The Toybox

people for the conservation of limited amounts of indignation

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virtualbox and you - you had no idea you ever wanted to do this
children of dune - leto 1
I keep meaning to write up the glory of VirtualBox. Because it is glory and reading the reviews and comments and all the thousands upon thousands of pages of technical advice and commentary and praise, it's also goddamn terrifying. Which is why it took me two years to approach it warily, install it in a fit of fear...and then it was working and I realized really, should have just bit the bullet earlier there.

VirtualBox is--in essence--a way to install a second OS on your computer without mess, fuss, or having to do much more than point and click. It requires nothing but a.) two downloads and b.) a huge, happy smile of accomplishment. It's that simple. Now you, too, can now try any operating system in the universe without the horror of making Windows play nice with you. You do not have to do complicated partitions, reinstall Windows and the other OS, or stare at your computer wondering how it all went wrong. In other words, without so much as touching Windows, you can install Ubuntu, iOS, or any operating system (I can think of) to play with, learn about, or just prove you can. And even better, it doesn't interfere with Windows at all. You do not even need to log out of Windows to use it.

VirtualBox - What You Can Do With It

You may wonder, why do I want this?

You might not, but you also may have gotten heartily exhausted with Linux/Ubuntu/Apple users talk about the Wonder That Is Their OS. And you might be curious to try it out and see what the fuss is about. Like most people, you don't have an extra computer around to experiment with and even if you did, devoting it just to playing with operating systems is--ookay, that is something I do, but I do get I'm pretty much a minority even in geekdom. This is better.

VirtualBox - What Is It Exactly?

In essence, Virtualbox is a Windows program that you run like any other program. You open it up and it asks you some questions such as what OS you want, and how much drive space to devote to it. This creates a virtual machine for you to install the new operating system--say, Ubuntu--to.

Virtual Machines are described here by Wiki, but I'll give you the amateur layman fangirl's definition; it takes some unused space on your hard drive--however much you say it can have--and in that space, it pretends that's an entirely new and separate computer that has nothing to do with the rest of your hard drive; it's like it's the only thing on your computer. Windows has no effect on it. Better, it does not affect Windows so if you just had the words "dual-boot" run through your head with a shudder of horror, no. This is all done without even touching your regular OS. This is, in effect, its' own tiny computer world.

VirtualBox - Getting It

VirtualBox - The Home Page

You can read it if you want, but it starts out with the words "enterprises" and "business", so whatever, go straight to downloads. Download the package. It's an exe file. It's easy.

Also, below it, grab the extension package. Download it and forget it. We'll get to that later.

VirtualBox - Installing It


You need: free hard drive space, a working computer, and a general sense of vindication in the face of technology that tries to scare us all.

My recommendation: have at least 10 G free on your hard drive, and if I'm really honest, go for 15 G to be safe. This is purely because hard drives that are near full are cranky about running anything, which most of us already deal with regularly when downloading all of Supernatural in three days and realizing this wont' end well unless we hunt up an external drive. How much of that space will be used for setting up your new virtual machines is up to you. Virtual machines are wonderful in the fact they are easy to erase if you need the space suddenly, so no worries.

Advanced recommendations: if you like that sort of thing, devoting a partition is also a good way to a.) give it space and b.) keep your computer organized. But I am a partition person and am painfully anal about everything on my computer being hideously well organized, so this is just for those who are my type.

Click on VirtualBox. Install it. Voila! You now have epic operating system powers at your mouse-tips.

OS and You

Now, what operating system should you try first?

Here's a short list of operating systems I have installed and used and am not afraid of. These links go directly to the download page; leave the default version and 32 bit, just click on download. It will give you an iso file. This is awesome, which you will see later.

Lubuntu (er, I haven't tried this one specifically, but I tried a variation and am not afraid of it. It looks cool.)

You can also, if you have a Mac, install Windows, if you have Windows you can insall iOS (if you can get an image), or pretty much anything else you like. You can install Android though I don't think there is actually a working version of that for computers. If you can get it, you can add Chrome OS. Basically, go crazy and find an operating system and try it out. You can install other versions of Windows if you have them. You can install Linux. It's magic.

VirtualBox - First Run

I'm running it while I'm typing this so I can be sure I get it right.

Oracle VM VirtualBox Manager - The program will open titled Oracle VM VirtualBox Manager. You will see a menu and a toolbar and a cheery Welcome to Virtualbox. Go to the toolbar and click New. This is pretty much your only option; nothing else is active yet.

