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Good, Portable "Virtual" Linux Distro?

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the load-once-run-anywhere dept.

Linux 261

Prof. Nix writes "I have been given the opportunity to redesign the Linux course for the community college I work for. This course will be taking students from the 'What's Lee-nux?' stage to (hopefully) Linux+ Certifiable in about three to four months. However, one issue I haven't solved is finding a semi-stable, highly portable, and readily accessible platform the students may pound on, and have root access, independently of their peers. The powers-that-be have already vetoed any sort of server environment accessible from off campus. We've already tried live USB drives, but we ran into many issues with non-supported hardware on students' home computers. So I'm left with the idea of virtual machines run from flash drives. My ultimate goal is to have some sort of portable system that students can use with equal ease on lab systems and personal laptops — regardless of hardware. Preferably this system would be installable on a 4GB flash drive and run an Ubuntu- or Fedora-derived OS. So I ask the people who have been in the trenches a lot longer than I — what distros should I look at?"

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one? (0, Offtopic)

pgmrdlm (1642279) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916208)

Is this one?

Slackware (3, Informative)

vikingpower (768921) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916212)

You can fully "undress" it, down to the bare basics, and it is incredibly stable. You'll definitely run it from a 4 Gb USB stick - and your students, most importantly, will LEARN from it.

Re:Slackware (1)

donrich39 (723851) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916380)

I like VirtualBox on top of Slackware. You can run whatever you want on top of that.

Re:Slackware (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916590)

We've already tried live USB drives, but we ran into many issues with non-supported hardware on students' home computers.

In loving memory (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31916220)


#In Memory of Adolf Hitler#
We will always remember
and cherish you. Your
acts of selflessness
will be passed down from
generation to generation.
The lies that dishonor your
name will be vanquished.
You were a true patriot
and a lover of all men,
all races, all religions.
#In Memory of Adolf Hitler#

Re:In loving memory (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31916320)

You asshole!!!

Re:In loving memory (-1, Offtopic)

icannotthinkofaname (1480543) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916632)

Happy birthday, Adolf Hitler!

Wait, before you mod me Troll, would you really refuse to wish him a happy birthday just because he's Hitler?

Re:In loving memory (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31916688)

Happy birthday, Adolf Hitler!

Wait, before you mod me Troll, would you really refuse to wish him a happy birthday just because he's Hitler?

In a word, yes.

Re:In loving memory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31916892)

Yes I would

And you should to

Knoppix (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31916224)

'nuff said.

Re:Knoppix (1)

sxeraverx (962068) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916288)

For this kind of stuff, you'd really want a virtualized solution. With Knoppix, it's still easy to hose your system.
dd if=/dev/urandom of=/dev/sda1comes to mind.

Re:Knoppix (2, Informative)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916790)

What's /dev/sda1comes?

I kid, I kid.

In all seriousness, however, what version of Linux would that *not* apply to? If you have root access, by definition, you have the ability to hose your system. Personally, I have found Knoppix to be a great Linux distro that does not require you to install it to use it. The Ubuntu LiveCD is pretty good, also. Then, of course, there is DSL and several others (although I have never personally used DSL).

And does it need to be a one-size-fits-all solution? I have a desktop at work from which I cannot access USB thumb drives because the mobo chipset is flawed. I also have a personal laptop that has a failed CD-ROM drive, but that has working USB ports. If you choose either of those media, I have a computer that it won't work with. However, if you provide Linux on a USB stick for those who can use USB sticks and Linux on a CD for those who can use a LiveCD, you'll have *something* that works for everyone. For the one guy at the university who can only boot from a floppy...well, he will just have to buy a new computer :)

Virtual Box (4, Informative)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916226)

Can't you put the virtual disk image for as a regular file on a USB stick, then load it into Virtual Box from there? That way, no purchase necessary with regards to software to run the VM, and you can issue a standardized appliance image to start with. Of course, you need to make sure that everyone has a thumb drive of sufficient size.

Re:Virtual Box (4, Interesting)

Jurily (900488) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916326)

Of course, you need to make sure that everyone has a thumb drive of sufficient size.

You can't even buy drives too small for this anymore.

Re:Virtual Box (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31917126)

Have you not heard of VMWare? Free players for the children. You have to buy your license.

Re:Virtual Box (3, Informative)

nabsltd (1313397) | more than 4 years ago | (#31917356)

There's actually no need to buy anything to use VMware, as Player is free and allows you to create just doesn't have some of the better features (snapshot control, etc.) of VMware Workstation.

VMware Server is also free, and has a lot of great features. For bare-metal, ESXi is also free.

With all that plus VirtualBox, Xen, KVM, various Microsoft offerings, etc., there really is no need to pay anything for a hypervisor.

