Get a virtual Linux box on your Windows PC

Some colleagues were asking, so I figured more people might want to know: how to get a working Linux box without breaking your Windows PC. To play with, to run some software you can only get on Linux or maybe even to run some virtual server programs.

Here’s how, using Ubuntu as a distribution (it’ll work for others too):

  • Get Linux
    Download disk image with your favourite Linux bootable distribution. Right now, for Ubuntu, getting the Ubuntu 8.10 stable edition .iso file worked for me, the 9.04 is about to be released as a stable version too.
  • Get VirtualBox
    Download the latest binary of VirtualBox. The VirtualBox 2.2.2 setup for Windows works fine for me.
  • Install VirtualBox
    Using default options, install VirtualBox. You can install it in the default location, since you will be able to put the virtual machines in any folder you like.
  • Create the virtual machine
    In VirtualBox, create a new virtual server. Default settings work fine, but you can tweak the amount of memory and diskspace to your liking. It does need a virtual hard disk, to install Linux on. Create the virtual hard disk where you have sufficient space to contain all the files you want to put on the virtual server.
  • Attach the Linux disk image
    In VirtualBox, point the virtual CD-rom drive to the .iso file with your Linux distro. Once you start the virtual machine, its cd-drive will have this disk loaded and will attempt to boot from it.
  • Start the virtual machine
    The virtual machine will boot using the CD-rom image. If you have the Ubuntu distribution, it will ask you what language you want to use and then offer you the option of booting Ubuntu without installing it. Instead, you can tell it to install Ubuntu, which will install it to the disk image you created.
  • Install Linux
    Follow the instructions of the installer for your Linux distribution. Most of the choices will be straightforward, Google is your friend if they are not.
    Note: if your mouse gets ‘stuck’ in the VirtualBox window, you can free it by hitting the right control button.
  • Install Guest Additions
    VirtualBox offers a set of tools for Windows and Linux guest operating systems. Note: the guest operating system is the OS in the virtual machine. The host OS is the OS of the PC you installed VirtualBox on. To install the guest additions, shutdown the virtual server, download the guest additions for your version of VirtualBox and attach that .iso image file to the virtual CD-drive. Then start your virtual machine and start the appropriate installer from the CD-drive.
    Alternatively, select ‘Devices – Install Guest Additions’ when your virtual machine is running, to do it automatically. But if this doesn’t work, you will be able to do it yourself.
  • Reboot and you’re done!
    Just reboot the virtual machine once more and you’re done! With the most recent guest additions, you’ll be able to seamlessly use the virtual Linux box, running in a window on your desktop. It will even support reading from your real CD-rom drive, floppy drives and USB devices and it will use whatever network connection is available in the host OS.

Of course, if all you wanted to do is run Linux applications on the Windows desktop and you already have a Linux server running somewhere, you could go the way of installing Cygwin and using its X-Server to show applications that run on the remote Linx server. But that’s another blog post ;-).

Get that champagne ready to go

Tonight, at 0:31:30 (23:31:30 PM UTC Feb 13 2009) it will be 1234567890 unit time. In case you’re not as much of a nerd as I am: unix timestamps are used in many database systems around the world to record date/time combinations. In this system, time is counted as the number of seconds that has passed since the start of 1970. Put on the clock tonight and keep that bottle ready to pop!

Sadly, leap seconds are ignored, so since we have counted 24 leap seconds since the start, you might want to leave the cork on until 0:31:54. I’m sure many of my colleagues at the National Archives – used to think about decades and centuries instead of seconds – can see the humour of of a system that won’t work beyond 1970 (or rather 1901) and will be useless starting January 19 2038…

Epoch fail!
Epoch fail!

Add RSS to a phpBB3 forum

I just added a phpBB3 mod which adds RSS feeds to a phpBB3 forum to the forums on this page. Like most phpBB3 mods, it’s a bit of a chore to install. More so since currently there is no easyMod for phpBB3, so everything has to be done manually. But if you follow the instructions in the install.xml to the letter, everything should be fine. Continue reading Add RSS to a phpBB3 forum

SiN Episodes: Emergence

You can love or hate episodic content, but you’ll have to give it this: at least you save a few bucks if you buy something you shouldn’t have. SiN: Emergence as currently available on Steam, packaged with SiN 1 and SiN 1 Multiplayer, falls snugly into that category. Never mind that $5 should be good value for money for any playable FPS created in Valve’s source engine. Continue reading SiN Episodes: Emergence


Gliffy is a web application that fills the gap in open source office software: a Visio replacement. Sadly, it’s not open, nor is it really free. You can get a free account if you’re not using the documents commercially and even then, you can only have 5 active documents in Gliffy at any one time and they’re all public (that is, for the world to see).

Still, as a web-based application, it is surprisingly full-featured and it’s perfect for getting some diagrams quickly sketched out. Of course, if you’re really serious about your diagrams and want them to translate into code or be validated as correct UML, you will still need something like Microsoft Visio or ArgoUML (which is open and free by the way).

Gliffy supports JPG, PNG and SVG export. This is nice since it allows you to quickly save your work for use on a website, or even import the SVG into Visio or some similar product. If you know of other alternatives to Visio, preferably open or free, feel free to let me know. I’m aware of Dia, but that one just doesn’t do the trick. There’s too much focus on making diagrams that fit the rules and not enough “diagram sketchpad” for me.

[rate 3]

FireShot add-on

The FireShot add-on for Mozilla Firefox allows you to take a screen shot of either the visible area of the web page you’re viewing, or the entire page. It includes an editor to tweak the image after shooting. FireShot allows you to save the image to disk, send it by mail, open it in an external editor or just paste the shot to the clipboard.

The built-in editor is a bit too much in my opinion, weighing down the add-on, but it can be good to have in your Portable Firefox, when you don’t have your favorite image editor handy.

[rate 3] is a full-featured office suite that’s available on multiple platforms, including Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and several UNIX variants. The user interface closely resembles that of recent Microsoft Office applications, as does most of the functionality. Let’s face it, when looking at office suites there’s no ignoring MS, it’s the one area where the folks from Redmond do really shine. Continue reading


The GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is an application with feature comparable to Adobe’s Photoshop and able to both read and write its PSD file format. It allows you to create original professional digital artwork, process digital photographs and convert and fix many types of bitmap images. The GIMP supports layers, works well with digitizers like WACOM’s popular pen tablets and offers an enormous number of tools and filters. Continue reading The GIMP

Mozilla Firefox

Mozilla Firefox started out as the stable, lightweight, extensible answer to the two main web browsers at the time. The somewhat buggy Internet Explorer, which was seriously lacking in features, and Opera which was suffering from troublesome bloat, incorporating many functions unneeded and unwanted for many web browser users. Continue reading Mozilla Firefox


Inkscape is the perfect tool to quickly create vector based images and natively saving them in the SVG file format, or exporting them in a variety of bitmap formats. Not quite as full-featured as professional applications like Adobe Illustrator or Corel Paint, it is perfect for simpler jobs and will fit the bill for most users looking to create nicely scalable graphics, logos and text art. Continue reading Inkscape