…VirtualBox.  Yes, I know this isn’t what you were expecting right after I promised you a rundown of my processes for choosing a GNU/Linux distro.  I actually played around with several different distributions while in Michigan, but was stymied in almost every attempt by VMWare Workstation or possibly by Vista itself (as opposed to, say, my own incompetence; at least that’s the story I’m sticking to)  due to some problems in allowing the guest OS to recognize and accept and use the NAT internet bridge.  Consequently I burned through five distributions in one week (I know, sounds horrible and negligent at best).

The order of business was as follows (yes, I’m aware that it’s GNU/Linux instead of just Linux.  Just pretend that’s what I’m saying every time.):

  • Mandriva Linux Spring 2009.  After installing it, I tried setting up the display for my laptop screen, a process which took a bit more time and thought than I was prepared for.  Following a search for the package manager (I never found it. Am I starting to sound like a total n00b?), I decided to try the next distro.  The internet actually worked perfectly every time on this distro, but the fact that I couldn’t get packages I need for work (tcl, gnuplot, and of course Frozen Bubble) meant that I had to pass it by.
  • Linux Mint 7 Gloria.  This has been my favorite distro so far, and is actually what I’m using right now to write this article.  It’s efficient, it does a fair amount of things without me having to jump through a hundred make install fire hoops, and, most importantly, it’s green.  Based off of Ubuntu with a mind to make simplicity more “elegant”, it’s a pretty slick interface right down to the fortune cookie-esque quote that pops up every time I open a terminal. (“They’ll recognize you soon.  Hide.”)  The internet would start out fine but suddenly and inexplicably break the second time I would start the virtual machine, causing me to regretfully put it aside and move on.
  • OpenSuse 11.  I have this distro installed on my desktop computer.  Suse represented my first foray into Linux a few years ago when I had to learn IRAF for research, and was my first “this is so much cooler than Windows” experience, partially because it was green (you think I’m joking).  Unfortunately, though I thought it might provide me solace, it never even once recognized any form of internet.
  • Debian 5 Lenny.  This is the distro we use at work because it’s also the distro used by the NSCL.  Since Debian is supposed to be “rock solid”, I thought it’d give me the best shot of working with VMWare.  Unfortunately, it never even made it out of the starting gates as it needed to access the internet during installation and couldn’t, resulting in the most minimal of installations.  Poor Lenny.
  • Ubunto 9.0 Jaunty Jackalope.  At this point I was beginning to suspect that my constant erasing and rewriting of virtual machines in VMWare was starting to have an effect on the integrity of the system.  VMWare recognized the Ubuntu ISO and proceeded to “easy install” which left me to watch as VMWare did some tight-lipped installing and promptly crashed on the first boot before I even got to the GruB.  Pass.

So at this point in the game I’d basically given up on VMWare and running Linux on my laptop virtually.  I had begun to contemplate more wild and extreme procedures involving reformatting hard drives, etc. before remembering a grad student friend at MSU who had tipped us off to VirtualBox. So I gave it a download and after a few steps, here we are.  Back on Linux Mint without internet problems, typing this very article.

Now, my caveat is that I have absolutely no interest in becoming a “Linux guru”.  Doubtless some hard core root user out there has read through the above, scoffing at my inability to remember some obscure command line passcode that fixes one third of the problem and sets you up for another twenty minutes of apt-get fun, or my dependence upon a GUI-based package manager.  This same person is probably also scoffing at my “bubblegum” distro and wondering why I even switched from Windows.  Listen, you: I use vi, gnuplot, and Tcl scripts at work, and I’m learning it as I go in order to be able to do what I need to do to do physics.  Beyond that, I don’t care if I’m using GNU/Linux, UNIX, Solaris, FreeBSD, Windows 98, or Windows 7 (I will probably check out the release candidate for same at some point in the near future) – if it doesn’t access the internet within twenty minutes of its first boot, it is not for me.

With these things in mind, I heartily endorse the VirtualBox / Linux Mint combo for anyone looking to get in on the GNU/Linux action and still feel cool about the way your OS is colored (Really, I’m not joking about the color).