Sun Virtualbox – Commercial grade virtualization for free!

VMware Workstation  running Ubuntu, on Windows...
Image via Wikipedia

Virtualization, according to Wikipedia, is the abstraction of computer resources…

Okay cut it. Let us make it simple. Virtualization in simple terms is running another Operating System (OS) on top of your current OS. For an example, if you have Windows Vista, a virtualization software like Sun’s Virtualbox will allow another OS, say Ubuntu Linux to co-exist using resources such as disk space, memory, video as you like. Woot? How is that possible? Sun Virtualbox, Amigo. Of course, there is also wubi for Ubuntu or LiveCd but these are beyond our topic. For this article’s purpose we will only discuss Sun’s Virtualbox.

I find virtualization a clever idea. Who could have thought that we could run two Operating Systems (i.e. Vista and Ubuntu Linux) using the same resource, running at the same time! There are a lot of software packages out there that can do virtualization, most famous among which is VMware, but we will take up here Sun’s package, Virtualbox, Sun’s very own hypervisor, since we only like freeware. Why? It’s free, enough said (laughs). Virtualbox is a serious product, it sure does mean business. Coming from Sun Microsystem’s mouth, it is the only virtualization product that is at the same time professional, commercial-grade and open-source. On this, I couldn’t agree more, they’re right.

VirtualBox
Image via Wikipedia

Now let us get off the hook of being wordy, right away let us discuss the features:

  • Modularity. Natively Virtualbox dons a software design that is modular. If you are a developer that wants to tinker the software this one is for you. With the Software Development Kit that comes with the software, there is no need to hack the system, you can write your own interface on the fly. This feature also allows ease of control, you can start your virtual machine by Graphical User Interface (GUI) mode  or via Command-Line Interface (CLI), locally or remotely. Seems fun, right?
  • Virtual Machine descriptions via XML. Settings, configurations are stored on XML, independently. Ergo, we can port our XML configurations to new virtual machines, also… on the fly. Now this is getting more fun.
  • Guest Additions for Windows and Linux. Guest Additions is a special software that can be installed on the virtual machine to accommodate seamless integration with the host OS which includes mouse pointer and arbitrary screen resolutions. I told you, this is good.
  • Shared Folders. Additionally, hosts and guest may share directories as “shared folders”. Sharing can be accessed from the virtual machines.

More perks:

  • Virtual USB controllers/USB over RDP. Connect usb devices on the host and make it available to guest virtual machines.
  • Remote Desktop Protocol. As a Network Administrator, I like this feature so much. Ease of administration, I guess. Virtualbox sports the RDP feature, remote access is like heaven if you are an IT admin. This means that you don’t have to go physically to where your server or workstation is. Stay where you are, connect to the network and click your way to your virtual machine, simple and easy.

One real-life use of Virtualbox is optimization of servers. Gone are the days that you dedicate one service to one server, like running Active Directory (alone) on one server. Nowadays, where servers have become monster computers running one service would certainly mean that you are underestimating your machine. Try to optimize by using Virtualbox and adding more services. Server consolidation is one great thing Virtualbox can offer.

And, there you have it, Sun Virtualbox, commercial-grade, full-featured and free hypervisor solution. Honestly, there is no reason really why you should not try this software, after all it is free. If you want to know more about virtualization, head your way to this info at wikipedia.com.

As usual, thanks for reading.

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Boot loaders and EasyBCD v1.7.2

Tweaking boot loaders on our PCs is a real rare venture, really. Tinkering your boot loader is not a good idea, unless, however required you don’t have to do it. What I am after here is merely informational and to flash before you some ideas that we can use when confronted with unexpected events such as managing boot loaders. As always, I recommend twiddling PCs be done by those who know what they are doing (experts in computers, of course, not Love Gurus) and if you are planning to do the twiddling, then this would mean that you should start learning and become an expert yourself — with the twiddling or fiddling thing. As a descendant of the old-fashioned IT guys that came from Cybertron, I am a firm believer of “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” idea. Just a little caveat there.

Touching the boot loader is not like installing Winrar or Winzip. The boot  loader is in charge of loading your operating system and at that it is very much critical to the operation of your PC. Before our favorite OSs can be loaded, it is the bootloader that does its job first so the OS can step in. Boot loaders are sometimes referred to as boot strap loader or bootstrap. This small program is most of the time unheard, meek and silent despite its huge importance. There are a lot of boot loaders that are on our PCs today.  There is GNU GRUB (i.e. Ubuntu), BOOTMGR, LILO and NTLDR (i.e. Windows Xp/Server 2003). If you have a dual-boot system (like Ubuntu and Windows Vista together) you will see the boot loader in action when you start-up your computer. Usually, when you arrive at the screen where options on what OS to load, Ubuntu or Vista  for example, are posted. You can expect boot loader tweaking if you are dual-booting, making some OS tests or debugging your OS kernel.

So why we need EasyBCD and what is it for? Allow me to show you why and for what.

