Merging your operating systems.

“I run operating system X, I prefer distribution Y, I like desktop interface Y better” I’ve heard the discussions over and over again. Sometimes people stick to their guns and defend their choice, other times people hop around from OS to OS or from Linux distro to Linux distro just because they want thingie X that isn’t available in Distro Y.
The question is : Why do we still need to choose ? If we can train our digital workflows to be operating system independent, why can”t we take it one step further and instead of ‘choosing’ our operating system .. why not design it ourselves ?
The question came up when I got back from a visit to Fossdem this week (Belgians largest open source conference with attendees and speakers from all over the world). Seeing all these pretty Linux distributions and the powerful stuff you can do with them made me all eager to take the plunge once again and go “Full Linux” for a while. I slide from OS to OS (My main workhorse is a Mac, my traveling companion is a Chromebook that has Ubuntu on the side, my desktop runs Linux Mint and I have a Surface Pro running Windows 10). Lately I have been having hours of fun playing around with the Chromebook. Its simple operating system charms me into using it quite often. Its clutter free, not a lot of distractions and I like its simple elegance. However it is limited. Some things just don’t work on Chrome, but luckily for the Chromebook I can just ‘sidestep’ into the Ubuntu version I’ve installed via Crouton.
Hopping from OS to OS at the press of a button is a joy, however, since Ubuntu uses the same Root kernel Chrome OS does .. Some features are missing. (No iPTables means no way to use Sshuttle, my favorite vpn client) The other downsides from working on the Chromebook are its limited storage (16 gigs divided between Ubuntu and Chrome OS) and the low quality screen. I love working with the little machine when i’m on the road .. but it has its limits.
Meanwhile my super powerful Macbook Pro sits by the wayside, waiting patiently until I have a new task for it to do. (I do most of my audio and video production on my Mac and it IS the main machine for my business so tinkering with it is just not done). A bit of a shame really.

Side by side.
As I was once again working on both machines side-by-side this week, I wistfully thought : How cool would it be to have the power and screen size of the mac, the simplicity of the Chrome OS and the power of Linux rolled into one machine while still having the option to “slide” back and forth between the operating systems at a whim…
Sure, I could dual boot my Macbook pro with some flavor of Linux but that would violate one of my basic principles : My Mac is my work machine, my livelihood .. so excessive tinkering that might harm the OS or the data on the machine is NOT done. Furthermore, since the latest upgrade to OSX Yosemite, dual booting has become a lot more complicated. So the alternative was easy : Using a virtual machine. With plenty of Ram and an SSD drive I would have not trouble throwing some Gig’s and a few cores at my Linux distro of choice and run one on top of the other.


So what to choose ? Choosing your distro is always hard. And in my case I wanted something very specific. I wanted the distro to have a light graphical user interface (I don’t like clutter + I wanted it to be sharp and snappy so I didn’t get the feeling I was running a VM. On the other side I also wanted it to look like Chrome OS. So what to choose ?
Chromixium : A great distro that I found out there that does just that is Chromixium. Basically its a re-build of Chrome OS but using the open source version of the Chrome browser : Chromium. The Chrome-OS look and feel is done by heavily modifying an E17 interface and adding a plank dock. The operating system is light, elegant and well done. The great thing is : Where Chrome OS Stops, Chromixium go on. Instead of running on a shared Linux Kernel (like the Ubuntu installs in Chrome OS via Crouton) Chromixium is pure Ubuntu under the hood. That means : A terminal and access to the software center. Install whatever you please !

Looks like Chrome, Feels like Linux, Runs on a Mac.
So after I installed my favorite Linux applications (both Command line versions and actual apps) I have “morphed” my Chromixium into something that looks like Chrome OS but has the full power (and applications) of Ubuntu available at my fingertips. So now to get it to play nice with my Mac. In order for the Chromixium VM to be able to use the full resolution of my Retina display I made sure to assign it at least 32 meg of video memory in the Virtualbox control panel. I also assigned 2 cores and 4 gigs of ram. Next up it was time to install the Virtualbox Add ons into the guest operating system (Chromixium) to let it use the full resolution.