Re:Virtual Box (1)

Mr. DOS (1276020) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916396)

The problem with VirtualBox (or any other virtualization, for that matter) is that, if students' hardware is incapable of booting from a USB stick, it's probably old enough that smooth virtualization will also be impossible. Even though it would be slow (although hopefully not as slow as virtualizing), a customized LiveCD with required software preinstalled coupled with a USB stick for storage would probably be a better option.

Mind you, providing a VirtualBox disk image for those who can run it wouldn't be at all a bad idea, either.

Re:Virtual Box (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916876)

I think you misintepret.

Put VirtualBox on the lab computers.
Put the student's .VDI file on a thumbdrive.

Boot the lab machine from HD, run VBox and boot VM from the thumbdrive's VDI

Re:Virtual Box (1)

khellendros1984 (792761) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916968)

The question mentioned off-campus access to the system and students having compatibility trouble running Linux natively at home. I'm pretty sure that the submitter is looking for a reliable way to run Linux on the students' home machines, rather than the lab hardware. I'd assume that if the lab hardware was having compatibility problems and was the intended target of the solution they're asking for, the guy running the course could overcome the issues, and the whole question would be moot.

Re:Virtual Box (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31916400)

Go back to the idea of using the thumb drive. Lesson one becomes how to troubleshoot and resolve hardware incompatibility issues with this installation. This will be a common issue pragmatically in the workforce that would want a Linux+ certification. As a bonus, your ivory tower academics might get exposed to real challenges of dealing with an operating system with such little market share.

Re:Virtual Box (1)

TBoon (1381891) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916736)

While learning to deal with hardware issues is great, it might not be so fun in the long run, if swapping between different hardware on nearly every boot?

Re:Virtual Box (3, Insightful)

Ian Alexander (997430) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916748)

Great idea. Make the students waste their time fucking around just getting the thing up and running so they can start studying while every day the quarter slips away more and more. A virtual image is a great idea - hardware incompatibilities can happen at any level of the system (kernel,, HAL/DeviceKit/CUPS/SANE regressions, etc, etc), so I think a good working knowledge of Linux is probably a prerequisite to troubleshooting hardware incompatibilities. Let the students actually understand what the kernel is and how modules work before making them go fetch sources to compile kernel modules.

Re:Virtual Box (1)

cream wobbly (1102689) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916794)

What could possibly go wrong?

Actually, this would solve the problem, by getting the course cancelled due to lack of attendance. You sir, can take it to mean that they learnt so much from the first two weeks of the course that they don't need no stinkin' mentorin'!

Re:Virtual Box (2, Insightful)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916804)

...with such little market share.

Insightful? Seriously? That's blatant flamebait.

Re:Virtual Box (3, Insightful)

jumpingfred (244629) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916838)

I don't think community college is what people mean when they talk about the ivroy tower.

Re:Virtual Box (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916970)

Lesson one needs to be something easy. Or did you miss the part about this being a class for newbies?

Re:Virtual Box (1)

ushering05401 (1086795) | more than 4 years ago | (#31917338)

That's a good point, but lesson one could simply be to bring logs to class and learn how to file complete bug reports for their home hardware.

Re:Virtual Box (3, Interesting)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#31917320)

The post is pretty much standard trolling, but have the moderators gone on crack too? That's like say "Let's learn to drive a car. Let's start by assembling the engine..." and this is less of a problem in the workforce than on a collection of random computers. Every serious IT department runs recommended configurations of hardware and software, you don't just throw parts together, slap an OS on it and hope it works. Some hardware works flawlessly under Linux, others is a paperweight with every variation in between. If you want to run Linux you get hardware that runs Linux and it's not that hard to find, it's more that some brands support open source and others don't. Running it on random hardware is only done by people who want Linux to fail so they can mock it or those that really want the pain of dark magic command-fu or a nasty assignment in C. I really would like to see it as one of the assigned tasks though - run Linux natively from a LiveCD and run through basic checks on what works and what doesn't. That could be rather helpful information to someone trying to find a Linux friendly computer and Linux friendly accessories.

Re:Virtual Box (5, Informative)

hausen (1180303) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916682)

I ran across almost the same problem this week: needed to have a live USB, but also the ability to run inside a virtualized machine in the case the physical machine wouldn't boot it. I second the parent's opinion: VirtualBox is the way to go. It even has a "portable edition," so you don't have to ask users to install any software, neither you need to ask the lab administrator to install any software.

I seearched a little bit and found this nice gem: [] (notice: this is not a slashvertizement; I have no links whatsoever with the development group. Just a really satisfied user.) You just have to:

1) install the live CD iso of the distribution of your choice (I have chosen Ubuntu, since I am familiar with it)
2) download Linux Live USB Creator - Full Pack (w/ Virtualbox)
3) run it, point it to the iso file, mark the persistency option (I have setup 2GB for it) and click the "lighning bolt" icon to create your live USB with a portable VirtualBox
4) profit!

You can either boot it as a USB hard drive, or you can run your virtualized OS under Windows clicking the "Virtualize this Key" executable! That's it! No messing with settings in grub, no modprobe, no nothing! Just use an easy GUI.

