The perfect geek linux/xp desktop setup with VMware?(non mac)

Hey folks… descending into geek land this week. I’ve been having a chat with John Schinker about an idea I had I think I’m going to go ahead and try, but first, I thought I would serve this up to the community and see if anyone other than John had some good ideas on how to refine it before i go through the odyssey of rebuilding my computer.

WARNING –> Any use of this post to build a sucky computer is not my fault! —> I’m no hardware expert… <---

Note on why I said (non Mac)
This description would work fine (presumably) on an Apple. While I realize that many, many smart folks out there love their macs… and this will probably bring on the mac hater haters… contrary to the growing trend, I don’t think Apple has a place in education, and as I currently look into my future, I don’t see buying another one. “Apple users are very happy to make the trade-off from “open” to “closed”, presumably for the ease of use.” This is a pretty fair description of how I feel about their products. Beautiful, but closed. A corollary to this is the fascinating legal issues that pile up around Apple’s closed systems… people suing apple and Apple suing people. See here here and here. I will stick to linux as much as i can, and cheat with windows.

Hardware

I’m currently still running a pentium D 3.4GHZ… I would prefer something like a Core 2 2.67 but that’s not really going to affect this conversation. The most important thing is to have a motherboard with 4 RAM slots and that can handle more than one SATA harddrive. A built in hardware RAID would also be quite nice.

Hardware

E6750 Core 2 DUO 2.67
2 X harddrive (you’d be better off with 10K harddrives, but i’m going to use 2 300GB 7200)
4GB 667GHZ RAM (i don’t really understand RAM…)
256GB dual DVI video card. (suggestions?)
2 20″ panels (currently have a Scepter 20″ and looking to replace my HUGE trinitron with a Samsung 20″ panel)
Motherboard (must have 4 RAM slots, better if it has 2 ethernet ports, firewire, 2-4 SATA slots, onboard hardware RAID)
ergonomic keyboard mouse (i love them)
Sound Card (don’t really use mine)
Speakers (i need new ones…)
DVD burner

Introduction

Here’s where the fun starts. I want to run three operating systems on this computer. I want to install STEP 1 Ubuntu as my base system, STEP 2 on top of a RAID 1 hardware setting. From there, I’m going to STEP 3 install VMware Server. VMware allows you to create virtual operating systems on top of your existing installation. STEP 4 I will be installing Debian and Windows XP. This will give me three operating systems, one that has direct access to the hardware and will be my main system (Ubuntu) and the other two, debian and XP, will be virtual systems living on top of my base system.

STEP 1 installing Ubuntu

I’ve been running ubuntu as my base system here for the last few months. There are a couple of things that I still can’t do with it (notably screencasting) but overall i’m pretty pleased with it, and am willing to live with the mild inconvenience to not see windows popups. I think I’ll install Ubuntu 7.10… I’m not entirely decided yet, I may try kubuntu this time, which may be a little more configured to my particular setup, but this will take a little more reading. The key fact for the installation is to use the inestimable “ubuntuguide“. The single most useful website I have ever found on the internet. I mean it.

STEP 2 Running RAID 1
I know this is kind of backwards, but, there it is. RAID 1 allows you to do what’s called ‘mirroring’. That means that everything that is written to one harddrive is written to the other harddrive at the same time. This means that you are ‘wasting’ 300GB of space, but it also means that if one harddrive fails, all of your data is automagically safe. Now, if your computer gets hit by lightening (which is possible) and they both fail, you’ve still lost everything. And fire… yes if you’re burning your computer this wont save your data… but it will save you from single drive failure.

STEP 3 – Installing VMware server

I’ve just discovered this, have installed it once, and on the strength of that, am thinking of rejigging my whole computer life. That’s how much I like it. Once you’ve got the operating system installed (whether you start with XP or linux) you can then install vmware server on top of it. Using its friendly interface you then carve up new ‘servers’ from which you can run new operating systems. At work, for instance, I now have xp on my desktop with wmware on it. In vmware i’m running a debian installation which i’m using as my test server. I can connect to that server from my desktop (or anywhere else for that matter) a full testing system XP and linux running in the same place at the same time. I love it. And, most importantly, if it starts to act funny, I can wipe out the virtual installation and just pop up a new one. I can also back it up very easily.

I keep hearing that virtualization is the future. I’m thinking that virtualization is the new now. More on this after I play with it for a few weeks… too excited right now for objectivity.

STEP 4 – debian and XP
I love debian as a server. Nice and clean. Super easy to use. I want to install debian as a test environment so i can play with the bunches of server based stuff i like to test out without mucking up more important servers. As soon as I get it configure, I’m going to take an ‘image’ of it, and then, six weeks from now when i wreck it trying to install something crazy, I’ll just reinstall the image. It’ll take few minutes, and I’ll have a clean new testing area, and won’t have to ruin any other important work.
As for XP, there are a few things that I want it for. Screencasting is the first. I’d also like to be able to just print a ‘doc’ file without converting it and having to change the settings. Other than that, I’d rather stick with my ubuntu desktop.

So… there’s my proposal for a new desktop installation. Any comments? Suggestions?

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2 thoughts on “The perfect geek linux/xp desktop setup with VMware?(non mac)

  1. This sounds very much like a test environment, where you can try out a lot of different things without totally screwing up you primary use (virtual) machine. As far as sandboxes go, this seems like a very reasonable way to do it. For most users, I think vmware is going a bit far, but it sounds like you have soma valid reasons for going to that extreme.

    I’ve not sure it’s necessary to have raid 1. While it will protect you against a single drive failure, as you point out, there are a lot of other reasons why you need actual backups. Adding raid to the configuration may unnecessarily complicate things. I’m all for raid in a server environment, but it may be overkill here.

    The other thing that may be more difficult than anticipated is access to hardware devices. As a Windows user, I’ve grown accustomed to having fairly easy access to my hardware. Using the sound card for audio conferencing is easy. When I plug in a USB device, Windows usually recognizes it and just makes it work. I’d predict that the extra layer of abstraction provided by the virtual machine may make this kind of thing more difficult.

    I’m interested to hear how it goes.

  2. I was going to write a post about my cruddy experience with an iBook this week. A volunteer working at my school had a slideshow on her iBook that she wanted to share. So I sent her out to get a video dongle. She bought two, neither of which had the right configuration for either the iBook or the DLP. So I had her copy the preso to a flash drive. It wouldn’t let us run it on a Win-laptop because she had music from iTunes, and that machine did not have rights to the music (thank you for electronic licensing). I then tried to pull it into Adobe Premiere Elements to strip out the iTunes, and put some Creative Commons music in. For some reason, PE would NOT read the .mov file even though it says it supports the format. Maybe it was the music licensing? I have no idea. My final try was to convert the .mov to .avi or .wmv format using MMCovert, and ImTOO. MMCovert choaked, and ImTOO produced a movie that looked like it had been shot through clam chowder.
    I find windows annoying in many ways, by way a platform that has such a small market share is SO closed is puzzling to me. Maybe they should look as Lessing preso on TED?
    Thanks Dave for letting me blog on your site!

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