Retina Schmetina
The actual resolution of a 15 inc Retina Macbook Pro is 2650 by 1600 and I was puzzled why, no matter how I tried, I could not get my Chromixium VM up to that exact resolution when I put it in full screen mode. Turns out that this is actually impossible. The retina resolution is no longer tied to the actual resolution of your display. So you can “scale” the actual resolution of your desktop to ‘appear’ a certain resolution that is actually being ‘mapped’ on the actual resolution of your display. To make a long story short : I went into my Macs system preferences and set the host resolution of my system to a setting that “looked” like 1920 by 1200 and when I set my VM to fullscreen I saw that THAT was the actual ‘physical’ resolution the VM recognized.

So in the end I’m running an OS that is a mutated version of Chrome OS and that I have pimped out with a lot of “standard” Ubuntu applications ON TOP of my Yosemite install on my Macbook pro. It gives me the best of both worlds. The look and feel of Chrome OS , the power of the cloud (Both Chrome and Chromium can sync with my Google account and all settings, plugins and extensions are carried over between my Chromixium os, my Mac and my Chromebook) To power it all I have my Retina-display I7 Macbook pro and due to the fact this is a VM , I can easily make snapshots I can roll back to should something go wrong. I’ve already cloned the Virtual machine to my home server so I can access it remotely (via RDP) should I need to.
Tie in a couple of SSH connections and applications running on some of my other (remote) virtual machines and pretty soon I am having a hard time keeping track of what OS I’m actually using. And that is the whole point. The operating system needs to become abstract. A software layer that provides a you with the means to get things done. It is not there to be adored, it is not there to be fought over, its not there to make you choose.. its there to help you get stuff done .. regardless of what OS you choose…

Links : Chromixium

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The Office 2.0

livingYes yes , its the time of the year(s) again that the Knights in the Knightcastle get a little uneasy with the colors they painted on the walls , get bored with the arrangement of furniture and get overdosed by all the 'home improvement' programs on the tv. We dash out to the DIY store and go looking for paint. Now I must say I'm blessed with the fact that Nyana has excellent taste in colors. She picks out two shades of gray (that to me are not even different colors) and says.. 'This will go good together. ' As we left the store I remember grumbling and fretting that we did not go for some cappuccino like shades, and turning the room into one big Starbucks.  But when the paint went on .. the result was amazing.The rooms we did so far are the bedroom and the office / small living room upstairs. Now in our bedroom we obviously sleep. (get your brains out of the gutter). But the office / living room is a different matter. This room used to be my office. But because I had room to spare we shoved in an extra couch and a tv so Nyana could hang out while I was behind my beloved workspace. It worked out so well that we spend the most part of the winter upstairs. Nice and cocoon-y. The wife in front of the tube, the resident geek on you-tube.  But the mutter was in the clutter. Soon enough Mr geek thought it was needed to overstock the room with computer books, extra systems, a sound-mixer, microphone, main boards and cables lying around etc. To be honest , it sometimes looked like the lovechild of an overturned dumpster truck and a main board factory. This was neither relaxing nor efficient. Thus : The new office. Or could I say : The office 2.0.




We started out with a ruthless philosophy. This place had to be clutter free. Asides from the absolute essentials this room would have to breath out calm and efficient vibes. In order to achieve a TV-room / loungeroom / workspace we made sure to check some markers.