Re:Virtual Box (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#31917266)

Portable Virtualbox can also be completely backed up by .raring the whole folder including the virtual machines.

If the student manages to hose things, extract a replacement copy and press on. Very cool.

Re:Virtual Box (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31917232)

We did this at our university using VMWare and the ACE toolkit. We run Ubuntu 9.04 on a 8GB flash drive. We ask the students to purchase the drives and they keep them after the course. If something goes wrong, we can always copy over the original VM.

Ubuntu on Ubuntu with Virtualbox (2, Insightful)

commport1 (1530901) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916244)

You could think about running 'Ubuntu on Ubuntu' - as both the main desktop OS, and another copy in a VM running VirtualBox. Anything they're trying for the first time, or that has the possibility to go wrong, they can do on the VM and snapshot + remove it as required. Once they are more capable, maybe they can start to perform tasks on the Desktop copy. If anything goes wrong and the workstation needs to be re-imaged, there's a chance the VM could be be backed up (so the work is not lost) and it's also portable, so it can be used at home.

Re:Ubuntu on Ubuntu with Virtualbox (1)

Alanonfire (1415379) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916316)

This is a very good idea.

Look for virtual appliances... (0)

leuk_he (194174) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916248)

vmware virtual applicases(is htat a word?), OS category []

You want vmtools installed for performance reasons. any mainstraim distribution will do i think.

vmware player is simple (but not redistributable i think), heavier user can use sun virtual box or vmware server.

Re:Look for virtual appliances... (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916282)

Yeah, I used Fedora Core 4 running on VMWare at school and I never had any issues, but ymmv

Uhm... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31916254)

Windows 7?

Portable Virtualbox. (4, Informative)

sxeraverx (962068) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916262)

Look at Virtualbox: [] and there are portable (current) versions out there. On there, you can install Ubuntu, Fedora, what-have-you.

In my Post Secondary (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916268)

We all had school issued laptops. So that definately played a big part in being able to run Linux.

However, we used VMWare to launch Fedora Core 4, on some verion of a Toshiba Satelite, on a standalone network for the classroom lab. We were able to mess around learning the ins and outs of Linux off of the one CD they obtained, by handing out the ISO to each student on the first day. I've often wondered if it was legal or not, but I think their method of thinking was along the lines of "If they discover they like it, they'll look more into it and either pay for their own updated copy or go with one of the free Distros".

Come end of semester, the laptops were given back, to be re-ghosted for the next class to learn Linux.

Re:In my Post Secondary (2, Funny)

Zardus (464755) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916338)

Unless I totally misunderstood your post, Fedora Core *is* a free distro.... If I totally misunderstood your post, it's *still* a free distro, but then that information is irrelevant.

Re:In my Post Secondary (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916436)

I think I keep mixing up Fedora and RH because at the time their logos were similar...

Re:In my Post Secondary (1)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916468)

He may have been confusing Fedora's legality with Red Hat's.

Wait, is it legal to use/copy/share Red Hat (the real thing, not CentOS) without purchasing support?

Re:In my Post Secondary (1)

Mad Merlin (837387) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916840)

Wait, is it legal to use/copy/share Red Hat (the real thing, not CentOS) without purchasing support?

Yes you can install as many RHEL systems as you want without registering them with RHN, however, you won't get any updates, and you'll need to already have the isos.

RHEL (1)

mister_playboy (1474163) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916918)

Wait, is it legal to use/copy/share Red Hat (the real thing, not CentOS) without purchasing support?

I'm not sure about personal use, but copying and sharing would seem to be prohibited because of their trademarks.

Verbatim copying and redistribution of the entire Red Hat Enterprise Linux distribution is not permitted due to trademark restrictions. However, there are several redistributions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux—such as CentOS—with trademarked features (such as logos, and the Red Hat name) removed.

Originally, Red Hat's enterprise product, then known as Red Hat Linux, was made freely available to anybody who wished to download it, while Red Hat made money from support. Red Hat then moved towards splitting its product line into Red Hat Enterprise Linux which was designed to be stable and with long-term support for enterprise users and 'Fedora' as the community distribution and project sponsored by Red Hat. The use of trademarks prevents verbatim copying of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Since Red Hat Enterprise Linux is based completely on free and open source software, Red Hat makes available the complete source code to its enterprise distribution through its FTP site to anybody who wants it. Accordingly, several groups have taken this source code and compiled their own versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, typically with the only changes being the removal of any references to Red Hat's trademarks and pointing the update systems to non-Red Hat servers. Groups which have undertaken this include CentOS (the most popular as of March 2009), Oracle Enterprise Linux, Scientific Linux, White Box Enterprise Linux, StartCom Enterprise Linux, Pie Box Enterprise Linux, X/OS, and Lineox. All with the exception of Oracle Enterprise Linux provide a free mechanism for applying updates without paying a service fee to the distributor.

