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Playing with VMs . . . and liking it!

Posted 07-21-2010 at 03:00 PM by Lufbery
Updated 07-21-2010 at 10:56 PM by Lufbery

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, but I say that deadlines are the impetus for experimentation.

I was working on an article about src2pkg and focusing on creating packages in different formats (DEB and RPM, primarily). Naturally I needed to test whether or not the packages would work in other distributions. The last thing I wanted to do was mess with my actual partitions (except to clean up prior to an upgrade), so I decided to try QEMU.

I posted a thread about my experiences, and asked for some advice here. The upshot of that thread is that Alien Bob's wiki article on using the virtualization program, QEMU, is slightly out of date, but overall still very useful.

The out of date part is that QEMU-KVM is preferable to plain old QEMU, or using QEMU with KQEMU. QEMU_KVM is a version of QEMU that is patched to use the KVM (kernel virtualaization modules). It does not require installing KVM separately. Otherwise, the rest of the information is still spot on and exceptionally useful.

Once I got squared away, I found it very easy to create new disk images and install operating systems. So easy, in fact, that getting sidetracked into working with VMs did not delay my article.

So far, I've installed:
  • Ubuntu 10.04 64-bit
  • Fedora 13 64-bit
  • Debian 5 64-bit
  • OpenSUSE 10.2 64-bit (an older version, from December 2006). I'm downloading the latest openSUSE DVD now so I can install it soon.
  • and Linux from Scratch 6.3

The installations mount the ISO files as CD-ROMs or DVDs and then proceed as though the new disk image is the only thing on the computer -- as far as the installation media can tell, they're in a completely virgin environment. Network access works without any problems, so using the various distributions package repositories and updating features works just fine.

Performance is pretty darned good. Ubuntu exhibits some slowness with the mouse pointer, but otherwise works very well. Fedora is fast and stable. QEMU-KVM does not use the native (host computer's) display drivers, or at least it doesn't emulate them, so 3D graphics are out in spite of my Nvidia card's capabilities.

The last item in the list is exciting for me. I've been reading about (and simply reading) Linux from Scratch for years now. I'm running the LFS live CD (which is a couple of versions older than the current, stable, LFS). The live cd is a really nice piece of work. I've started to build the LFS system in a virtual machine and so far it is going very well. I intend to continue the build into "Beyond LFS"; building Xorg, some applications, and probably the Enlightenment WM.

I may chicken out and install the Slackware package tools so I can simply download and install packages, but that's not my intention. I also intend to try the "package users" method of package management described here. When that system comes up in discussions on LFS, people say it looks complicated and suffers from overkill, but I think it looks like an elegant system and I'm anxious to try it.

I'll post more on LFS, and maybe some of the differences I've noticed among distributions, in future blog posts.
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