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4 Sep 2019, 10:50

Try out the Linux Operating System in 10 minutes via VirtualBox

Apple and Microsoft operating systems are well-known to mainstream users. However, with the popularity of open-source software and community, the Linux operating system has become a buzz word for many IT professionals. Specifically, with advances in the Internet of Things where custom software applications were integrated into hardware devices to control and manage its operation remotely, the engineers adopted free operating systems like Linux and as such a new stream of special free open source packages were created. However, for novice engineers, the starting point is to know what is Linux and use/test it as a secondary operating system, before they do serious programming in it. In short, this article shows engineers how to install and use Linux via VirtualBox in 10 minutes or less. 

Most people are quite familiar with the Apple/Microsoft operating system feud that has been going on for decades at this point, but the fact that there is a third party in this conflict goes unnoticed surprisingly often. Especially considering the fact that with the proliferation of modern smart devices, you may actually have more Linux machines in your home than either windows computer or macs. 

Linux has always had a huge presence both at the most powerful and least powerful computing machines on earth. It originated as an operating system for mainframes and is used in an overwhelming majority of modern supercomputers and server farms. However, It also has a huge presence in devices you might not even think of as having a real operating system. Linux is the OS of choice in Nest thermostats as well as smart TVs from LG, Sony, Toshiba, and others. Drones and other robotics platforms widely run Linux as well. Finally, every mobile device running Android runs Linux behind the scenes, here you can find a list of all special purpose Linux distributions. 

Despite this mass usage, you won’t find a “Linux 10” available for download or purchase. You’ll never see a “Linux store” in any shopping center. The reason for this seeming disconnect, as well as the reason it can be used everywhere from Cray supercomputers to coffee machines,  is the Linux ecosystem is fundamentally different from its competitors. Both Microsoft and Apple offer a single version of their product, which they update periodically. Linux, on the other hand, is widely used to refer to a large family of independently distributed operating systems. What makes an operating system “Linux”, or rather makes it a “ *nix” system ( terminology accepted due to the frequent use of -nix in Linux-related materials), is the use of a family of closely-related, and interchangeable tools. These tools can be put together, and swapped out or reconfigured to build a full system.

This makes each distribution (or “Distro”) unique, with its own strengths and weaknesses. It also ensures that despite being made by independent companies, most Linux software can run on any Linux distro. It also means that with the appropriate knowledge, anyone can create a distro, or even replicate an existing one legally, for free.  As a result, none of the organizations that distribute versions of Linux charge for the operating system themselves. It is free to use for any purpose, for any length of time. In addition, it is largely impossible to include privacy-compromising features in a Linux system because of their inherent transparency to the user. 

Once, many Linux distributions (here you can find a list of all Linux distributions) required extensive setup and might be somewhat incomplete, requiring the user to manually configure things like the networking stack, or the graphics system. However, over the last 20 years, a number of Linux distributions and tools have made Linux just as easy to use for a beginner as Windows or OSX. Until fairly recently, there was one final barrier preventing average people from trying out Linux. The process of installing any operating system onto a computer can sometimes be confusing, to someone who would otherwise be interested in investigating, and there is always a slight chance of data loss if mistakes are made. 

However, there is now an option that takes advantage of virtualization technology to safely try out any Linux distro more quickly than ever before, and with absolutely no risk whatsoever of data loss. By running Linux in a virtual machine, such as VirtualBox, you can run a full distro of Linux entirely within a program on your desktop, without the Linux version even being aware, much less able to modify or damage, your host operating system.

Now that we understand how Linux OS has been evolved and its major differences with Mac and Windows OS, we can move on to the next step which is to set up VirtualBox. 

VirtualBox Installations

Virtualbox is a tool known as a hypervisor, which allows certain system resources, such as individual CPU cores, and a specific amount of RAM, to be reserved. Since the host operating system will not use them, it is possible to run a secondary operating system on them, completely walled off from the primary one. This is known as creating a “Virtual” machine since this secondary operating system operates exactly as if it was a real computer. Through advanced usage, you can even configure the virtual machine to have virtual CD filled with virtual CDs, or virtual USB ports, or charging virtual smartphones! 

To try Linux out for yourself, you’ll need Virtualbox which you can get from Oracle’s site here, and you’ll need a pre-prepared VDI file from OSboxes.org. This lets you side-step the process of installing the operating system manually. However, they are large, so may take some time to download. I recommend starting out with this common beginner distro, known as Ubuntu, but this process should work with any VDI file on this site if you’re feeling like a challenge. You can find the rest under the “VM images” tab, by clicking on “VirtualBox Images”. Also, OSboxes provides VDI files compressed into a .7z archive, which Windows cannot open by itself. You may already have the software installed to handle this common archive format. If you do not, you will also want to install a compression utility, like 7zip or WinZip

The default options in the VirtualBox installer are sufficient for most users. You may see the “network adapter reset” screen in the installer, or a pop-up from Windows Security asking if you would like to install a device driver. These are a normal part of the install process. Simply clicking the accept/continue button will get you through the install process quite quickly. Once VirtualBox has finished installing, you should be prompted with a screen like the one below

As of right now, you have no virtual machines, so the “Tools” entry will be selected in the left-hand panel. The right-hand panel will display some basic help text. By this point, you need your VDI file ready to go, which means downloading a VDI file from OSboxes.org (link) if you haven’t done so already, then extracting the 7z file you receive using any compression utility that supports that filetype. Once you’ve done that, select the blue “New” icon.