Rebuilds of Red Hat Enterprise Linux are free but do not get any commercial support or consulting services from Red Hat and lack any software, hardware or security certifications. Also, the rebuilds do not get access to Red Hat services like Red Hat Network. []

Re:In my University (1)

billstewart (78916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916912)

... we had punch cards :-) Still, that didn't stop a friend who has since become famous from running a copy of VM on top of the mainframe's main VM system (buy guessing the backup system password), which let him run his own copy of the system that users interfaced with (albeit rather slowly.)

To be fair, we did also have a few PLATO terminals, and some VM/CMS interactive systems (using paper terminals) that you could access as an upperclassman or CS major, and a couple of Tektronix 4014s, and the various physics and chemistry labs had a few PDPs to drive hardware experiments with, but most of our work ran on punch cards.

Hard Problem... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916284)

The basic problem with your request is that it is very hard to build a virtualization mechanism that is both useful and portable.

At very least, virtualization software tends to want to install some sort of virtual ethernet device(or muck about with the tun device, if you are running on linux), so that the VMs can have network access. That is typically an operation that requires admin rights. Not uncommonly, other rather invasive install steps are involved.

Unless you are OK with no network, and quite possibly a very slow system(pure userspace instead of any of the paravirtualization tricks, you basically have to have the VM software installed, by an admin. If you do have that, just shlepping the folder with the VM config file and the virtual disk is trivial; but if you don't have that, you have a problem.

Assuming you can get the installs done, either VMware player or Virtualbox would be fine. The students can do the install on their home machines, you can provide the skeleton VM, and make sure that the software is installed on lab machines.

Otherwise, you are basically doomed.

Virtualbox images... (3, Interesting)

IANAAC (692242) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916292)

can run from a USB stick or SD card.

I run an instance of XP (Ubuntu host) from an SD card no problem. It shouldn't matter what OS the image is, it should run fine.

Re:Virtualbox images... (1)

drachenstern (160456) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916502)

How's it run off the SD card? I never even considered doing that but now that it's been said /facepalm

That's brilliant. Do you run into any issues doing this?

Re:Virtualbox images... (1)

drachenstern (160456) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916524)

In retrospect, s/How's it run off the SD card?/How's the performance when you run it off the SD card?/g

Re:Virtualbox images... (3, Informative)

IANAAC (692242) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916678)

Of course, it's a bit slower than running from a disk, but it's not unbearable, at least for my needs. Other than speed, no issues whatsoever. All hardware works, but that's because it's virtualized (sound, network, etc). Recognizes all USB peripherals I attach as well.

Depends on the Course (5, Insightful)

Ohio Calvinist (895750) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916296)

I teach at the community college myself, and find that installing the OS is a really important part of learning to use it (creating partitions, mount points, swap, etc...) and is one of the first part that makes it very different from most Windows installation processes. Doing the install on a USB stick could result in students killing the Windows partition on the disk if they botch the install and accidentally put it on the hard disk. (I've had it happen).

Using a VM host on the lab computers (either MS Virtual PC or VMWare; assuming that your lab PCs are Windows) and then allowing them to create the virtual disk on their 4GB (or larger) flash disks will give them the install experience (without risk of damaging the host system), and allow their install to be fairly hardware independent (assuming they have the same VM host on their home PC.)

This also allows them to use a normal, general purpose distro than a stick-oriented one, that is also likely to have better textbooks available. I know any text should be good enough for derived distributions, but for students having an out-of-the-box or off-the-iso experience can alleviate a lot of first-week frustrations, and gives them a better (vanilla) resource to consult when bad things happen.

Re:Depends on the Course (1)

InMSWeAntitrust (994158) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916552)

I imagine the reason he asks such a question is because this course may be an online course. If that were the case, it's difficult to get all the students into class for one session to install a distro.

Re:Depends on the Course (1)

Ohio Calvinist (895750) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916764)

That one reason the VM choice is nice. It's not too difficult to throw together a How-To setup the VM host and then allow them to install it at home on their own machines in the VM. Even at that, I expect that students would get the media, follow the directions, and complete an install to build their own environment. Particularly online, the more vanilla and standard something can be made, the easier it is to help students over the wire.

Re:Depends on the Course (1)

Locutus (9039) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916846)

that's my thought too, basically it goes like this:
1) Install VMware Player on all the lab workstations because it's free, cross platform, and it's well supported ( another option might be VirtualBox )
2) Create a disk image large enough to fit on the smallest of the flash drives you expect your students to be using.
3) Pick a distro which you can use with this size disk image and be usable for your classwork. There are a few recent blogs on small/fast distros
4) Figure out how to get the LiveCD of your distro and the virtual machine disk image to every students PC for the inclass instruction on installing into the virtual disk using the LiveCD and VMware or VirtualBox
5) after the class has installed the system, show them how to shut it down and copy it to their USB drive and run from the USB drive.

