This edition of NetSpeak discusses a virtual PC tool that enables you to work with applications from multiple operating systems (OS) simultaneously on a single PC.

In a digital world with several OS alternatives, sticking to a single OS (Windows or Linux or something else) is irrational. However, while many netizens wish to experience more than one OS, they avoid experimenting due to technical and other shortcomings.

Instead of switching from one OS to the other on a PC, ideally, we need a system that executes applications from different operating systems in separate windows on the same desktop and that shifts across each of them seamlessly. Such a system will help us enjoy the best of both worlds (or many worlds if one installs more than two OSs) without disturbing the workflow.

This is no longer a dream. Virtual machine software that emulates PC hardware is now available to accomplish this purpose with ease.

Virtual PC

A virtual PC is a software that functions like a computer while sitting inside a real computer. It acts like a real PC with a virtual hard disk, CD/DVD-ROM and the like. The advantage is that one can use this virtual PC like a real PC and install any OS that the virtual PC software supports. The concept of virtual machine is not new.

NetSpeak has introduced this concept and featured the virtual machine software Bochs (http://www.hindu. com/biz/2004/06/07/stories /2004060700791500.htm) years ago.

Here, we introduce yet another open-source, free virtualisation software, VirtualBox, that lets you generate a virtual PC with a few mouse clicks.

VirtualBox is available in multiple platforms that include Windows, Linux and Macintosh. To try out the features of Virtualbox (on a Windows PC), first download ( http://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Downloads) and install it. In addition, keep the OS (called guest OS) you wish to install on this virtual PC ready. (For instance, if you wish to install Ubuntu desktop, a Linux flavour, download it from this link: http://www.ubuntu.com/ getubuntu/download).

Now, you need to create a virtual PC from VirtualBox. For this, click on the ‘New’ button and follow the steps shown by the virtual machine wizard that comes up. Type in a name for the virtual machine and select the guest OS you wish to run on it.

Once a virtual machine is set up, you will find its interface in the VirtualBox window. Before starting the virtual machine, you need to connect the OS (here, Ubuntu) source disk to the virtual PC -- this means you need to integrate the downloaded OS image with the virtual machine. For this, click on the CD/DVD-ROM button, enable the mount option and select the ‘ISO image’ file and enter its path.

Once the OS image is mounted on to the virtual machine, start it by clicking on the ‘Start’ button. From here onwards the virtual machine will behave like a real PC -- a PC inside another PC. It will boot from the CD image and after a few seconds you will find the Ubuntu desktop with the ‘Install’ button displayed on it. Click on the ‘Install’ button and install the OS on to the virtual machine. After installation, shutdown the VM, change the boot order of the VM (via the ‘System’ option) and restart it. This time the machine will boot from the virtual hard disk like a normal PC.

Now, you have two operating systems running side by side on your PC. However, you cannot still use them seamlessly. VirtualBox has a feature that lets you share the clipboard and host OS folders with the guest OS — the OS that runs on the virtual machine. To integrate these facilities with the virtual PC and to move the mouse freely across all the applications, you need to install the module called ‘Guest Additions…’ For this, access the guest OS window and select ‘Install Guest Additions…’ from the ‘Devices’ menu. The system will download the guest additions from the appropriate source.

If your guest OS is Ubuntu, restart the Ubuntu virtual PC. Now you will find the guest addition CD icon on the desktop. Access its contents, install the guest addition by clicking on the script file ‘autorun.sh’ and restart Ubuntu. At this point you will find the mouse moving freely all over your machine. You can run the Ubuntu in full screen mode or in seamless mode. The advantage of seamless mode is that you can keep the virtual machine application windows along with the application windows of your host. You will find the Ubuntu application panel on the top of your screen and Windows-XP task bar at its bottom. This means you can listen to a radio programme via Ububtu’s music player RhythmBox while composing an article with MS-Word from Windows XP.

Desktop URL shortener

A URL (web address) shortening service offers short URL for a long web addresses. Several such services (like tinyurl) exist on the Net. However, to use them you need to visit each of their sites. Now, if you wish to create a short URL directly from your desktop, try out the desktop application Murl (http://code.google.com/p/murls/). In response to your long URL input, Murl generates short URLs from several shortening services in one shot.

Session-manager

While doing research with the Net we come across lots of sites pertaining to the subject being explored. We need to revisit those sites till we are done with this particular research. However, entering the addresses of these sites every now and then is a sheer waste of time.

A hunt for some means to automate this process is worth its while. The firefox extension ‘Session-Manager’ (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/2324) serves this need. Once integrated with Firefox, the session manager allows you to save/restore your browsing sessions.

So, if in a session you have visited a few sites related to one theme (say, ASEAN agreement), save the session as ‘asean’. And next time you wish to repeat the session, just load this saved session (via Tools/SessionManager /load).

J. Murali can be contacted at: jmurali@gmail.com