VirtualBox Wizard - The VirtualBox wizard opens and now we get in gear.

1.) Name - be crazy, name it anything you like.
2.) OS type - up above, you picked and downloaded an OS. From teh drop down, you see Microsoft Windows, Linux, Solaris, BSD, IBM OS/2, Mac OS X, Other. If you chose one of the Ubuntu/Kubuntu/whatever above, choose Linux. If you chose Windows, choose Microsoft Windows, blah blah blah. Other has some other systems under it including DOS and Other/Unknown.
3.) Version - choose the exact name of your version. If you picked any of the above links, choose Ubuntu. The universe is apparently Ubuntu.

My Thoughts: Being me, I actually wanted to see what would happen if I chose, say, Windows and installed Ubuntu instead. It didn't seem to care. I am not swearing before God that this is a big comforting placebo or anything, but the only thing it may affect is what it offers for what you want for default size. Maybe. Someone else may know of a tragic betrayal that VirtualBox feels, but so far, it doesn't seem to matter much.

Click Next.

Memory - the default seems to be 512K. Depending on how much memory your computer has--right now--go with a max of 2 GB this time.

Short and very dirty explanation: your regular OS needs a certain amount of RAM to function and while you are in VirtualBox in your Virtual Operating System, it is still using it and it will crash if you devote three quarters of your memory to your new operating system and it needs those bits. Or the new operating system will crash, but not a big deal; you can fix that by changing the amount of memory it has.

The good news is, Windows is a memory hog. So you actually don't need all that much right now anyway. You can get away with teh 512K if you want. I don't recommend it because it can be a bit slow, but unlike Windows, Ubuntu tends to be kinder about that sort of thing. Xubuntu damn near loves low RAM. This is not a big deal. 512k - 2G is your ideal range our first time out.

Click Next.

Virtual Hard Disk - don't change anything. This is if you have been doing this a while and doesn't apply for a first time.

Click Next.

Virtual Disk Creation Wizard - don't change anything. It's just basically a save-as.

Click Next.

Virtual Disk Storage Details - don't change anything. But you could if you wanted to.

For the purposes of first time, dynamic is faster. In a minute, it will ask you how much drive space this new virtual machine--your new OS--gets. When it asks that, it will cordon off that amount but not reserve it or use it until it's actually needed and it will grow--up to the limit you told it when it asked--as needed. Fixed means all of it--all the hard drive you said it could have--is blocked off and considered used.

Right now, dynamic will start you off faster, but fixed will mean that it doesn't need to waste precious RAM size later to expand.

This is so a matter of whatever that unless you are using 512K RAM, go with dynamic this time for the fast gratification of getting this installed.

Click Next.

Virtual Disk File Location and Size - if you do not use partitions or don't care where on your hard drive this goes, then for Location--notice the name is already there?--don't touch that. Default, it will be in the directory VM Machines, which is in the directory VirtualBox. Very convenient.

If it matters, click the folder and hunt up where you want it to go.

For size, this is very up to you, but here's some general guidelines:
1.) If you have at least five GB more hard drive space than the default amount (mine is saying 8 GB as default) use that. In other words, if the default is eight and you have thirteen GB, use 8. If you have less--say you have 7 GB on your hard drive--subtract five from that. Your defalt is 2 GB. For any ubuntu, that should be fine.
2.) This is not written in stone. You can make mistakes. Remember--for the purposes of VirtualBox, this is basically the equivalent of a computer having a really active imaginary life. The worst that could happen if you misjudge is you will freeze, restart, and be fine.

Summary - click on Create

Note: I cannot emphasize enough that it is very hard to mess this up. I have tried. Not intentionally, per se, but there you go.

Your Virtual Machine Is Created!

And it is. Now you see the Oracle VM VirtualBox Manager and below on the left side of the manager, you see George (I named mine George. No reason). On the right is a breakdown of your decisions and some information on the virtual machine you just created. It is, in effect, showing you an imaginary computer. I'll link to the User Guide if you want more information on this, but for the purposes of this tutorial, just nod at it.

(That is what I named it. It literally says George. Awesome.)

Your toolbar now has three active icons; new, settings, and start. We've done New and Settings is for fine tuning later; you want Start.

Click Start.

First, a new black box will appear. Then before you can worry, you may get something about auto-capture keyboard. This means that the virtual machine--George--now controls the keyboard. You want this to happen automatically.

Click Okay.