Now they have some experience installing into a VM and the basic layout of the Linux filesystem and they have a copy of their work on their USB drive so they can try this at home. If you talk with VMware, you can probably get redistribution rights to the VMware Player to you can give them the VMware Player installation file for their home computer.


Re:Depends on the Course (4, Funny)

value_added (719364) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916880)

I teach at the community college myself, and find that installing the OS is a really important part of learning to use it

Wholeheartedly agree. And while the rest of your comments have merit, I'd offer the suggestion to build on the "important part of learning" principle.

Instead of going the VM route, just hand out Slackware CDs. Or if the kids are bright (like the kids were in my day), point them to the Linux From Scratch project and let them loose! For extra credit, you could have them figure out how to integrate their new OS in a Windows domain environment or, if that requires unavailable resources, have them install a complete Cygwin distribution on their Windows PCs to figure out creative ways to make Windows behave more sanely so that things like odd file names, line endings, a useless PATH, a nonsensical hierarchy, reliance on drive letters, security token issues, and reconciling Posix permissions don't present insurmountable challenges.

By the end of term, they'll have all the experience they need. More importantly, they'll be prepared for the real world.

The instructor benefits, too, as grading the students is simplified. Anyone that completes the class gets an automatic A, except for those caught cheating who get a B+. Kids that came in with a note from their parents excusing them from class gets an incomplete. Everyone else fails. And those that switched to one of the BSDs in midterm get put on the honour roll.

Re:Depends on the Course (1)

6350' (936630) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916988)

Sadly, however, the students would be at the most ready and receptive to go through an install process at the *end* of the course, instead of the beginning. I fear that on the start, it would just be a confusing jumble of arcane looking commands to type in verbatim, with no foundation yet present to appreciate what is going on.

Re:Depends on the Course (2, Informative)

kandresen (712861) | more than 4 years ago | (#31917204)

From experience I totally agree:
I myself tried to learn linux 3 times before I finally moved to the platform. I had my then had Redhat 5.2, SuSE, Mandrake, and some others before dropping out - the interfaces worked well, but I did not understand the fundamentals - expecially things like why I could not execute my programs etc - which I later on learned was - my programs where not in path and thus I had to make them executable and then use ./ and other issues.

All solutions - Ubuntu, Redhat, Slackware, etc use entirely different package managers etc. This was another huge problem for me - I was learned the Redhat way and had no understanding of how I could install things myself when I needed. This is a major issue.

Through my Linux experience in school which essentially was more about creating some basic C programs etc, I had yet no understanding of the way the system worked, why there was a /bin, /usr/bin, /usr/local/bin and so on, and I was close to drop Linux altogether.

I did make one last attempt - Linux from Scratch [] : Finally a project that helped me make sense of all the Unix systems!! It took me only one single week despite having to recompile all the code! The compilation time was time to learn the fundamentals - partitioning, file system considerations, Linux Standard Base : why some things are to be in /bin, others in /usr/bin or /usr/local/bin or /opt and so on.

As soon as I had finished the basic Linux from Scratch program, I had learned enough to use ANY Linux system; I moved to Gentoo at the time to make sure I did not forget what I had learned and improve some more. Today I use Redhat ES for servers and mostly Ubuntu for desktop.

wubi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31916336)

wubi install on old HP laptop running windows 2000 with pcmicia wireless was painless, except it took me a few minutes to figure out why the wireless wasn't working - wubi wanted the ssid, and it took me a while to figure that out

Re:wubi (1)

RegTooLate (1135209) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916760)

Wubi is pretty nice in that it installs a file onto your windows partition. Once they are finished, uninstall and all is better. Could be a good middle ground.

Another consideration is to run something like ESXi and let the students just terminal into little VMs. They could use the client to have console access. Slap that onto an NFS disk running lessfs to save disk space.

Linux and VM Linux (1)

steveha (103154) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916342)

I suggest you first pick a popular Linux with good hardware support, such as my personal favorite Ubuntu. Then, offer both bootable CDs and USB flash drives, and VM images for VirtualBox. Since VirtualBox is free and multiplatform, as well as being easy to install, the students with weird hardware can use that to run Linux.

In my experience, Ubuntu just boots up and works on a wide variety of hardware. So I'd guess that many or most of your students would be able to boot their computer into native Linux. But some may want the VirtualBox for the convenience, especially if they have modern and very fast computers. The students with old computers might be happier just booting Linux directly and avoiding the overhead of virtualization.

It doesn't sound like your students will need exotic hardware to work; I mean, the free software video drivers might only support 2D for some modern graphics cards, but 2D would be enough to get Linux certified, right?

P.S. A friend of mine took a class where everyone was required to use Microsoft Virtual PC. However, it refused to run on his home computer and he had to do his homework on a different computer (at his place of work). Ubuntu Linux ran fine on the same computer where Virtual PC wouldn't work. So, when I first read the article summary I went "Huh, virtual machines to make it more likely to work?"


