Installing Ubuntu with VirtualPC

For those of you who come to my site looking for help installing Linux on VirtualPC (quite a few, as it is the second most popular post on this site), you’ll know that the big problem revolves around VirtualPC only supporting 16-bit color and most Linux distributions supporting 24-bit color by default. (Why this limitation hasn’t been lifted in VirtualPC yet, I don’t know.)

Microsoft blogger Joe Stagner (who blogs at Joe on .Net) recently posted instructions on how to get an Ubuntu installation to install with 16-bit color — instructions which he in turn found on an Ubuntu blog. Considering the growing popularity of Ubuntu and the cost of VitrualPC 2007 (it’s free), this’ll undoubtedly be helpful to those frustrated by failed Linux installs on VPC.

Installing Linux on Virtual PC

In my pursuits to rid myself of the Microsoft beast, I’ve added a book to my collection (Setting up LAMP: Getting Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP Working Together), and decided to install Fedora Core 4 on a virtual machine, using Microsoft’s Virtual PC.

I’ve used Virtual PC in the past with no problems, but this was my first foray into using it to run a non-Microsoft operating system. It was intriguing, to say the least…

  • I downloaded the DVD ISO for Fedora. Virtual PC can capture ISO images — but not all ISO images — only CD-ROM ISO images. No problem, I was going to burn it to a DVD anyway.
  • I decided to run an integrity check on the DVD (this is a feature of the Fedora installer). It took about 16 hours. Fortunately, it passed.
  • The rest of the installation actually went smooth. (Note that I installed in text mode, not in graphical mode.)
  • The X Windows session wouldn’t render properly in Virtual PC. It resized the VPC window to a wacky resolution like 1600×800, and the graphics were garbled and unreadable. No amount of tweaking my monitor settings or Virtual PC’s settings fixed this.

In searching for a solution, I stumbled across What Works and What Doesn’t in Microsoft Virtual PC 2004, which turned out to be a valuable resource of information, even though none of the suggested solutions worked. What did work (and I submitted this tip to the operator of the aforementioned Web site, Jonathan Maltz) is the following, which essentially tells Linux to boot into text mode instead of GUI mode (i.e. X Windows).

  • Download the Fedora Core 4 recovery CD.
  • Boot your Fedora virtual machine with the recovery CD.
  • Let the recovery CD mount your Fedora system.
  • Edit the file /mnt/sysimage/etcinittab, by changing the line which reads id:5:initdefault: to id:3:initdefault:. The 5 tells Linux to load into GUI mode; changing this to 3 tells Linux to load into text mode. (For more information, read How do I start in text-only mode (no graphical environment)?)

I haven’t tried messing with X further on this installation, but will post more notes when I do.

One step closer to saying "Goodbye" to Microsoft (Part II)

(This is a follow-up to my previous post, One step closer to saying “Goodbye” to Microsoft, in which I describe my experience trying to rebuild my laptop.)

Well, the bootable Windows XP Pro CD provided from my Dell computer booted up fine and installed fine. This one requires you to activate the product online (within 30 days, of course). Fantastic, I figure I’m on the home stretch, as I have a valid Windows license.

I proceed to get the laptop back up to speed by installing the necessities from my MSDN subscription, Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird, and Norton Anti-Virus. I’m starting to feel good again!

This morning, I decide to activate Windows (even though I have 29 days to go). I open the activation wizard and type the product key on that same sticker in the most inconvenient part of my laptop. This time I write it down on a piece of paper so as not to have to keep flipping the laptop over to read it.

Product id invalid.

Now come on, this is getting ridiculous. I then decide to register by phone. A call to a toll-free line gives me an automated bot that asks me to speak out loud the 54-key installation ID generated by the activation wizard. (As an aside, I absolutely hate when machines ask me to talk to them. I have no problem pressing the number keys on a phone, but I dislike having to speak to a computer.) Incredibly, the service never reads back any of the 40 numbers you say to it, so you have to assume they got it right. After speaking these 54 numbers, I hear…

The installation ID is invalid.

@#&^@*&^!! Did they hear my spoken numbers correctly? I have no way to tell that. Fine, let me talk to a human being. Sorry, there’s no option to talk to a human being.

I try again, and the installation ID is still invalid — but this time I am being transferred to a human being. Wait time: less than one minute. Time to complete the process with a human being: 4 minutes. Finally, I’m finished.

Is this whole process necessary? I understand Microsoft has a big problem with software piracy. However, putting in such controls that make it so difficult for a legitimate owner is hardly an effective solution to the problem. You don’t solve the problem of stolen cars by requiring legitimate car owners to jump through hoops to unlock their doors. The same theory should apply to computer software.

Once I get my laptop up and running, I’m off to the local Barnes & Noble to pick up some books. Technologies of interest include:

I can’t imagine the process of reindoctrinating myself into new technologies is going to be easy, especially considering I will not be able to alleviate myself from the death-grip of Microsoft, because it is a big part of my professional career. But all journeys begin with the first step…