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What I have:

A desktop machine with a 3GHz AMD64 quad core processor, with 4G of ram, and dual monitors, and swappable SATA drive bays a SATA drive with Ubuntu 11.10 a SATA drive with Windows 7 (and a couple of SATA drives onto which I do my backups)

To date, I've been satisfied with swapping drives to boot Windows or Linux. I'll be starting a project, soon, that will involve developing some software that will both run on and build on both Windows and Linux. It'd be easier to develop and test if I had both a Windows and a Linux system running simultaneously. And I have to say I'm not really happy with the state of my Linux desktop, after the upgrade to Ubuntu 11.10. I'd like to be able to play around with the various distributions, to see which, if any of them, I might move to as my primary environment.

The obvious answer is virtualization. My CPU supports VM extensions, and it's got enough oomph to handle a few VMs.

So, I'm looking for an OS to host a VM system, and a VM system, to use on a desktop system, where my primary desktop environment will be running in one of the VMs, rather than the host.

What I want is a host and a VM system that will get out of the way - where the overhead of logging in and opening up a console to a VM is as minimal as possible.

In my ideal world, I'd sit down at my desk and see a chooser, similar to XDM/GDM, where I could select which machine I wanted to log in to, and where I'd not need to log into the host at all. Except, of course, that some of the machines I might want to log into aren't running X11, they're running Windows, or who knows what else. So I don't expect to get there.

But how close can I get?

Can I log into the host, start the VM console app, and have it take full control of both monitors, so that I can forget entirely that there's a host machine running the UI?

I'm open to spending some, but not a lot of, money, in putting this together. VMWare's Workstation is $200 - that's about the limit of what I'd be willing to spend, if it better met my needs that the free VM solutions.

Any ideas?

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2 Answers 2

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You can try getting started for free using VirtualBox. If you create the disk images using the VMDK format, you can always move the result to VMWare later if you find a compelling feature it has. Between the full-screen and "seamless" modes, I think it could provide a good enough solution to what you're looking for; I have a mix of Windows and Linux guests on a Linux host here I use. See How can I get VirtualBox to play nicely with dual monitors?, I haven't tried it myself yet but it should be possible to setup.

Overhead for anything you do is mainly going to be RAM usage, along with gobbling CPU when active. You can tweak both of those until you find the VM fast enough to evaluate. The state of desktop Linux is pretty dismal right now. I've been trying to avoid all the bleeding edge mess by using an older distribution based on GNOME2 (such as Mint 11), but lately that's been filled with issues where Firefox doesn't get updated often enough to work right on some sites. Mozilla going through their version control upheaval while so many Linux desktop components are too is stressful.

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As previously suggested, you can do this with Virtual Box

In fact, I do exactly what you're wanting to do all the time. My main Host OS is Kubuntu. I've installed VirtualBox and have Windows 7 Professional installed for my windows development. It generally works fine although without Aero at the moment.

However, since you're not happy with your linux distro, I'd suggest using Linux as your guest VM and windows as your host OS.

Other options including VMWare Workstation. Although I must point out that VMWare Player (free) now allows you to create your own images too. My personal favourite, is virtual box though.

Down the track you may find you need 2 physical machines. I did because I had more specific needs which a VM wasn't providing for me. A product called Synergy allows you to work two machines from the one keyboard/mouse pair with seamless switching between them. It's cross platform and works great.

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