virtual pc & usb toolbox

Some time ago, my dear friend Mr. Burns advi­sed me to install an eng­lish ope­ra­ting sys­tem (OS) like WinXP on my note­book so that I will have less pro­blems exp­lai­ning things on it whenever I’d need it for a pre­sen­ta­ti­on in an eng­lish spea­king environment.

Being the typi­cal Geek 1.0, I was first irri­ta­ted by the idea of instal­ling yet ano­t­her OS on my beloved machi­ne and did­n’t want to spoil the MS-domi­na­ted boot­sec­tor and other vital parts of my ger­man WinXP ver­si­on that could be affec­ted by ano­t­her OS.
And then, again, I keep on for­get­ting about the two vir­tu­al pc envi­ron­ments that have come up in the past and that I and many others have writ­ten about. For tho­se who need to know — well, you most prol­ly alrea­dy know this, but for the com­pu­ter begin­ners, let me just exp­lain this: the­re is a secu­re, hass­le-free way to have more than one ope­ra­ting sys­tem runing on your com­pu­ter. But why would you want that?

The average Win­dows user out the­re installs a few pro­gram­mes for tes­ting, dis­li­kes them and deci­des to de-install them again. The deinstal­la­ti­on pro­cess though does not cover ALL parts of the pre­vious instal­la­ti­ons and “for­gets” some addi­tio­nal files that are left on the hard­disk for eter­ni­ty (~ until your next instal­la­ti­on of Win­dows). And the­re are many user-uti­li­ties that have no other pur­po­se than clea­ning up your mes­sed up instal­la­ti­on of Win­dows and/or lost ent­ries in the Win­dows-regis­try (whe­re, as the name sug­gests, all pro­gram­mes are regis­tered for use with the ope­ra­ting sys­tem). You end up get­ting a mes­sed up Win­dows that needs to be re-instal­led / repai­red / etc.. And all this just becau­se you wan­ted to test this or that small tool you urgent­ly nee­ded to rip-music cds, flash mobi­le pho­nes, draw a pic­tu­re in CAD or may­be becau­se you were tes­ting diver­se media play­ers that each come with their own setup-installation-routine.

Or in other words: most begin­ners need to take time to under­stand which pro­gram­mes they want to use on their Win­dows OS and will have a collec­tion of pro­gram­mes they are going to install after a clean instal­la­ti­on of windows.

The solu­ti­on is to use so-cal­led vir­tu­al machi­nes — which are not­hing else but vir­tu­al envi­ron­ments right on your exis­ting ope­ra­ting sys­tem that crea­te a sin­gle file into which a who­le ope­ra­ting sys­tem can be loa­ded / installed.

Let’s say you want to try out a Linux dis­tri­bu­ti­on like the popu­lar Kubun­tu 6.06 and alrea­dy figu­red you would­n’t want this to run from a so-cal­led Live CD (= boots from the CD without any instal­la­ti­on). Neit­her are you wil­ling to screw your exis­ting Win­dows boot­sec­tor by instal­ling a Linux Loa­der tool that gives you the opti­on which OS to start during the boot-up pro­cess. And alt­hough the­re’s always a way for the expe­ri­en­ced user to sol­ve such pro­blems, what we are loo­king for are simp­le, fast and free solu­ti­ons. After all, all you wan­ted to do is (safe­ly) tes­ting a pie­ce of software.…
Ins­tead, you might be inte­res­ted in crea­ting a so-cal­led vir­tu­al machi­ne. Some­thing that gives you access to a full Linux envi­ron­ment AT THE SAME TIME while you are using Win­dows XP without restarting/rebooting your computer.

And as I’ve men­tio­ned ear­lier, the­re are two choices for that: the MS Vir­tu­al PC and VMWare.

The MS Vir­tu­al PC (demo) is a free down­load from MS that enab­les you to set up a vir­tu­al envi­ron­ment on your exis­ting Win­dows OS. After instal­la­ti­on, you are gui­ded through a set up pro­cess and open a new vir­tu­al pc. A win­dow pops up and you get a black screen, a vir­tu­al pc boo­ting a vir­tu­al BIOS. From this point onwards, you can install eit­her ano­t­her MS ope­ra­ting sys­tem, or even load a vir­tu­al ISO (image file) to install a Linux dis­tri­bu­ti­on. Basi­cal­ly ant­hing that you would also install on your com­pu­ter from that level.
VMWare offers an alter­na­ti­ve for the more pro­fes­sio­nal user — it is able to hand­le pro­ces­ses in a dif­fe­rent way and has much more opti­ons. VMWare offers a play­er (VMWare play­er) that is able to “play” pre-instal­led vir­tu­al machi­nes (ope­ra­ting sys­tems and aplli­an­ces) which can be down­loa­ded from the Vir­tu­al Machi­ne Cen­ter for free!

