I’ve spent a fair amount of time playing around with VMs since Parallels released version 4.0 of their Mac desktop virtualization software. I’ve downloaded various operating systems to see what I could install and what capabilities they had.
Parallels 4.0 Update Available
First a bit good news for some: Paralles 4.0 Build 3540 is now available (previous build was 3522). This is a bug-fix build, mostly Windows related issues. Note that this update is going to require a reboot of your Mac to complete the install.
If you already had the 3522 build of 4.0 installed and have already converted (or reinstalled) your Windows VMs, no additional conversion is required however it will run the Tools installer again. Linux VMs appear to be unchanged. I don’t know if the 3.0 -> 4.0 conversion process is any better in this but I plan to download a 3.0 VM from their web site to see if things have improved on that front.
I currently have a Windows XP Professional VM and an Ubuntu 8.1 VM configured. Two operating systems I haven’t had any luck installing are Sun’s Solaris and OpenSolaris. Paralles says they are supported, I just haven’t figured out what the trick is.
Before we go any farther, it’s time for some "truth in advertising" as it were. The screen shots below are from my attempt to install Solaris 10 10/08. I haven’t been successful yet in getting the OS to install. I have successfully installed both OpenSolaris 2008.11 (currently installed) and 2008.05 (I don’t think this one is available anymore; might be available on a mirror site). My system is a MacBook Pro (2.33 GHz, 3GB RAM) running OS X 10.5.5 and VirtualBox 2.0.6.
Let me say up front that the VirtualBox GUI isn’t quite as slick as the Parallels GUI. Based on past experience with Sun software, I would assume that as VirtualBox goes forward that is likely to change. Where Parallels hides many of its low-level options behind an Advanced settings option, the VirtualBox GUI makes them all available at once. (There is also a command-line interface but I haven’t tinkered with that.) The downside to the see it all at one approach is that you aren’t quite sure what to change when. Sun supplies a good PDF manual with the software.
Creating the Virtual Machine
Installing OpenSolaris (both the 2008.05 and 2008.11) was fairly simple using the Virtual Machine Wizard. I had a few false starts though. The Wizard caught me off guard because it seems to start multiple tools, each of which has their own pop-up windows leading to a fair amount of clutter and confusion. A quick trip to the manual set me straight. Hopefully, future versions will integrate the windows into a single set without the pop-ups.
One problem developers of cross-platform software face is integrating the look and feel of the target machine’s GUI. Mac OS X isn’t the same as Windows or Linux. Does it matter? Yes, from a usability point-of-view. A Mac user expects to find preferences under the Program Name > Preferences dialog while Windows users expect them to be at Edit > Preferences or Tools > Options. They also expect similar icons to be used and for them to have similar meaning. Neither is an impossible task given time and money.
For the most part, the dialogs to create a new VM are straight-forward. A couple of things to watch for though. First, by default, VirtualBox puts your new VM files in <user>/Library/VirtualBox. If you want them stored in a different location, such as in your Documents directory or on an external disk, you need to use the Folder button to the right of the Image File Name. I missed that the first time because it’s non-standard for OS X; it would usually be a triangle. And yeah, that’s a nit.
The second thing is you have to mount a CD or an ISO image to load from. This was one of the things I had to go back to the manual to find. To do this, select your VM from the main window and then either click on CD/DVD-ROM Image in the right pane or click Settings, Storage, CD/DVD-ROM Image. Both routes should get you to a window that looks like this.
Make sure the Mount CD/DVD Drive is checked, and then select either your host system’s physical drive or use an ISO image file. The nice thing about ISO image files is you can mount multiple images at once, effectively giving you multiple CD/DVD drives. The bad news… Another dialog box!
Click Add to make an ISO image visible to your VM. When you want to "eject" the image, first Release it and then Remove it. The second step removes the reference to it from the VM. Kind of clunky I think but that’s how Sun did it. Close out the dialogs until you are back at the main VM screen.
One other thing you might want to do is adjust the amount of memory allocated to the the VM. Solaris and OpenSolaris both want 512MB of RAM. For video memory, Sun says things will run with 8MB of VRAM but I bumped it up to 32MB. Remember though that resources you allocate to the VM are unavailable to the host system as long as the VM is executing.
Now that the VM is configured, simply push the green arrow to start it. As I mentioned earlier, I have successfully installed both OpenSolaris 2008.05 and 2008.11. Now that if OpenSolaris running, I plan to play around with it. I don’t know what the hang-up is with Solaris 10 but I’ll continue to play with it as well. One thing I can’t comment on is performance because I have no objective means of measuring it. I also have made no attempt to install Windows XP or Linux in VirtualBox although Sun says it should work.
More to follow…