How My PC is Currently Configured

Started by Donald Darden, March 18, 2008, 10:22:21 PM

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Donald Darden

I've had great success in setting up multiple OSes and using VirtualBox to set up even more OSes, all with the ability to access all my hard drives, folders, and files.  I can only use IncrediMail with Windows, but with Windows as both a host OS and a guest OS on top of Ubuntu, and reconfigured to use the same pool of email locations, I have ready access to the same content, whichever implementation of Windows and IncrediMail that I initiate.  Each instance of Windows and Ubuntu is independent of the others, but I was able to create one Guest VDI of Windows and merely copy that VDI into the other /media/sdb*/home/[user]/.VirtualBox/VDI folder, then I can add that as an existing VDI when I reboot to that install of Ubuntu on that drive.

I found that using Ubuntu to read and write to NTFS partitions is slow.  But I wondered how fast a Guest Windows would be in copying the VDIs from one partiton to another, even though the partitions were EXT3 this time.  It turns out that it only takes about 15 minutes to copy a 3.5 GB file, which is comparable with the time it took to copy the same file to an NTFS volume.  It was also much easier, since the hidden folders (with a leading period, such as .VirtualBox), are visible when viewed from within Windows.

The trick with getting access to EXT3 volumes is to first have VirtualBox access them as shared folders, then in Windows, access them under My Network as Virtualbox Shared Folders, then map them as Network Drives and give them a drive letter.  I assigned the letters P, Q, and R to these.  Now they show up in My Computer with those drive letters.  Your root drive can be shared as well,
just select at the / level or enter / when setting up the shared folders in VirtualBox.

Key to everything is having a game plan, and working out a way to have access to my email without having to quibble about which OS I am currently running.  It turns out that IncrediMail can be reconfigured to point to a specific path for email accounts, and by doing so, you can force it to recognize existing accounts previously set up with other implementations of IncrediMail.  Thus, you install another incident of IncrediMail, create a dummy account just to enable it, use Regedit to make some changes in the IncrediMail SSCE entries, and it will then immediately recognize the existing accounts and contents when next started. 

And best of all, if you ever have to repair or upgrade IncrediMail, it will not undo what you have done - you will still have access to those accounts and contents.
You can even modify the MainLexPath, UserLexFile, and UserLexPath entries with Regedit if you want to share the same Lexicons for spell checks.

I could still install more OSes if I want.  I have two NTFS partitions still without an OS on top of them, and I can install more Guest OSes on top of VirtualBox.  There have been no real difficulties, other than accounting for the consequences of certain actions.  For instance, I had to manually change the UUID- entries to reflect the /dev/sdb* designation in /etc/fstab to rid myself of the problem of the UUIDs changing when the partitions get reformatted, and change the ntfs entries to ntsf-3g to double the speed of accessing the NTFS partitions.

But I think it is time to put a pause to what I am doing, and get a new archive image made so that all this good work does not remain at risk.  It is very stable, quick, and flexible right now, so this is no time to take changes on losing all the work I've put into this project.

Donald Darden

If you look at my PC Configuration, you probably note that I tend to do some things in threes, such as the number of primary Win2k installs, and guest Ubuntu installs.  I have found this to be a very practical number to work with.  If I have a Windows install crash, and can boot into another one, I can copy from the other good install to the bad one, which sometimes can be used to patch where a file got corrupted.  But you can't do this if either the source or target partition is the current system partition and when copying to or from an opened file, which is why having a third install can help.

Back in the '50s, my dad worked on designing guidance systems for rockets and missles.  He once told me that they had to build every circuit in triplicate.  Then they used 2-out-of-three logic to determine further course of action.  At that time, they were using vacuum tubes (transistors were not invented yet), and the vibration and shocks of being in a rocket-driven missle would often cause failures.  But as long as 2 out of 3 signals agreed, it would keep working.  That logic impressed me.  The shuttle uses three computers together, then two more to check the other three.  And the DMS switch that Nortel builds and sells has two processors running concurrently, one in control, and the other keeping tabs on the first, ready to take control if the first falters or fails.