Special Memo To Slashdot (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31916360)

Happy 420 !

and a belated Happy 416.

Yours In Murmansk,
Kilgore Trout

Re:Special Memo To Slashdot (1)

Bert64 (520050) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916538)

You celebrate the 20th of April? Isn't it a bit weird to celebrate the birthday of Adolf Hitler? []

Dear Bert (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31916648)

You're wrong. You have 2 more attempts before returning to high school.

Thanks for playing.

Yours PatRIOTically,

Re:Special Memo To Slashdot (2, Funny)

khellendros1984 (792761) | more than 4 years ago | (#31917086)

"420" has a meaning that you seem to be missing...

don't go flash-drive linux (1)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916364)

you can actually run a full-bore linux on usb hard drives, not with a 4GB limit or stuff like that.

install the distro of your choice on a laptop.

take hard drive out, put it in an enclosure.

boot to the now USB drive (with no hard drive in the IDE/SATA spot)

fix the mount points to point to the right /dev/sdbwhatevers

fix the swap space or config cryptswap (if you don't, it will trash the shit out of the /dev/sdawahtever was the old swap...i.e. the persons primary hard drive, partition x, that uses it next)

clone the usb drives however you like to do that, partitions and all, for each student.

How about a bootable CD (1)

sheph (955019) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916376)

When I was in college we used a live Whax CD (which is now Backtrack) saving our work to our own flash drive. It seemed to work pretty well.

Re:How about a bootable CD (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31916398)

A custom Knoppix DVD (or CD) with the user profile on a flash drive seems perfect for this.

Re:How about a bootable CD (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31916420)

I use Back Track 4. I would recommend it.

Here are two. (5, Informative)

zero_out (1705074) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916384)

DSL [] works well. It's 50 MB, can boot off a USB flash stick, and comes with its own virtual environment for running within MS Windows. It's probably missing a few features you will want for teaching a course in Linux, though.

I also like Puppy Linux. [] I was able to make an MP3 player out of a small thin client computer and this OS. I just had to modify a few shell scripts, and plug the TC into my home stereo.

Re:Here are two. (2, Informative)

Tigersmind (1549183) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916598)

DSL [] works well. It's 50 MB, can boot off a USB flash stick, and comes with its own virtual environment for running within MS Windows. It's probably missing a few features you will want for teaching a course in Linux, though.

I also like Puppy Linux. [] I was able to make an MP3 player out of a small thin client computer and this OS. I just had to modify a few shell scripts, and plug the TC into my home stereo.

Exactly what I was thinking. This too [] I run it on my PII.

Any distro (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916408)

If you are going to put it into a VM, just use the one you know the best it wont care.

Gentoo! (1)

adbge (1693228) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916418)

Have each student compile and install Gentoo -- Desktop Environment, PULSE/ALSA, X, Kernel, everything. It will prove excruciating for the students, and it's unlikely that any of them will ever have a perfectly functional install -- but, oh, it will be *very amusing* for the rest of us.

vms (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31916428)

Look at vmware's site, they have a link to a second site they run which has nothing but
"virtual appliances" which are pre configures VMs ready to run for various purposes.
Included therein are VMs of popular LINUX / UNIX OSs. Most of those are of course free, though
they also have various commercial VMed applications of various sorts too. Generally the VM images
lag a few months behind the very latest releases since they're made by 3rd parties and aren't generally part of the official distribution release.

Also look at SUSE Studio, the (IIRC) web site has a way to make a "custom" OpenSusE
distribution using their online toolkit for customizing what you want in it. You probably can make
some kind of easily virtualized ready to run system image with whatever you want in it in the 2GB
or 1GB or 700MBy CD image or 4.7GBy DVD image size ranges.

I believe that some distributions have a XEN enabled paravirtualized DomU image which you can use as a standard installation option, though you might have to repackage that in the form of something that includes the hypervisor itself. Look at the Xen Live CD, that has the hypervisor and some kind of UNIX OS as well if I recall correctly. / IIRC.

LinuxMint is a LiveCD based on Ubuntu that is pretty portable across lots of machines, though not obviously all possible hardware, but it may be worth a look.

The problem with a virtualized system is that the hypervisor itself may not be portable to all machines either depending on the kinds of peripherals and chipsets / CPUs the hypervisor supports. Most Hardware Virtual Machines require basic VM extensions being enabled in the CPU to work, though some virtual machine platforms don't require it when you're running a 32 bit guest OS. IIRC
you can run XEN, Virtualbox, Virtual PC VM software with 32 bit guest OSs without needing VM CPU extensions, though of course there are still only certain physical hardware types they support.
XEN based VM hypervisors with a paravirtualized LINUX guest is probably best in a slight way for performance since the guest OS itself is compiled to be very efficiently virtualized even without HVM CPU extensions, though I can say that even without HVM extensions and a paravirtualized guest OS still some VM systems do a pretty goog job virtualizing a guest in real time.

