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I was quite bored yesterday, so I decided, why not try to see if a virtual machine would run on a mere netbook?  Now, I must admit, I did upgrade my Acer Aspire One with 2gb of RAM, but RAM really isn’t too big of an issue.  The Atom processor is.

I downloaded VirtualBox from the official site and in about a minute or two, it was installed.  There is no need to compile it, as VirtualBox has binaries for most popular distributions.  The only step left is to add yourself to the vboxusers group which can be done by going to System and then Users and Groups.  After a reboot, you are ready to use it.

Before you even start VirtualBox, you should have an operating system ready to use, either as an .iso, a disk, or a virtual machine image.  On a netbook, I recommend you use Arch Linux, but if that is too hard to set up, Xubuntu works just fine, as does CrunchBang.  Once you have your OS, start up VirtualBox.  The main user interface should look something like this:

VirtualBox's User Interface

You are now ready to create a virtual machine.  To do so, click New.  The virtual machine wizard should come up.  Click Next and choose your operating system.  If your operating system is not listed, look in Other, or if it is Linux, choose the OS’s kernel version or Other Linux.

Choosing An Operating System

Now, you have to choose how much memory you want to allocate to the VM.  If you have 1gb of RAM, I would suggest 512mb maximum, but if you have 2gb, 1gb should be fine.  Next you are asked to make a virtual hard disk.  I recommend you just make a dynamically-expanding drive and leave it as the default size.  This way, if you run out of space in the VM, the drive will just expand.

You should now be done making your VM.  If you want to, you can change more settings by selecting your VM and clicking on Settings, but the defaults work fine unless you want to run a server.  Look in the user manual if you need an explanation of why.  When you are ready start your VM on your netbook, close all CPU and RAM intensive programs you have open, select your VM, and click Start.  It will ask you for an image, so just locate it, and VirtualBox will mount it for you.  You should be able to go on though the installation, albeit I little slower, but otherwise, everything should work the same.

After you have your OS installed, you should install the Guest Additions.  These are kernel modules that make VirtualBox smoother and more usable.  To do this, while your virtual machine is running, go to Devices, and Install Guest Additions.  It will mount an .iso image full of installation scripts.  On Xubuntu, it ran automatically, but if it doesn’t for your distribution, just go into it using the terminal, run chmod +x <filename> on the script for your operating system.

You can now use VirtualBox.  On my Acer Aspire One, it actually takes only 50% of my CPU, which is good considering how weak it is.  As long as you stay with either Windows XP and lower, an OS with a lightweight desktop environment, or no GUI at all, everything should run just fine in VirtualBox.  The ability to use VMs on a netbook is amazing for everyone.  Even if you aren’t a developer, showing your friends that your little $400 netbook can run VirtualBox is pretty cool.

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