For a long time, I’ve been curious about Linux operating systems. I’ve used Windows my whole life, so the idea of switching to another operating system is a pretty big deal.
I know a lot of people that love Mac, and I admit that every time we go to the computer store, I often find myself poking around with the latest Mac laptop just to see what it’s all about. I wouldn’t mind a little bit of change, so long as I can still do everything I need to do with the computer – including using Office products, programming in those products using VBA, web programming, and of course the remote access and VPN applications I need for all of my other work.
I think switching to a new OS could be a lot of fun – something completely new. What made me decide to take a closer look at Linux operating systems out there is the fact that I love the Android OS on my Droid so much – and the fact that I’ve never had to “reboot” it once, or have never had a single issue with viruses or malware. I also like the fact that there are justso many Linux OS projects to choose from.
Testing Out Different Linux OS Projects
The thing about trying an OS in a dual-boot setup is that it consumes so much of your system resources. Not only that, but it takes the standard amount of time to set it all up, and then if you don’t like it, you have to remove it all and hope that you don’t completely screw up your system in the process.
The solution, if you just want to take a test ride of various Linux operating systems without doing anything too intrusive to your PC, is to install them into VirtualBox. We’ve covered VirtualBox in a lot of stories here at MUO, my favorite being Jorge’s suggestion to use it as a test bed for Linux OS platforms. His description of the process was brief, and I wasn’t really sure where to find all of the images that I wanted to test. So I decided to go through the process of testing different Linux OS systems in detail, starting with a perfect place to find nearly all of them – pre-configured for use on VirtualBox.
Once that’s installed, go over to VirtualBoxes.org and choose from the wonderful selection of installations. There are lots here that I’ve always wanted to try but was always too nervous – Ubuntu of course, but then there’s the “Other” category that I really like – Android OS, Haiku and a few others. Take your selection and download, but make sure you have many hours because some of the ISO or VDI files are really huge.
In VirtualBox Manager, click on the “New” icon and choose the base RAM you want to allocate. I usually just go with the recommended base of 512, but just check on the website for the OS to see what the requirements are for that OS and assign accordingly.
From Virtualboxes.org, there are basically one of two files that you’ll find – VDI or ISO. Whichever you get will determine at what point in the installation process you will need to access the file. If it’s a VDI file that you download, like the Ubuntu image I’m installing below, you’ll need to click on “Use existing hard disk” and browse to the VDI file that you want to install. Once you select the file, it’ll show up with the base memory listed.
I know the pic above shows the ReactOS VDI file – that was another OS that I wanted to try out as well. I had already tested the Ubuntu OS and was moving on to ReactOS. It’s amazing how fast you can just roll through installations (once you’ve downloaded the massive images of course).
Each system you’ve set up shows up in the left panel – and if you give it a descriptive name, you’ll know exactly what OS you’ve loaded and you can switch quickly whenever you like – just shutdown one system and load up the next.
So, the first OS that I tested and had high hopes for was the Android OS. I thought – hey, if it is so cool and slick on my mobile phone, wouldn’t it be neat to run a similar OS on a PC?
Well – not so much. The OS had the look and feel of your typical Android mobile phone, with a slider panel that you could flip open and closed with a swish of the mouse.
The image you download comes preloaded with a bunch of stuff – an RSS reader, music player, email client and more. Here’s the RSS reader – pretty simple listing of latest news on a black backdrop, just like you’d expect to see on an Android app.
So, it didn’t take me long to decide to shut that system down and try out a new OS. Aside from VDI files, in some cases you’ll find that the image download is an ISO file. This is an image file that you’ll select only after you’ve finished creating a new base virtual machine without an OS installed.
Click on the “Start” icon, and the VirtualBox manager will take you through a “First Run Wizard” that lets you choose an image to load onto the virtual machine. Just browse to your ISO file.
I was so disappointed with the Android OS that I decided to go straight for the operating system that I’ve heard and read so much about from fellow MUO writers – Ubuntu. Virtualboxes.org offers a Ubuntu image you can test drive, and it is loaded up with the basic things you’d want – a Firefox browser, email client, document/spreadsheet apps, and more.
I have to say, the moment the OS loaded and the desktop showed up, I wasn’t a bit disappointed. This is a very cool desktop!
Taskbar is accessible on the left side, Chat, email client and system settings have quick access icons right at the top right corner of the window. The stock background image is pretty sweet, and I’m already looking forward to seeing what else I can do to customize the desktop.
I like how the windows are laid out in a way that would be really easy for someone accustomed to a Windows operating system to pick up quickly. Modifying system settings, finding applications and configuring the desktop is really easy – I’d say the learning curve to learn this OS is somewhere within the vicinity of zilch and none.
So far, Ubuntu had my vote, but I’d only just started testing out operating systems. After playing around with Ubuntu for 30 minutes, I just shut down the system, created a new Virtual Machine, and loaded up the Haiku image from Virtuaboxes.org.
Haiku is pretty sweet too. The window designs have a slightly Linuxy (that’s the only word I can think of to describe it) look and feel, but I love the layout and the overall design. I could see falling in love with Haiku just as easily as Ubuntu.
Finished with Haiku after about 20 minutes, I moved on to another interesting OS that I found at VirtualBoxes called IcarosLight. I didn’t install the full blown Icaros because I just didn’t have time to download the 700MB file. The scaled down OS is around 200MB and offers a small taste of what the full OS is like. As you can see, the window designs with this OS are a lot different, and it could take some getting used to.
I like the quality of the icons, and I absolutely love the app carousel at the bottom of the Desktop window. Here’s yet a third Linux-based OS that I’ve fallen in love with and want to test drive longer than the 30 minutes I took playing around with it this first time.
Three Virtual Machines into this test drive, and I’ve already become intrigued by three OS images – I’m in trouble. How am I supposed to decide on one?
And then it hit me – you know what? I don’t have to decide on just one. Isn’t that the whole point of a VirtualBox? You can switch from one OS to the next on a whim? All I have to do whenever I like is fire up the VirtualBox manager and choose from the list of images I’ve set up in the left pane.
This is just the coolest thing I’ve ever tried – my first foray breaking free from the world of Windows. I knew that the Linux OS developers had turned out some amazing things, but I really had no idea just how far they had come since the early days. I’m actually looking forward to test driving a few more – once they’re finished downloading that is.
Oh, and one more important note that I learned from MUO colleague Christian – if you notice the Virtualbox is running a bit sluggish, make sure that you’ve enabled virtualization on your CPU. You can check this by downloading the Intel CPU identification Utility, which will show you whether virtualization is turned on or off.
If it isn’t, reboot your PC into the BIOS, find where virtualization is set up (it’s different for every computer manufacturer) and make sure to enable it. You’ll find that VirtualBox rolls along like a charm afterwards.
Are you already a VirtualBox user? How do you make use of it? What’s your favorite image? Is this your first time using it? Share your experiences test driving these OS images in the comments section below! Oh and don’t forget to download our free downloadable manual on Virtualbox!