I first really began using redundancy with cassette tapes that I used with my VIC-20 and C64 computers, making multiple copies of every program I wrote.  But there I frequently made 5 to 10 copies, because cassette tapes were not of sufficiently high quality to avoid tape errors.  Even then, I lost a really involved program that I had worked hard on, and it was over a year before I had the heart to sit down and rewrite it from scratch.

Recently, I had a problem reported on one of my Ubuntu installs, where I had messed up an install process, not removing an old version before trying to install a new.  The system told me to run a remove process for a couple of obsoleted packages after it finished, and I did, but the damage was done.  I was able to verity that the other two installs were working correctly, so I just reinstalled the one that I had screwed up.  It gives you a way of asking the question, "Is this normal?", then answering it for yourself.

The problem with a primary or host OS install is that it often is unique to the partition where it is installed.  I can put Windows on any FAT or NTFS partition, but the C: drive is always the first partition, and the system partition is then whichever partition I installed to.  I can't copy a system install to another partition and have it run, because the drive letters in path statements all have to be changed.  I also cannot move applications from one partition to another, because this will effect the path statements that they use as well.

I haven't tried to copy a Linux install from one partition to another and see if it will boot from there, but I doubt that it would work.  However, Linux supports the use of tables to indicate where different portions of the OS and applications reside, and it might be possible to edit these and get it to work properly - but you would have to have another OS instance that you could boot into in order to perform the necessary editing before attempting to boot there.  You also have to edit the boot loader to try and boot from that partition.

So as long as you have just primary or host OSes, you really don't have a lot of options when it comes to which partitions you can boot from.  They must all be ones that you initially installed the OS to, and of course you have to update them all, and configure them all, and that all takes time.

The guest OS is a different story, because each has the same essential guest environment, under the same virtual manager, such as VirtualBox.  So not only can you copy the guest OS and applications, which are in a VDI (virtual disk image) file from one VirtualBox install to another, but these can be done on different PCs, on different networks, or the same PC, even under the same VirtualBox implementation (just use a different VDI file name).

No reconfigurations required.  You can, however, make different partitions, USB device selections, and other choices for each use of that copied VDI.

Now I noted in recent readings that VirtualBox is suppose to work with the same VDI format as is in use with the VMWare products.  I don't know if there is an emerging standard there or not.  But it could be that there is sufficient commonality between the VDIs produced by some of the different products that you can exchange VDIs among a larger group of interested parties.   

Scott Hauser


I would like to thank you for all of the time and effort you have expended experimenting with this. I feel certain that your posts will save me quite a bit of time on my own Linux thrashing.  ;D

Donald Darden

Setting up a PC in multiple configurations is time consuming work, and doing it over and over until you feel you have it right (or believe it can't be much better) is something I had to do when I was working in support.  Then capturing the results to an image so that you can always get back to the same point is a matter of real satisfaction for me.

As I said before, I used to configure one PC to do support multiple roles, and made them boot into different configurations with a batch file.  The image from the PC then served as a master image for setting up or restoring other PCs.  This approach proved very beneficial, because I could max out my efforts on one PC, and then end up with all the PCs able to do the same things.  Saving the images off site also gave us depth of recovery if anything ever happened to the status centers.

It's possible to restall images from one PC onto a different one, and hopefully, the plug-and-play capabilities of Windows will make it easy to get it working, because Windows is pretty good at sniffing out new hardware and loading the necessary drivers.  Printers are often the most difficult devices to get working, because the "drivers" are often a mix of hardware driver and configuration managers.  You are often advised to download and install the software before connecting the printer and powering it on, because once installed and recognized by plug-n-play, the driver selected may not work right with that printer.'

