. They did what they said they did and none of them were hard to work with, I think beyond that it’s a matter of preference. Of the three packages VMWare’s interface is the most attractive. Both VMWare and VirtualBox have a better process for creating virtual machines than VirtualPC. VirtualPC uses an “add hardware” type wizard that isn’t as intuitive as both VMWare and VirtualBox (at least not when it comes to configuring your “machine” with resources). I tried downloading and using VirtualPC’s IE6 vpc for testing client sites and I could not get it to work. I would say that was probably my own fault but it was still a bit frustrating.

So I narrowed my choices down to VMWare and VirtualBox. It was a close tie, both are quality products and both had an intuitive configuration process for the GUI-dependent. It was a tough choice.

Envelope please….

And the winner is… VirtualBox

VirtualBox

I was really impressed with VirtualBox for a number of reasons. One being that they have downloads for numerous OS’s including OpenSolaris and OSX. I managed to setup all these VM’s on my Vista desktop without assistance from my geeky partner. I like pretty interfaces and ease-of-use above anything else.. and VirtualBox gave me both of these. I still have some tweaking to do (I don’t have that much RAM on my desktop .. little less than 3 gigs.. so I have to be careful) but I’m really enjoying creating these environments where I can play to my hearts content and have access to the legacy (XP), modern (Vista) and Open Source (Linux, Zope, Plone) technologies I deal with everyday.