Linux to Mac

3 Reasons to Run Virtualized Linux

- 2008.05.22 - Tip Jar

Following up on my review of VMware Fusion, I wanted to present a few reasons you might want to run virtual Linux on your Mac.

Mirrored Development Environments

The most compelling reason to run virtual Linux is to create a development environment that is identical to your production platform. Linux is found on the majority of web hosts, from the least expensive to the most pricey. As a web developer, I appreciate being able to mirror the environment where my application will ultimately run.

While OS X makes a great development environment, virtual machines allow you to create multiple customized environments. For example, if you are updating an application built with Ruby on Rails 1.2, you can set up a virtual machine (VM) with that version and set up another with Rails 2.0 for a new project. The same is true for the web server or any part of your development stack. It is a lot easier to manage multiple VMs than to constantly tweak OS X for each project.

Having multiple development environments also lets me see the impact on my applications if I upgrade a development component. I can set up a test system, perform the upgrade, test my application, then delete the environment with no risk. That alone makes VMs worthwhile.

Surly X11 Programs

OS X is packed with juicy Unix morsels, and you can easily add more with MacPorts. Still, the depth and breadth of free, open source programs does not match what is available in the Linux universe.

Up until OS X 10.5.2, Leopard was unable to run the popular Gimp image editor using the stock Apple X11 system. There were some issues that prevented Gimp from running that are now resolved. However, once in a while I run into an X11 program that either won't run natively on the Mac or will only do so after jumping through many hoops. For instance, the Dia diagram editor, similar to the commercial program Visio, is a very useful tool for creating flow charts, but it has problems compiling on OS X.

Running a Linux VM lets me avoid compatibility issues while rounding out the strong software bundle that comes with a Mac.

Exploring Different GUI Concepts

An occasional hobby of mine is trying out different GUI systems. In Linux, the window manager is uncoupled from the low level graphics system, leading to an exciting and sometimes confusing array of interface choices.

For example, the Ion window manager uses an interesting stacked frame metaphor. Ratpoison lets you run graphical apps while forsaking the mouse. None of these experimental interfaces would make the best GUI to live and work in daily, but they do let me explore new ideas. LEM

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Keith Winston is a recent Mac convert after five years of Linux on the desktop. He also writes for and created CommandLineMac to focus on the Unix-y power of the Mac. If you find Keith's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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