The “create virtual machine” dialog will appear. This dialog can be used in “guided” mode, or in “Expert” mode. Despite the names, the only difference is “Expert” mode displays all the relevant information at once, while “Guided” does the exact same, but split into three different pages. 

 

 

 

The first set of options is the “name and operating system” prompt. You can set the name of your virtual machine to anything you like, and change the save location by changing the path of the “Machine folder”. VirtualBox has built-in presets to run certain common operating systems as painlessly as possible. You can find the one for Ubuntu Linux by setting “Type” to “Linux, and “Version” to “Ubuntu”. Select either 32-bit or 64-bit depending on which one matches the name of your VDI file. Also, if you like to run some security testing, here is a list of all secure Linux distributions for cybersecurity professionals. 

The second set of options is labelled “Memory Size”, and limits how much of your computer’s RAM, you want to let the virtual machine use. Keep in mind that any memory you allocate to the VM, your host operating system will be unable to use until the VM is closed. Versions of Linux will be perfectly happy with as little as 1000MB or thereabouts, but will perform better with more. However, keep the slider in the green. Allocating too much memory to the VM could result in your host OS becoming unstable until the virtual machine is closed.

Finally, we’ll use the VDI file we downloaded as our hard drive. By navigating to the folder icon to the right of the dropdown, you will bring up a menu that allows you to add virtual hard drives. Do so, by clicking the “Add” option, then open your VDI file. It should appear in the drop-down menu.

Next, create your machine with the “Create” button. It should now be the selected option in the left-hand menu, and its details should appear on the right pane. 

At this point, you can start the machine with the green “Start” arrow. After a moment, you should see the Ubuntu loading screen. OSBox images come with a user already created, with the password “osboxes.org” After logging in, you will see the welcome dialog, introducing you to Ubuntu. 

Congratulations!  You have successfully set up your own virtual machine. Anything you do within the Ubuntu desktop cannot affect the parent system: even totally wiping the virtual hard-drive can’t touch your files. You can explore Ubuntu on your own, or stay tuned for our upcoming article: Ubuntu for beginners!

Summary

In this article, we briefly reviewed the Linux OS and discussed its differences with commercial OS like Microsoft and Apple. We also show you step-by-step on how to install and use Linux through VirtualBox. For the next step, you need to start learning basic Linux commands and harness the power of Linux via its command-line interface.

Matt is founder of High School Technology Services, DC Web Makers and Coding Bootcamps. He has written extensively on advance topics on web design, mobile App development and blockchain. He is a senior editor at Touchstone Words where he writes and reviews coding and technology articles. He is also senior instructor and developer living in Washington DC. You can follow him on Linkedin.

4 Sep 2019, 10:50

Comments

October 4, 2019 07:45

  • Moderated

We actually do not need another operating system. We need somebody that can legally write an operating system that can run Windows software. An operating system that is more stable than Windows. Linux cannot run the software that is used by the industry that only runs under Windows. This is the biggest shortfall today.

0 Votes

September 17, 2019 08:58

My word what a lot of effort just to try Linux. The easy way is to simply go to the Linux Mint site. Download the latest version. Flash it on to a USB stick. Plug the USB stick into a PC. Boot from it and that's it. You have Linux Mint up and running. You can try it and when you are finished simply unplug the USB stick and that's it. No mess, no cleaning up on your PC. The simplest way to try Linux. Then when you realise just how good Linux has become you simply use the same USB stick to install it as dual boot and you can have the best of both worlds.

0 Votes

September 16, 2019 21:40

Linux actually started as a project by Linus Torvalds in 1991 based on Unix, thought then by Linus as probably won't run on anything more than a AT-386 PC.
With others joining in development followed at quite a pace.
At the time I was considering openBSD but it required top a of the line PC and I only had a Company Toshiba laptop with 2 3.5 inch floppy disks so Linux was the obvious choice as I was already running Minix on the PC and using Amdahl UTS (Unix) on the Mainframe.
Later the IBM skunkworks project porting Linux to the Mainframe was revealed and thankfully accepted by the then IBM CEO as Linux proved to be the saviour of IBM's Mainframe business.
back when Windows 95 was the king of the walk on PC's I moved to Linux permanently for work and pleasure -- I Installed and worked with Linux on the Mainframe and on Sun Enterprise Servers.
Much later the

0 Votes

September 16, 2019 07:36

@TucoSoCal- I suggest using Ubuntu 18.10 or Ubuntu 18.04 LTS

0 Votes

September 11, 2019 09:36

I clicked on the link to the Distro you recommended " I recommend starting out with this common beginner distro, known as Ubuntu, but this process should work with any VDI file on this site if you’re feeling like a challenge." and it took me to Ubuntu Virtual Machine Images, there are 6 of them and I have no idea which one you were recommending? Can you please be a little more specific? Thanks!

0 Votes