And as much as I love the VMWare play­er, the MS Vir­tu­al PC soft­ware seems to be ade­qua­te enough for my pur­po­ses as it pro­vi­des an eng­lish OS at the click of a but­ton. Simp­le as that! :-)


The other day, I blog­ged about tools that start right from your very own USB memo­ry stick.

You don’t need to be in a deve­lo­ping coun­try to expe­ri­ence what it means to have restric­ted access to your own com­pu­ter. Let’s say you are a tra­vel­ler and would like to check your e‑mail from an inter­net café some­whe­re on this pla­net. You’­re lucky you’­ve found a free seat and have alrea­dy got­ten over the fact that the guys run­ning the café are rip­ping you off with the amount you pay per minu­te sur­fing. Aaargh.…yahoo/hotmail/gmail/etc — the web­mai­ler takes ages to load and ope­ning a sin­gle page is a pain. Adver­tis­ment ban­ners load first (unless you’­re using a prof. web­mai­ler) and you end up paying extra money just for rea­ding and ans­we­ring your mail. Remem­ber: you’­re paying for the amount of time you’­re online.

Now, in a coun­try like Kenya, not ever­yo­ne has his/her own com­pu­ter. Even less ppl have access to the inter­net — but USB memo­ry sticks are for sale at a rea­son­ab­le pri­ce. The idea is to make use of USB memo­ry sticks other than just sto­ring per­so­nal data. App­li­ca­ti­ons that are instal­led onto the USB stick and run from it. I know the­re are alrea­dy some models out the­re that come ship­ped with pre-instal­led app­li­ca­ti­ons, but ins­tead of focu­sing on the soft­ware only, I would still like to point out the bene­fit you get while using soft­ware instal­led on your memo­ry stick ins­tead of using the brow­ser the inter­net café offers:

  • You are using your own soft­ware and can per­so­na­li­ze the brow­ser and set­tings. Spea­king of book­marks — here’s your per­fect way of sto­ring book­marks that will stay whe­re you’­ve put them.
  • You can down­load your email by using an email cli­ent such a Thun­der­bird. More than that, you can edit emails off­line and mark them for trans­mis­si­on once you’­re back online. Ima­gi­ne down­loading them in an inter­net café and edi­t­ing them some­whe­re else at at frien­d’s place (who does not have a modem/inet). Down­loading online and edi­t­ing off­line takes less time than rea­ding and ans­we­ring them online with the fear of log-outs from your fav. web­mai­ler due to inac­ti­vi­ty / while wri­ting lon­ger mails. Also, it’s much che­a­per this way.
  • Modern Web 2.0 tech­no­lo­gies are nice as they offer online ser­vices which were pre­vious­ly only avail­ab­le off­line (word pro­ces­sing, spreads­heet, image edi­t­ing, etc.). Howe­ver, the­se ser­vices are only avail­ab­le online — and sin­ce you are paying for the amount of time spent online — you’­re bet­ter of using off­line app­li­ca­ti­ons. The inter­net café does not offer such tools? Don’t worry — they are on your memo­ry stick.

Now, as not every user is awa­re of the­se pos­si­bi­li­ties, I can ima­gi­ne a few smart haw­kers on Nai­ro­bi’s Moi Ave­nue & Co that have com­pi­led app­li­ca­ti­on packa­ges and are wil­ling to upload them onto USB memo­ry sticks for some bob. And for tho­se who want to do this on their own, here a few use­ful links to soft­ware com­pi­la­ti­ons and recommendations:

Por­ta­bleapps; list @ Snap­files; Wiki­pe­dia lis­ting; ano­t­her Wiki; Essen­ti­al USB Memo­ry Dri­ve Pro­jects; list @ Com­bo­bu­la­te;; por­ta­ble USB soft­ware; por­ta­ble USB soft­ware 2; por­ta­ble free­ware; list of USB app­li­ca­ti­ons;; por­ta­ble free­ware 2

Hope this helps!

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