  • Relaxing colors. Shades of gray replaced the beige and blue on the walls. The colors of the room should reflect calm-and-easy and by far attract any attention to themselves.
  • Furniture : As little as possible. My big office (the biggest one Ikea had) was sized down to its smallest by removing some extentions. Every bit of furniture is color coordinated .. well thats more something of a coincidence since we buy everything at Ikea and it matches nicely.
  • Cables : The lovely misses had an absolute zero tolerance policy for ANY cabling that was exposed to the naked eye. Also : NONE of the cables , power plugs or power supply's was allowed to hit the floor. A downpour of black power cables in front of an exposed office ? No way. Don't get me wrong. The girl is as geeky as can be .. But the place should not look like a fishing trawlers , nets included.
  • No clutter : Books, ornaments and what-have-you's that where otherwise crammed in our cabinets where removed. Just a little plant here, and a model of my  Enterprise NCC 1701 there. (and some nice starship diagrams nicely framed on the wall).Division bell ! : But probably the most important redesign was dividing the OFFICE (where you work) from the Lab / Studio / library part of a geeks room. Now 10 years of research have given us the conclusion that you cannot keep the geek out of the living room. And you cannot keep the clutter out of the geeks setup. So unless you want a TV room / IT-ground-zero.. You have to seperate the working geek , from the tinkering geek.  Our conclusion ? Move the books / spare parts / lab equiptment of the resident geek to the hobby room upstairs. This meant that podcasting- studio setup went upstairs and is now safely out of direct sight.

The results.

cablessWhat can I say : The results are great. Allthough  reluctant to give up my 'matrix style' surroundings of screens and keyboards piled up together. i'm honestly impressed by this new approach. My main desk now consists of my Macbook (docked) and one 19'' widescreen display. When in need of dual screen work , i just flip it open and am able to use my isight camera and more. Instead of using speakers and amplifiers I just routed the audio to either my headphones or the internal speakers of the monitor and thus having less clutter around.  Next to this setup resides my Ubuntu machine hooked up to another 19” display. Because the resolution matches up to the resolutions of two other systems I have around the house (my TV computer and my test system) it can run remote desktop sessions to these machines full screen. Its like having them around.. Without having them around.  Next , instead of using yet another computer to run Windows , i've opted to use virtual machine to emulate and run any other system I required. This all works fine on my AMD XP 3200 machine that has enough ram to run a nice little Windows XP either in Vmware  Player or Paralells. So you see : More machines at my fingertips without taking up space.


And then there is the matter of the home server / media TV machine. of having a big ass tv in our little office/loungeroom we use a mac mini with a 19” screen and a TV tunercard. This whole setup (along with the main router) is compactly crammed into the little TV cabinet that we use. Having all that gear installed in that little space and just one cable leaving the setup makes up for serenity and no clutter whatsoever. To be on the safe side I did mount a smokedetector INSIDE the cabinet. Since the server keeps running at night, I want to be sure we are alerted should anything go wrong. This is a tip I give to all of you geeks who have machines running at night. Smokedetectors are cheap so , mount them over your “beyond midnight” machines.Epilogue.Allthough I did not expect it … the results are quite fab. Keeping the clutter out of the room has given us a very relaxing inviting room to be in. The screens are still the main focalpoints of attention, but due to the lack of crap around them, it works out just great.  My main desk is this minimalistic fortress occupied only by 2 screens and two sets of keyboards. I thought this was going to bugg me. No extra stuff to twiddle and fiddle with seamed cumbersome. No pheripherals piled up around the setup was something to get used to . But imagine my surprise when I actually found out that I was much more focussed on my systems and could work in a concentraded manner. Also the lack of phisical devices makes one use the virtual possibilities of ones computer more. Less craptime = more screentime. The wife is very happy with all this having a couch strategicly posted in the middle of the room , facing the tv. I can look over her shoulder and peer along to the mainstream mayhem withouth having to leave my chair.  All in all .. its a match in heaven.


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Virtual insanity : Xp in Linux or Linux in XP.

A whole new deal. 