First Run Virtual Wizard - this is where teh magic happens. This will tenderly guide you through the installation of your virtual OS into the virtual machine.

Again--this does not do anything to Windows at all. Windows is still out there waiting for you. You can even see your desktop being completely normal while you're doing all this. That's the beauty of VirtualBox in Windows--it is all happening in Windows' own window.

Click Next.

Select Installation Media - Click on the tiny folder and navigate to the folder where you put that Operating System you downloaded. It may stil be in your download folder, or like, me, you may keep an entire folder of OS images sitting around for emergencies. It happens. You will see a operating-system-something-whtaever.iso. Click on that. Whatever it is should now appear in that grey box under installation media.

Click Next.

This will tell you what you chose. It's interesting. When it talks about unmounting and commands, ignore it.

Click Start.

You may get a message here about bit sizes. Ignore it.

You will get a message about mouse pointer integration. If it says that you have it, awesome. Click Okay.

Now you will begin to install your OS into your virtual machine. Just follow the instructions that the OS is giving to install it. To be safe, just default everything; to be adventurous, do what you like.

Remember you aren't altering Windows. So everything is--well, in your computer's head. If it goes wrong, there's an easy fix.

Close the window that the new OS is in (it will give three options--choose the second), go to Oracle VM VirtualBox Manager, and delete George--or whatever you named it. Close VirtualBox. And that's it.

You now can explore any operating system you want in here. You can make many machines. You can erase machines.

And here are some enhancements for you to try when you see your new operating system in that Window all ready to go. But maybe you don't like to do this from a program in Windows. You can also create, modify, and run a virtual OS from a web browser. You can give it it's own internet access. You can give it USB access. You can give it local file access, so you can play your movies, edit your fic, or listen to your music in the new OS itself. Basically, you can make it act just like it's an actual computer on it's own, not one living within Windows.

And if you have a bluray player that can see a local network (most of them these days) and a working router, you can organize and share your media with your TV without having to hook it up directly. All you need is two ethernet cables and Mediatomb.

If anyone has corrections, suggestions, or questions or anything, drop a comment. And seriously, Ubuntu has a thing that maps stars and--okay, when you try it, you'll see.

Good luck!

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I love, love, LOVE VirtualBox. I have Win7 32 bit and XP installed on separate installations of VB, and dear god, the joy of not having to run from computer to computer when testing on multiple OS versions is like a little piece of heaven, right at my desk. Seconding this recommendation, SO HARD.

GOD YES. And it's so much easier to just play with and know if it goes wrong, you can just erase it in seconds and start over, no harm no foul.

YES! Yes, exactly! I can set it up exactly how I want, and then EXPLODE it if I so wish (I was messing around with regedit recently, with potentially tragic results), and it didn't even matter. It was great.

And SO easy to use!

...I have no idea what you are saying. But you are pretty while saying it. Plus, I have a mac :)

*grins* VirtualBox runs on Macs, too. It's fun!

Thank you. My thwarted baby!geek brain is now seriously considering experimentation. Your tutorial is lovely and I CAN DO THIS! ::bookmarks for when free time exists::

The wizards make it incredibly hard to destroy anything. For me when i started, it was mostly "BUT WHAT IF I CHOOSE THE WRONG OPTION?" Later, I realized the wizard was designed to make sure I never, ever did that. *g*

This makes me feel like I could actually try an operating system other than Windows! o_0

Thank you so much for this tutorial. I'm not sure I have the courage to try it right now, but I'm bookmarking it for future reference. You're awesome, I didn't even have a clue I could do this.

Oh my god. It runs on a Mac. Omg.

Well, there goes my weekend. <3

Virtual box is completely awesome. My main angst was that neither of my machine specs (Vista + 2GB RAM and XP + 1GB RAM) were conducive a Smooth User Experience. They worked, just not with much speed or grace...

Hi, I hope this isn't creepy but I found your journal via your excellent ST Reboot fic and browsing around in tags discovered this post. This made it sound so easy that I finally indulged my curiosity, dug out a virtualbox dmg and a current Linux Mint iso and am now playing with the virtual machine. The wifi worked out of the box on my late 2009 Macbook, I am impressed! My Linux-loving flatmate will be so pleased to hear, too. Thank you so much for writing this up and sharing it. :D

Edited at 2015-04-02 12:46 pm (UTC)

I love when people find the joy of VirtualBox. It's so much fun, and it looks utterly terrifying until you realize it seriously, seriously requires almost nothing from you but mouse skills to get going.

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