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You know, that's not Windows...

Phil Salkie


If you were to look over my shoulder while I'm working at my desktop or laptop PC, you'd probably notice pretty quickly that my computers don't look quite like most. Firstly, my keyboard doesn't have its letters in the usual "QWERTY" layout - I use the Dvorak layout, optimized for faster typing with minimum finger movement. I credit that (along with the refusal to use a trackpad) with curing my carpal tunnel syndrome - it took a month or so to switch over, but I've never regretted it. There's lots of information (and stickers to put on your keys) available online - you can start here.

The next thing you might realize is that my machines aren't running Windows - they've all got Kubuntu Linux installed. This gives me a fast, stable, multi-user development platform with multiple virtual desktops (my machines all have six screens' worth of display space, and I can switch between the screens by dragging the mouse or clicking on a "pager" - I don't have to minimize or hide windows to change between applications, they just stay open on different virtual screens.) I have a huge selection of free software available for me to do my work with - multiple different office suites, CAD programs, PC Board design systems, language compilers, and so on. I don't have to worry about computer viruses, trojans, malicious websites - none of those things have any real effect on a Linux system. My systems get rebooted once or twice a year - the time and money I save Howman by not buying virus software, not scanning and cleaning, not looking high and low for software drivers, and not rebooting is significant. The annoyance I save myself is priceless.

There are, however, some software packages which are only available on Windows systems - and VisiLogic is one of them. So how do I manage to do my Unitronics development while running on Linux? I run Win XP under Oracle's amazing VirtualBox system.

VirtalBox is capable of running on Linux, Intel Mac, or Windows, and can install and boot a native Win XP, Linux, Unix session from a virtual hard drive - just a special file on your workstation's hard drive. This has a number of benefits over running XP as your main operating system:

*** Since it's not your main method of accessing the internet, you're not browsing or running Flash or accessing PDFs under Windows, and Windows doesn't need to directly access USB thumb drives. That all means that Windows is much less likely to get a virus or trojan - and if it does:

*** Your virtal hard drives can be copied and backed-up like any other file - that means that if you need to install some program which may cause problems, you can just make a copy of your virtual drive and do the install - if there's trouble, just restore that backup and you're right back where you started. (That's also a great way to recover from a virus - just restore the backup hard-drive file, and you're good to go.)

*** Your XP session is on one virtual screen, but you have as many other screens as you need - so while I have VisiLogic open on one screen, I can have another screen with spreadsheets, another with CAD files, and so on - just drag the mouse to switch between them. You can even have Linux windows overlaying the Windows window, so you can read from your documentation while typing into the Windows session underneath.

*** If XP crashes (which it will, sooner or later), it doesn't affect the rest of the system.

*** Your virtual hard drive is portable between computers - if you change motherboards or move to another computer, just copy the virtual hard drive file, and you have your XP session all set up. (Make sure you have the proper Microsoft license files if you want to run the same hard drive on more than one machine!)

There are two versions of VirtualBox available - one is the Open Source version, VirtualBox OSE, and the other is the commercial version. The major difference is that the commercial version has better screen handling and handles USB ports - that lets you use a USB to Serial converter to talk to your Unitronics. The commercial version has a free trial, but it's well worth the $50 US price tag.

So, if you're a Linux or Mac user, give VirtualBox a try. If you're a Windows user and want to try out Linux, I recommend Ubuntu Linux - if you need some help getting started, drop me a line, I'll be happy to assist.

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i have tried to port over to just using linux, many times. I always have to go back to windows because of a hardware or software doesnt support linux.

for my home laptop, i cant find 3d driver for my graphix card.

the closest i come to linux on a daily basis is my phone with android :D

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