The very first issue that those who live in a Microsoft world might encounter is that Microsoft’s Virtual PC product doesn’t handle a 24-bit video display which, coincidentally, is the default display depth for many implementations of X-Windows, as used by Linux to provide its graphical system.
This means that no matter how many times you’ve fired Ubuntu up from a live CD or how much experience you have installing it onto pristine hard drives you will be confounded by the installer turning to indecipherable muck immediately upon switching to graphical mode.
Opting to install in text-only mode will get you further, in that you can complete the installation through to the end, but as soon as the virtual computer reboots you’ll hit the exact same problem straight away on the Ubuntu login screen.
Happily, you don’t have to put up with this. Start the virtual machine and boot from your Ubuntu CD; this time choose the menu option to Start Ubuntu in safe graphics mode. Note that this does not actually install Ubuntu; all it does is boot it from the CD, taking advantage of its Live CD nature.
Nevertheless, once Ubuntu has started, click the System menu, then Administration then Install. You will now be lead through the installation process but within safe graphics mode which essentially uses a low resolution, low bit depth standard video display – and one which Virtual PC can cope with.
Let the installation run through but don’t reboot when it ends (otherwise, you’ll still just have the problem.) Instead, call up a terminal window. Type sudo pico /etc/X11/xorg.conf to edit the X-Windows configuration file. Look for a line with the term “defaultDepth” on it. You’ll see the value assigned to this property is 24, as in 24-bit colour depth. Overtype the 24 changing it to 16. Press CTRL-X to exit, and accept the prompt to save your change. Now you can reboot.
This time your Virtual PC loads Ubuntu and allows you to see clearly; there are no visual artefacts rendering it unusable anymore.
Alternatively, you could use VMWare which does not suffer from the same problem. It can install Linux distributions without any visual problems because it does cater for higher video resolutions.
The next issue you will likely face, irrespective of the virtual computer product you have chosen, is that you must install addons into the virtual machine itself to let you move the mouse smoothly between the host and virtual operating systems as well as enable some system-level items.
Microsoft ever so generously supply addons for Windows operating systems – for instance, when you have loaded Windows Server 2003 into a virtual machine on your Windows Vista desktop – but provide varying support for Linux. Nevertheless it can be made to work.
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David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. Within two years, he returned to his alma mater, the University of Newcastle, as a UNIX systems manager. This was a crucial time for UNIX at the University with the advent of the World-Wide-Web and the decline of VMS. David moved on to a brief stint in consulting, before returning to the University as IT Manager in 1998. In 2001, he joined an international software company as Asia-Pacific troubleshooter, specialising in AIX, HP/UX, Solaris and database systems. Settling down in Newcastle, David then found niche roles delivering hard-core tech to the recruitment industry and presently is the Chief Information Officer for a national resources company where he particularly specialises in mergers and acquisitions and enterprise applications.