Setting up FreeSpire in a VM

Started by Donald Darden, March 11, 2008, 03:41:49 AM

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Donald Darden

Now that my PC is nearing its final configuration, I've decided that I might best use the VM capabilities that VirtualBox gives me to testing any other OS distributions.  I have Windows 2000 Pro set up under three VM implementations on different partitions, and I also have a copy of the image in reserve.  But now I can install new distros on more virtual drives, then save them & test them as well.

Several people have posted, saying that while I tend to favor Ubuntu over some of the other distros that I have tried, they have opt to go with FreeSpire instead.  The arguments for FreeSpire is that it is deliberately made to work and feel more like Windows than other distros, but still relies on available, free software for what it does. 

I'm the type of guy that refused to smoke in bootcamp when pressured to do so (I was in a smoking company), but after graduation, bought a pack of cigarettes and smoked on, just to prove I was not afraid to, but that I refrained as a matter of choice.  Not particularly caring for the teste, I gave the rest of the pack away.

It's not that I am afraid to try FreeSpire, and I am going to prove it.  But it would have to be really something to pull me off of Ubuntu at this point.

Installing a distro under the VM is easier and faster than trying to install it for real on your PC.  First, you don't have to be concerned about dual boots or other issues.  You identify a new virtual drive, which by default is maxed at at 4 GB, and then you download the .ISO image that you would normally burn to CD and boot from.  But by mounting the .ISO image in your virtual CD-ROM drive under the VM settings, you simply boot to the image rather than use the actual CD drive.   And since you are reading from the hard drive (the storage place for your virtual CD disk), it boots and runs much faster that a CD-ROM drive is able to.

The first issue with FreeSpire is that it wants to install with a screen resolution of 1024x768.  This is a bit small for my eyes, but it was not an option.  The buttons for continuing or cancelling are located near the bottom of the screen, so you have to set your host screen size to accomodate this.  I thought I could just change the screen resolution after I got the OS installed, but it turns out to be the only size that I am allowed to choose from.

I expected a problem with detecting sound through my USB Headset, but when I moved the volume controls, I found I immediately had sound.  I suspect that the OS picked the Alsa mixer control, which is the way I configured my sound on my Ubuntu host.  So no problem there.  My LX7 wireless mouse works as well, but that was less of a surprise, since I've had absolutely no problems with it under either Windows or Ubuntu.  With two rechargeable AA batteries in it, it is still running strong after 3 weeks since the last battery change.

I do have one problem that I would like to solve:  VirtualBox asks that you tell it what OS base that you are installing.  It uses this information to decide the minimum amount of RAM and virtual hard drive space to reserve for your host OS, but I think it also uses it to help determine which Virtual Additions to use as well.  After you get your guest OS installed, you can go under Devices and click on Install Virtual Additions.  But the problem is, that for a Linux guest OS, you have a shell file to run, and you need to run this with administrator rights.  To do this, you need to switch to a terminal console and used sudo -s in order to become a superuser.
Then you use a ./ in front of the .run file found on the Virtual Additions .ISO image, but that just brings up another problem:  That script wants you to get the source and header files for FreeSpire and KDE so that it can build the necessary package for adding the additions.  Unfortunately, the sources and header files are not included, and my efforts to learn more about them and acquire them did not go very far.  So I can use FreeSpire as it is, but my options for improving its performance are somewhat limited as a result.  But I would guess that this would be a bit of a problem when installing other Linux distributions, as they will likely also require the source and header files in order to build and implement the Virtual Additions.

So what is so appealing about FreeSpire?  I'm not really sure yet.  It has only the toolbar on the bottom of the screen, like Windows, rather than a toolbar at the top, or one top and bottom.  The menus that can be accessed via the toolbar appear to be far more limited than those found in Ubuntu, although you can then walk through a number of submenus and find more choices than is evident at first.  The install of FireFox was complete, with mplayer already installed and able to play streaming media.  I had no problems with sound, probably because I set it up in a VM where it was able to "borrow" from the host configuration.  The install attempted to explain choices as they came up, which would help any novice who was trying to do it on their own.  But installing in a VM is virtually choice-free anyway, since it is a sandbox environment, and the defaults are adequate.

The VM not only makes it almost painless to install a new distro, it also makes it a breeze to dispose of it or duplicate it from one VM to another.  That makes efforts like this easy to do without worrying about the consequences. 

Donald Darden

The current version of Freespire that I have installed is 2.0.3.  According to online sources, this was constructed on Ubuntu 7.04,  It includes some proprietary software, and my limited experience indicates that it has some features installed and enabled that have to be added to Ubuntu.

In the Linux world, one of the things that an experienced user might do is rebuild the kernel from available source files as a way of upgrading their system software.  I think it would be safe to say that this is probably beyond the skill or interest of the average person that would be attracted to Freespire, and from what I've gleamed from the internet, access to the necessary source and header files for doing this must be a very low priority.

There are a number of things to consider and weigh when so many choices exist as to possible operating systems.  In my own experience, I have had to weigh the importance of hardware support for my printer, mouse, video card, USB devices, and so on.  But another consideration that came to light was whether the OS was one that was targeted for use with VirtualBox.  I finally gave up on Knoppix 5.1, because it was not current enough to support VirtualBox,  So if having a Linux distribution that can run VirtualBox is important, you had best check out what versions of Linux have had builds done that are specific to them.

And, as I have found out, you may also have a problem when considering a Linux distribution as a guest OS on VirtualBox, because you need to be able to use the Virtual Additions script to build in changes that will cause your virtual install to run more smoothly and make better use of your virtual space.  So I guess you have to consider the availability of source files and ability to do this as well.

While Ubuntu uses an Update Manager to try and keep your software current, and one of the package managers to allow you to determine what software to have installed, Freespire tries to involve you in a low-cost subscription service for getting additional packages installed, and for getting some technical support.  That's not a bad thing in and of itself, but it tends to put the bar through the word FREE.  Still, it would be the best option for many people, I suppose.

I will leave it installed for a bit, and as I play with it, I will see what other noteworthy comments that it inspires me to make.. 

Donald Darden

Freespire does not deserve a scathing report.  I still have it on my PC in a VDI, and  last night I used apt-get update and apt-get upgrade to see what impact these would have on it.  But I remain disappointed in the results.

I think my problem is that I feel that Ubuntu is what Freespire should have been.  If you compare the two side-by-side, Ubuntu is by far the friendlier and easier to manage.  It adds the top toolbar that has important links, from running applications, going to key places on your PC, and making management tasks both easy and obvious.

But it isn't just that I find Ubuntu easier to work with, there are some things about Freespire that just feel awkward.  One key problem for me is that in the VDI it only supports one screen resolution: 1024x768.  That is an awkward size for me, because I see best at 800x600.

I also have problems in terms of performance.  I'm running Freespire in Virtualbox on top of Ubuntu, and have been unable to implement the Virtual Additions,  Consequently, video streaming is virtually impossible, as the motion is jerky and broken, and the audio portion far outstrips the video in playback speed.

Freespire also caters to a different idea about support and software additions.  You essentially subscribe to a service that then feeds that stuff to you.  But with Ubuntu, it's all there for the download, install, and use. which is more the mainstream Linux way.

Whenever someone finds themselves in the awkward position of saying something negative about something that other people are passionately in favor of, you want to just give a shrug of your shoulders and say something neutral like "well, maybe it's just me". and hope they will let it go at that,

So maybe it's just me.