Friday, December 31, 2010

Whats On My Computer? Part 1

People often ask me for advice on what software they should purchase for this or that purpose. I'm probably the wrong person to ask this question because I'm the working poor and as such, I don't go out and buy the 'latest and greatest (AS SEEN ON TV)' software. That does not mean that I do without.

Through the years I've tested, played with and reviewed many different types of software. I've come to the conclusion that free software often is not only a cheaper alternative but in many cases a better alternative to paid software. I'm not talking shareware here, but free software. Sometimes you have to pay to enable extra features but in a lot of cases the features that are offered are more than enough to do the task at hand.

Just so you know I practice what I preach lets talk about my computer. My laptop came pre-installed with Windows Vista. Now I'm not a total Windows hater here but you all know Vista left a bad taste in many of our mouths. So was the answer to upgrade to Windows 7? Not a chance. Windows 7 is Vista fixed basically, so for Microsoft to ask me to shell out another $200 dollars for what should have been a free patch irked me. So I dealt with Vista for a season and eventually decided to go the Linux route.

Linux has a lot going for it but there were still a few Windows programs I wanted to run so I decided on a dual boot. Dual booting allows me to either boot into Linux or Windows. So I have use of both operating systems. Now this is not the idea configuration as this takes up a great deal of hard drive space and you have to reboot the computer to get to either OS. Another option would be running Windows in a Virtual Machine inside of Linux. I decided on VirtualBox for this and started out by installing Windows XP for testing purposes.

Downloading and installing VirtualBox was a snap as it is in the Ubuntu software repositories. So you go to Applications, Ubuntu Software Centre and search for VirtualBox. Then you just click the install button. This is how Windows Add Remove Programs was originally envisioned by Microsoft but there has never been anything to add in Windows. Now they have Windows Live to download some free stuff for Windows 7. It pales in comparison. The Ubuntu Software Centre is amazing and new applications are added every day. Over 3000 titles and counting. You can find everything you need there.

The creation of a Virtual Machine in VirtualBox was easy and installing Windows XP went exactly like installing on a real computer. The next step I took was installing Microsoft Security Essentials because even though I'm running XP inside of Linux, the Windows OS is prone to viruses. I also updated XP to service pack 3. Now if Virtual XP system gets a bug it wont affect my Linux OS. Its like having XP in jail where it can still live and work but it can't harm anything but itself. VirtualBox allows you to take a snapshot of the system at anytime and you can always easily restore to that state.

As you can see from the screen I have a fully functional XP installation running in a window on my Linux box. I can use it to watch Netflix, since this is one application that requires Microsoft Siverlight to run. This s is the best of both worlds because I can launch my windows apps without rebooting my computer to log into Windows. Next step will be to obliterate my Vista partition and install Vista in a VM just like I did XP. I don't have the hard drive space in my Linux partition to do this at the moment.

Linux is the idea way to run Virtual Machines. I have run them under Windows before and the problem is that Windows is a big resource hog. So your VM gets stuck with whatever Windows has left over for RAM and CPU cycles. Usually not much. Under Linux my XP installation ran perfectly with only the 512 MB of RAM I allocated to it.

If you are interested in trying Linux, we would be happy to help you with the install. We will even set up a dual boot or install the Virtual Machine for you if you have the Windows installation disk.

Part two of this series will cover the programs that I run under Windows...


  1. Nice article, but I think you veered too far from the opening paragraph... I thought I would be reading about what FREE programs that you run, but instead it was mostly about linux and windows via dual boot or vm... and yes I read the last paragraph

  2. I agree, I wanted to cover a host of software and got sidetracked by one subject. I cover more of what you were looking for in part 2.


Blog Archive