It bothers me that Microsoft only uses the incremental approach to supporting Windows.  You buy or get Windows on your PC, then there is this elaborate catch-up process to bringing it up to date.  Of course they sometimes come out with a massive update, which they call Service Packs, but it's really up to the OEM that sold the system to try and bring all the patches up to date before they sell the system.  Why don't you have the option to buy a fully patched and updated version of Windows as a direct download?  How about the ability for a recovery effort to grab a completely updated image, so that you don't have to go through all the updates and restarts that usually is required afterwards?

And wy can't efforts to recover or repair Windows be able to retain information about installed apps, so that we don't have to restore or reinstall all those as well?  If you are lucky, your installed applications and data will still be resident in their folders, but the Registry is wiped out, and those programs that depend on the Registry all have to be reinstalled.  Having created this single point of failure, you would think that some effort would be made to protect it better.  But Microsoft's tools for modifying the Registry are hardly foolproof, and the existing Registry is wiped out if you have to reinstall the OS.

What's with all the Restarts during the update process anyway?  That's a royal pain, and if you have worked with any version of Linux, you realize that restarts are only required a few times there.  But Windows not only requires a restart more often than with Linux, it also prevents you from further updates until you do so.

Now we are getting to the real advantage I see in VDIs.  They can run on any PC, and they can have all the patches, updates, applications, and data in place when they are installed on a new PC, or used as a template for starting new work on the same PC.

Is there anyreal advantage to Windows over Linux?  They are both free (in the sense that Windows comes pre-installed, whereas you have to download and install Linux).  They both offer free software (Windows gives you IE and Works, and OEMs often install trial packages and some freebies, while most Linux distros come loaded with Open Source programs).  There is development and business software for both (With Windows, these are often things to buy, though there are a good number of free programs to be had, whereas with Linux, its pretty much an Open Source environment (the programs are not only free, but you can get and modify the source code)).

Did you ever use AOL?  I know I did.  At one time, it was my only real option for getting on the internet.  But now I have a high speed connection via my cable company.  I know some people that also got a high speed connection, but are so tied to AOL that they continue to use it, and can't break the tie.  I've about decided that anyone who is still locked into Windows has about the same mindset that early AOL adopters had, and yet the world is changing, and options continue to expand.

What I really see is that most people considering the move, or adoption of a multiple OS configuration for their PCs, are held back if one or more applications may not be able to make the move with them.  These could be game titles, that often can only play in Windows using DirectX, or they may be productiviity tools that are designed to only work under Windows, or they may be unwilling to give up IncrediMail or the familiarity of the Windows GUI.  Again though, VDIs running in a VM environment let you set up and use other OSes and their applications and use the data, so that you don't have to leave anything behind.

I am running Ubuntu 7.10 right now.  Hmmm.  I think I want to check my email.  Now I have a choice:  I can use the webmail process with my ISP login in, and get to my account online via my Firefox web browser, or I can fire up VirtualBox, start my Windows 2000 Pro guest OS, wait until it boots, start my IncrediMail program, log in, and check for new mail.  It's a bit faster using webmail, but then I don't have access to my address book or filed emails, so I will do it the hard way.

Right now it is 9:24 pm.  Here goes.  Okay, no new mail and the time is 9:26.  In can minimize, Win2k, VirtualBox, and leave my email client running to check for further mail.  By minimizine and maximizing, I can switch views quickly.  Or I can switch from one desktop under Ubuntu to another.  I have my windows set at 800x600, same as I have for Ubuntu, but VirtualBox automatically resizes my Windows to fit in the allowed area.  Or I can use the rCtrl+F key combo to toggle to full screen mode, in which case Windows can take over the whole monitor.

Have I yet seen a performance impact running VM?  Yes.  I set up Freespire and SimplyMIPIS on my PC as guest OSes, and put them on my large NTFS partition instead of on my EXT3 partiton.  When using FireFox in either one to view streaming media, there is a definate jerkiness in the playback speed, and the sound loses sync with the video portion.  I already found that NTFS support in Linux is comparatively slow, and I have not yet attempted to add Virtual Additions to either of the Linux guest installs, which presumably will make them work better.  If I do that, and move the VDIs to my EXT3 partition, I think it will cause the video to run smoothly for me.