Companions : Are Vm's the new portable apps ?

Sep 01

I look back into the fairly recent past (if there is
such a thing) and take myself back to the beginning of the 21st Century
, when Nyana
and me lived together in a teeny tiny apartment in my home town. It was
a very cosy place. Atop a nice shop and sheltered by trees and a large
barn we enjoyed the privacy of our little home in this rural area. I
look back fondly at the little "second bedroom" we had behind our
little veranda, that small 6 by 10 feet room housed the "core" of my
computer setup. Giant 21 inch displays crammed into a little room,
Several PC towers stacked away underneathtables .. enough cables to
entangle a moose in heat.. A geeks hideout if there ever was one. Back
in those days I inherited (to much dismay of my lovely Nyana)
a complete collection of old computers (about 13 of them) each with
their own keyboard ,mouse and 14 inch display. I remember having hours
of fun getting them working, installing all kinds of operating systems
on them and what have you.

Only a few years later its a whole different story. As I wrote in the article "Knightwise where are all your boxes" the "cluster" of underpowered "everything-but"-super-computers has long gone and even on Casa del Knightwise we have a modest Computer-count policy.
With a few laptops the need sometimes comes up to run a different
operating system and play around with it, either for functionality or
for sheer tinkering.
This used to be an exercise in partitioning, dual booting or even having select machines for certain OS’es. " This is my Linux Laptop , this is my Windows machine etc." .

But those days have come and gone quite some time ago
. Virtualisation is the solution to weed out giant "computer labs" and is used by geeks in abundance to "test out" new operating systems or even run multiple OS’es on the same server.

But why stop there ? Why stop at just "testing and tinkering" Why not take the whole virtualisation
process a little further and use it on our desktops and laptops. With
the advent of cheaper (and more) ram, 64 bit operating systems that let
you chew past the 4 gig barrier, the dual (and even quad core)
workstations and the impressive harddisk spaces that are available to us "dual booting" is becoming a thing of the past.

My idea here is : Why not use that "workstation" power together with virtualisation to create "Companions"  ? "Companion" is the term I use for an operating system that runs "parallel" with the operating system that is installed naively on the Computer. There is nothing new to my idea of course : The first virtualisation software on the mac was not called "parallels"
for nothing. But the simple fact that you can run two (or more)
operating systems on the same machine without an impact on generalperformance .. is something you need to get your head around.

For the last 2 weeks i’ve been running a version of Crunchbang Linxu as a VM on my work laptop. I connect to it via putty or open up the GIU with my Vmware
server console. ( A dual screen setup is perfect for this) and before
you know it you are using that "companion OS" just like it was a system
that’s installed locally. The trick here is to stop thinking "One OR
the other OS" It is in fact "one AND the other OS" where the companion os can offer you a whole set of applications and services not available in your native os. Using a linux companion "inside" my Windows OS has proved very handy and when using VMware tools to use shared home folders and what have you .. only increases the functionality.

What it comes down to is that these "companion os’es" are slowly becoming the "portable applications" we carry around on our Thumbdrives. But forget carrying around your own "Firefox"
Why not carry around your own portable operating system. With an 8 gig
thumb drive being sold under 20 Dollars, all you need to do is run the VM of your favorite Os off of the thumbdrive. Add some Cross platform (or even open source) virtualisation software like  VMware or Virtualbox
to the mix .. and your "Windows Laptop" is now just "your laptop"
capable of running several operating systems at the same time. .. This
makes VM’s the portable apps of the future.

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