Very soon we will see a culture shift, A change how people interact on the computer scene. My prophecy is nothing less then the end of the almost relidgious ‘ OS- Wars ‘. From newbie to web-lord, we have all played the paralympic game of ‘ what’s the better OS’ Wether in forums, in chatrooms, in endless slashdot threads or even in the comfort of our own pub : We’ve all been there. Wether Xp is better then 2000, Why Mac Os is better then Windows , and we’ll never forget the face of our local Linux Guru foaming at the mouth after he had to endure your proclamation that Windows ME was the best operating system ever written. ( And he never spoke to you again. ) But very soon the question “What’s your operating system” will be replaced by “ What’s your Primary Os ?”. Any computer with a processor speed over 1.5 gigahertz is quite frankly a waste of money. You don’t see a specific speed increase when you buy a 3 gigahertz or more . Ok , Windows will boot faster , but that does not mean YOU can work any faster. I mean , the processor is not the bottleneck of the system.  The question is : What to do with all this extra operating system power … More eye-candy ? Perhaps Vista will be more then happy to gobble up a few million cycles just for Balmers personal pleasure.  OR .. we can make the cycles pay off by jumping on the virtualisation train.

 All aboard ?

What do you do when you have one OS running , but your computer can carry twice the load ?  Well , lets install ANOTHER operating system. I’m not talking Dual Booting here, I’m talking Virtualisation. Running a second Os , INSIDE the first one. The “Base OS” is the main operating system you are running, The “ Guest OS is a virtual version of an operating system neatly compressed into one file.






Why ?

I know what you are saying. But why “ma cher Knightwise” would i do this ? Here is why.

  • Perfect testing : The virtual machine you installed is just ONE FILE. After you install it , make a backup and start fumbling around. Messed up the Guest OS ? Just drag your copy back and you are good to go. You can easily install all kinds of operating systems without having to worry about partitioning.- Space and energy saver : Who said you had to stop with running just one Guest OS . Instead of bricking up your bedroom with countless pc towers you can now have them running as virtual machines on one machine. Needless to say you save money by just owning one pc, you save power cause you only have one power supply to feed and save valuable bedroom time with your space because she doesn’t have to be mad at you all the time for junking up the house with your old ‘test machines”.
  • Switchers trouble : I have seen people by a PC or a Mac just for that one task. I’ve seen people buy an extra pc for their on-line banking. I’ve seen switchers go back because they could not get a certain application working on a certain platform. Well, There is an end to switchers trouble and you have all walked through the gates of Sliders heaven (Sliders = cross platform users). Personally I wanted to switch my main machine to linux because I could not get MSN messenger running webcam sessions. (Microsoft does not want to clear  the code ) So .. I installed Ubuntu, ran Windows XP as a virtual machine and did the impossible, ran the two Os’es at once and did my Webcam stuff without any trouble. I run Xp on my mac for consulting purposes (when i need to get into a Windows network)  and I run Ubuntu in my Xp for testing everything out before I make changes to my ubuntu server.
  • Servers dream :  The crappy thing about running multiple servers at home is the fact that they eat power. Now you can run several ‘virtual’ servers on the same machine and just have one power supply to feed.

And how do i Do that ?
Before we start : Be sure you have enough memory in your Base Operating system. Each guest operating system requires a chunk of ram. The bigger the chunk, the better the speed. Also see that you have enough storagespace. Not only so the Guest OS can grow to its full potential (About 4 gig”s will do) you also want to make  backup copy’s of every clean installed os that you have.  Wether you want to run Linux in Xp or Xp in  Linux , you need the free vmware player . This is a free application that lets you use pre-built images of virtual machines. So you cant ‘build’ your own virtual machine , just use one that has been pre-built. Now this ‘building’ of a virtual machine tells the virtual machine how to act. Luckily I found THIS site where you can download FREE virtual machine configuration files for just about any operating system you wish. All you need are the installation cd’s of that OS and you are on your way.  I’ll be playing with virtual machine more as the week progresses and keep you posted on the results. Meanwhile my “ Piece de resistance “ is a screenshot of an msn webcam session in Windows XP , running as a virtual machine on my Ubuntu (base) workstation.  Sliders .. the end of our troubles is in side and we are virtually saved.

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