The last resort would be you could run a VM on a server running XEN or KVM or VirtualBox and give the students RDP or VNC remote desktop access to the VM's root, so they can be root and do whatever they want on their particular image, but not cause a security or functionality problem for the server or other VMs. Benefits of snapshotting / backup / deployment / resetting to a known good state apply. You could even provice some EC2 or other cloud hosted VM instances for people to play with at fairly low cost and fairly high performance if you need to scale up beyond the few dozen PV DomU VMs your local lab PCs could probably easily accommodate. Maybe Amazon or whatever has a academic pricing rate for their hosting, or someone else might.

Make your own (4, Informative)

houghi (78078) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916480) [] allows you to make your own. This can then be done as USB stick, CD/DVD, VMware and what not. You can decide if you want it to be installable or not, add your own specific software and almost anything else you like.

How far you go to make things special is up to you.

However, you will always have non-supported hardware. Happens with any OS, except for the one that was pre-installed and then hope people have not added hardware.

Re:Make your own (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31916814)

I don't think a distro based on a Phil Collins song is such a good idea. Sususudio? Really?

Uh, virtual what? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31916498)

There is no such animal. Best you can hope for is to require everyone in the class to buy the same $199.99 netbook. Also, When you say, "Ubuntu", you mean Debian, of course. Anything wrong with Knoppix?

Use a VM (1)

(H)elix1 (231155) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916562)

Like others mention, use a virtual machine like VirtualBox, and give everyone a virtual machine of your Linux system in addition to instructions to set up their own. This will save countless hours of helping your students get up and running.

To your question, what distro? I'd recommend Centos [] , which is a free as in beer version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and/or Oracle Enterprise Linux (OEL). The only real differences between the three is branding and the support contract, with a five year support plan. Both Red Hat and Oracle have a Linux certification test, if you are looking to have a 'real' certificate when they are done.

So, "Linux+ Certifiable" means... (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31916600)

...someone has had about 3-4 months of experience with Linux. Wow. That's almost as meaningful than the V.I.P. award I received in kindergarten!

Re:So, "Linux+ Certifiable" means... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31917322)

...someone has had about 3-4 months of experience with Linux. Wow. That's almost as meaningful than the V.I.P. award I received in kindergarten!

Welcome to the world of IT certifications!

another option (1)

inode_buddha (576844) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916614)

My school simply handed out removable HDD caddys and drives. They were included in the tuition. At home, I could install the slot into my box. The school machines already had one. So it was just a question of doing a normal HDD install. No funky HW detection issues. At the end of class, you would slide your drive out of the school machine, and slide it back into your home box. Back then, we dual-booted Win NT and RH6.

qemu (1)

rwa2 (4391) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916650)

The advantage of qemu over VMware or VirtualBox would be that you wouldn't need to install anything.

I made a custom KNOPPIX LiveCD with my master's thesis on it, and worked out some .bat scripts to get it running it in place under Windows. (Copy it to the hard disk first for performance, no need to run off the CD if you're doing it in a VM) []

You could probably adapt something like this for a more modern LiveCD / USB distro.

Bunch of things (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31916668)

You can use QEMU and other emulation suits as I'm sure somebody has said, or maybe a Live CD.... I would teach them enough so they can set up a single simple pc as a relay for remote access. From there they can access the servers. It'll teach them to think outside the box.

Re:Bunch of things (1)

khellendros1984 (792761) | more than 4 years ago | (#31917040)

QEMU isn't bad, but it only becomes truly useable (IMO) with KQEMU installed, and that can be a pain in the ass (if memory serves)...or do newer versions roll KQEMU into QEMU itself somehow? It's been a bit since I've really poked at it.

pure:dyne (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31916712)

I know it's used for multimedia purpose for artist but pure:dyne is a solid portable distro that is used for classes (but multimedia classes) - but works on mac and other hardware

What's your goal? (1)

Merc248 (1026032) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916728)

Are you simply easing them into what a modern Linux desktop distro looks like, or do you want to teach them some stuff about the command line?

If it's the latter, why not just construct a Xen box and roll out a bunch of VM's that students can use remotely? Either that, or if you can subsidize the monthly costs somehow with a lab fee or whatever, you could always roll out a ton of EC2 instances or Linode slices for them to play on.

Of course, you'd have to worry about security, and it's not exactly the least complex solution, but you'd also force them to work in a command line.

university virtual computer lab, wubi (1)

h00manist (800926) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916746)

I think a virtual computer lab, run by the university, is the only way to go, not only for the CS students but many other classes too. Other university labs are surely the best place to find an example, every university is full of competent geeks. If the virtual machines shouldn't access outside data, a firewall should be able to do that. Barring that, I think I would recommend something like wubi for students with slower home computers, vmware or virtual box for those with faster computers. I can't figure out why wubi is ubuntu-only

Debian on VirtualBox (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31916808)

Use Sun's version of VirtualBox, sorry the version is pretty unstable. Ubuntu is easier, but honestly they'll get more mileage out of Debian and be in a better position to appreciate/hate Ubuntu if they learn Debian. You could also spend some brief time on Redhat/Fedora since it is so prevalent. An 8 GB usb drive will easily hold 2-3 VirtalBox images (not with any kind of harddrive space, they'd probably want to copy it to their user home on the comp they were going to run on).

