A Whole Lot of OSes at Once

2013-08-29 23:11

I realized I haven’t talked yet about my workspace setup, including the choice of computer(s) and operating system(s) which I prefer. A topic like that is a perfect opportunity to provide fuel for countless flamewars raging through the Internet forums, so it seems like a no-brainer if you want to round up some passionate readers ;)
So, what’s the best these days? Is it Windows or Linux? Or maybe OS X? Should you get a Mac or a(n other kind of) PC? Make it a desktop or just a laptop? Or perhaps subscribe to the post-PC doctrine and grab a tablet?…

Well, I don’t know. I won’t really advise anything here. Myself, I take more… holistic approach. I just use all of these things :)

Use ALL the systems!

Desktop split in two

As I see it, desktop PC is the place where stuff gets done. Be it “work” or play, you cannot easily forfeit the conveniences of big monitor(s), full keyboard layout, snappy mouse that fits your palm, and a comfortable chair.

Thing is, those two activities require two completely different operating systems. When it comes to games, Windows is still reigning supreme, with only some small glimpses of what might shake up this status quo. Sadly, I have little hope much will change here in the foreseeable future.
On the other hand, it’s pretty much given that the best system for most kinds of development work is some flavor of Linux, preferably sporting such powerful a package manager as apt-get. There are no (good) alternatives for certain vendor lock-ins (*cough* iOS) but if you are not forced to comply with them, anything else is almost certainly an inferior choice.

How to reconcile those requirements? There is dual booting, of course, but the need of frequent resets would get old very quickly. So instead of that, and after conducting a bit of a research, I opted for virtualization, choosing a simple solution of running Linux as guest OS through VirtualBox.
This turned out to be super easy to set up; the only “trick” was to flip a switch in BIOS in order to enable CPU virtualization features, required to run a 64-bit system as guest. With these on, performance is a non-issue: it feels like running directly on the hardware, for all intents and purposes – including running Android emulator inside the VM :)

Laptop as versatile substitute

Now, if only all that goodness could be made available on the go… Although some may pretend it is, most (sane) people cater to their mobility needs by getting a laptop. This is immediately a compromise because of the form factor alone, but even more so because of inevitably inferior hardware specs one could cram into it.

So no, I didn’t try to replicate the VM-based setup described above :) While possible, it seemed way more sensible to try and kill two birds with one stone by getting a computer that:

  • adequately (though not perfectly) substitutes Windows for gaming and Linux for coding
  • runs the third major operating system, in case that ever comes handy e.g. for testing purposes

As you’ve likely guessed, that description accurately fits a MacBook. Of its virtues and woes I have already written elsewhere, so let’s just say it fulfills its purpose pretty well.

And even when it doesn’t, there is always Chrome Remote Desktop to bridge the gap :)

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3 comments for post “A Whole Lot of OSes at Once”.
  1. Xender:
    August 30th, 2013 o 23:09

    Virtualization is nice, but there is always one problem – GPU acceleration. AFAIK acceleration in VM-s isn’t too good.
    Well, there’s also VirtualGL, but AFAIK there is nothing for DirectX… Which is unfortunate, because Linux host (especially its stability and boot time) and Windows guest makes much more sense, than the opposite…

  2. Xion:
    August 31st, 2013 o 21:57

    Yeah, that was the main reason I made Windows host. However, it boots in ~15 seconds for me so I don’t complain much :) Also, the Linux VM can be “slept” using save & restore functions of VirtualBox, and that’s very convenient.

  3. Tomcat:
    September 4th, 2013 o 14:15

    About the GPU acceleration – it’s not completely true. You can install a Windows Server 2012 as host and setup there a Hyper-V virtualization platform. Then it’s possible to use the GPU acceleration on the guest OS. AFAIR you can freely put there a Linux OS and write CUDA programs (this is an indicator that the GPU acceleration works).

    I personally stick with the configuration with a Windows 8 as host and a Linux Mint on Hyper-V (and Windows XP and Windows 7 for testing) and have no issues with this configuration.

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