Reason 1:  Just the simple task of displaying the content of your boot loader.

Reason 2: If you want to change your boot settings.

Reason 3: Add/Remove entries from your existing boot loader.

Reason 4:  Manage your boot loader with user selectable options.

Reason 5: In-buit boot loader diagnostics and boot loader recovery.

Reason 6: GUI-drivenboot loader management (Microsoft only provides the command-line bcdedit.exe tool only for bootloader management)

I have used EasyBCD on rare occasions, usually when I turn a little crazy and mess much around on my dual-boot PC configuration. Honestly, I was contented with what the software have allowed me see and do. I use a dual-boot WindowsVista Business and Ubuntu Jaunty on my Intel Centrino Vpro notebook. They seem to go together well. I am just starting to use Linux, a friend of mine tossed the idea to me. When I miss my next, next, finish life in Windows, I just switch right back. That is the beauty of dual-booting, like having two wives, one being virus-free but harder to handle, while other one beautiful and nice but faints in blue most of the time, bug-ridden and loves viruses more than me.

Try to read more on boot loaders, Wikipedia is one hot resource, actually you can go directly here.

EasyBCD comes from NeoSmart Technologies, they have been quite around for sometime and has been offering the software for free. I have added a download link of EasyBCD at the download page, if you want to try it, but please, be extra careful.

Thanks for reading. Your comments are most welcome.

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Firefox v3.5.1Pre – startup bug update

Image representing Mozilla as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

First, I would like it to be noted that this bug does not exist in Linux, particularly on Ubuntu 9.04-Jaunty Jackalope (as discussed with AY -see comments at sidebar). This bug appear to affect Windows Operating Systems only (Vista and XP, don’t know if the older Windows OSs also have this issue).  The tests I have made on my Ubuntu proves that its not affected with this bug. Start-up speed was fast, amazingly faster than on my Vista box.

Workarounds, temporary fixes are currently circulated online (here, here and here), just to ease this problem a bit.

The bug has already been reported and tracked at bugzilla.mozilla.com with Bug 501605 as code (see here). Patch is already underway posted on the same bug report (see comment 131 at bugzilla), where there is also a try-out version of the software containing the patch — this patch is deemed to produce Firefox 3.5.1. If you are bold and daring enough, you may download the Firefox v3.5.1Pre from the download links page of this blog. Be sure to back up your profile, just to make sure everything is safe.

My experience with Firefox 3.5.1Pre? After downloading the zip file and extracting, I removed my Firefox v3.0.11 on my Vista. The download seems to be a portable version, you just extract and click firefox.exe and you’re up and running. My early observation is — it’s fast. The lag seems to have been fixed. I also have noticed that this try-out version is codenamed: Shiretoko. Sounds good for a patched try-out version that also works good. As I have said, if you are brave enough, try it out and see the difference. I think you’ll like it.

Additionally, let me post a quote from blurnot.blogspot.com saying,

A quick google will reveal you are not alone, Mozilla has acknowledged the flaw and hoping that their developer will be able to fix it. Ambiguity is not something that the end-users are looking forward to hearing. With the launch of Internet Explorer 8 and newer versions of the Chrome, Mozilla has got to fix its slow startup speed in Firefox 3.5 lest they lose their lead in the browser war.

I really hope that people won’t ditch Firefox 3.5 only for this problem. If this problem is wrecking your nerves, reverting back to Firefox 3.0.11 would be a welcome, short-term, bail-out solution (link added at download links page).

Stay tuned for more updates.

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Snarl – Cool Notification System

Want a cool way of getting notified on important events in your computer? Check Snarl.

For some of us who tend to have a lot of things to care about while computing getting a visual notification is way cool. I have first experienced the sweetness of it when I installed Ubuntu 9.04 which comes with a notification system by default. Unfortunately, Windows does not have an application like it, natively. It’s one feature of Ubuntu that I really miss when I switch back to Windows.

After some searching I have found, Snarl. It is really a cool app and sort of, fills the void for the notification of events in Windows. The application sits right on your taskbar and constantly posts notifications. If you want to be notified on events in applications such as Pidgin, Firefox, Thunderbird, etc. just download their respective plug-ins from Snarl’s website and you are ready to go. You might need to do some tinkering on the software for it not to be too obtrusive. I am sure, you don’t want to get all notifications, but only the important ones.

I highly recommend it. It’s free and lean software available at http://www.fullphat.net.

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Firefox 3.5 glitch, slow at start-up.

Mozilla Firefox
Image via Wikipedia

If you installed the latest Firefox 3.5, you’ll notice that it’s consistently slow at start-up taking at least 10-15 seconds. I have looked for some solutions but I think I only have found what we call a  temporary fix. This issue has already been addressed by the Firefox team. As for myself, I have just reverted back to 3.11 both in Windows Vista and Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope. I don’t want any of the hassle.

If you want to sneak into the current discussion about this issue, have a look at this link.

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