Puppy Linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31916818)

Small, works well on most - even old - hardware

Moka5 (1)

khellendros1984 (792761) | more than 4 years ago | (#31916990)

I found a thing a few years ago called Moka5 LivePC Engine. It's basically a portable VMware environment that goes on a thumb drive. There were many, many Linux images available, last time I gave it a look. I think that it would be an easy, pre-packaged way to handle what you're trying to do here.

Re:Moka5 (1)

khellendros1984 (792761) | more than 4 years ago | (#31917024)

Blech, never mind. It doesn't look like it's freely available any more.

How about a container for each student? (1)

dowdle (199162) | more than 4 years ago | (#31917060)

Here is what I use for the classes I have run (two so far): A server running an OpenVZ kernel with a public IP address that can be accessed from on or off campus. Then I recommend making a course container with a public IP address and give each student a user account on that container.

Then create a container for each student with a private IP address. A simple iptables line will allow you to NAT the containers with a private IP address through the host node so each container can reach the outside world.

To access their containers students would just ssh into the course server and then ssh from there to their containers. Containers don't take up a whole lot of resources nor disk space compared to a full virtual machine.

That will provide you with a virtualized environment for each student where they have full root access, can install software, and if they screw it up somehow, you can easily repair or replace it. You aren't limited to what Linux distribution you can run in a container so if you want to give them access to multiple distros, you can.

Of course that only gives you a command line only environment which is suitable for a sysadmin type class (what I teach). If you absolutely need a GUI environment, you can easily install one or more desktop environments in your containers which would be accessible over the LAN with VNC. Routing private IPs over a LAN isn't too difficult, you'd just need a static route to the host node.

Of course you could do the same thing with KVM on a server but it would require a whole lot more resources.

If that still will not meet your requirements because they turned down a server-based solution, I'd recommend external USB hard drives. You can get a fairly large one for about $80 and you'll have way less problems than with LiveUSB media that tend to mess up easily. Then you can either run a regular OS from it OR uses it to store disk images for VirtualBox or whatever virt solution the students would have to use on their personal computer.

DSL? (1) (981475) | more than 4 years ago | (#31917114)

Awwww, come on no mention of DSL why not? DSL [] is a great little distro and will fit in 50mb of space!

VirtualBox or VMware (1)

skiman1979 (725635) | more than 4 years ago | (#31917122)

VirtualBox or VMware have always worked pretty well in my experience. VirtualBox is free, and VMware Server is free as well. I know there are Linux and Windows ports for VMWare Server (for the host OS), not sure about VirtualBox. The one problem with virtual machines is the students' computers will have to have enough resources to run the software plus the guest Linux OS that they install. Some students' home systems might not be quite up to par.

Perhaps another route, although a bit more expensive, could be to go with a computer-on-chip type system like Gumstix [] . They have entire kits that can be purchased for about the price of a netbook. The students would just need access to a keyboard, mouse, USB hub, and monitor. It doesn't run Ubuntu by default, but there are instructions on how to install it. That could be an interesting project as part of the class, even as a final project after the students learn how to install to the desktop. They can take that experience and apply it toward installing Linux onto an embedded device like the Gumstix. Just a thought :)

Pendrive linux Distros (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31917152)

You could try to find one on this website

I recommend you

Slax and DSL (Damn Small Linux)

I think Slax is the best on the pendrive linux category

Slitaz (1)

dsmithhfx (1772254) | more than 4 years ago | (#31917236)

30 Mb [compressed], uses minimal resources, runs on a wide range of hardware, including some really old stuff. Not ubuntu or fedora -based, but solid if minimalistic linux distro. A bit more challenging than the mainstream, in that pre-cooked solutions aren't always just a google away, which is possibly a good thing assuming you want people to learn. An aside: if you want ubunto or fedora, just use it and stop faffing about -- nothing wrong with either that some half-assed 'reskinning' will cure. It wil take all of 10-minutes of your time (including the download) to test out slitaz.

Netbook + "Lab fee?" (1)

RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) | more than 4 years ago | (#31917252)

Would be possible to get a cheap low low end Netbook added on as a lab or material fee?

Everyone gets a thumbdrive, a netbook, and a semester tog et Linux booted on that thing.

Don't use virtualization. (1)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 4 years ago | (#31917318)

If I will see a person who learned how to use Linux by running it in VM, I will punch him in the face.

Install Ubuntu on a USB flash drive, or, if their hardware is too old to boot from a USB drive, use a live CD.

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