Virtually Portable Linux – part 2

“Nothing is simple, nothing is easy, and nothing ever works right the first time.” — Dennis’ Corollary to Murphy’s Law.  Allow for it and proceed anyway.

Okay, taking a whole new run at this one.

First, I had a disagreement with the latest upgrade to our campus security software (it flagged the portable VBox as “suspicious activity” and quarantined it) and had to work around that.

Then the flash drive I used first developed a flaw, so while I work that out (probably by reformatting it), I switched to another brand 16GB drive, again a higher-priced one (and therefore, I’m hoping, higher speed).

Since Mint 9 was now out, I decided to use that instead.

Same procedure, install the portable VirtualBox, then install the Mint Linux distro.  Marched along pretty well.

It reboots, but won’t acknowledge the VBoxGuestAdditions anywhere even through I used VirtualBox to install them (and it shows a check by them in the CD/DVD list dropdown menu for VBox), so I shut Linux down completely.

I took the extra precaution of Sharing the entire flash drive as a folder.

Restarted the Linux Mint.

Now the VBoxGuestAdditions link is there.

I clicked on the Menu in the bottom toolbar, and opened Terminal.

su to become superuser

change directory to the / base, and do a dir and see “media” so change to that.

The options are different: floppy, floppy0, and the VBoxAdditions, so I change to the VBoxAdditions directory and use the command:


And we’re off again installing that.  Just a reboot inside Linux, and we now have a mouse that works with both Windows and Linux without “switching”.

But the Linux Window won’t fill in completely — it’s mostly another program view.  Reboot.

Okay, takes some click-&-dragging, but I get the full window while maintaining my Windows bar at the bottom of the screen, and have the VBox window inside that, and the Linux Mint inside that.

The update is a little shield that says I have 66 updates (well, it’s a pretty new distro) and with just a click and a password it goes off to handle it.  Pretty slick, almost up to Windows ease on that.

Oh, it now says 153 updates.  Ah, well.  Click on Install.  And it’s off to download and install.

There’s a very noticeable delay in switching into the Linux Mint window (the frame appears, but fills in after a bit).  Going to anything else is normal.  I’m guessing it’s the flash drive access speed.

Mint comes with a lot of stuff already installed, so that has to be updated along with everything else.  However, it does save on having to go get it, and it all shows up in the Mint menu system, which is pretty good.

While I’m waiting, I change the screensaver time to a hour, and change the screensaver image (the torus).

I end up with a fully functional (AFAICanTell) Mint Linux virtual machine.

Virtually Portable Linux – part 1

Trying something new to experiment with Linux.

I wanted something I could use wherever I was, and add to as needed.

I started with a Windows XP computer, 32-bit.

I bought a 16GB USB flash drive (one of the better ones, normally $80 but on sale for $39.95) which should be fast enough to be bearable, or so I hope.  (The cheaper drives use slower memory once you get over 4GB, so I wanted to use a better drive for something this large.)

I removed the U3 stuff to get the maximum space.  I checked to make sure it was formatted to FAT32, as this seems to be safer than NTFS with the various distros of Linux.

Then I went hunting, and turned up a portable version of VirtualBox.  The instructions were at MakeTechEasier.  The actual, unofficial portable version was here.

The instructions were pretty decent, although not quite in sync with the latest version.  I downloaded the install file, set it to get the 32-bit and 64-bit versions, and compress the installation files.  It does take a while, and even when it looks done, it still shows a box telling you it’s doing something.  Turns out it was setting up the files, extracting and compressing them.  It took a while, but I continued to see my flash drive light blinking, and the sign remained visible onscreen indicating it was working.

I ended up with my F: drive (the USB flash drive) showing a list inside the folder for F:\Portable-VirtualBox:

screenshot of my USB drive

screenshot of USB drive

I clicked on Portable-VirtualBox.exe and got the normal VirtualBox screen.

Cool enough.

Now, I needed to pick a Linux distro (short for “distribution”, a flavor of Linux to use).  I’ve been seeing good things about a variation of Ubuntu with all the most useful add-ons already installed, called Mint, so I thought I’d try that one for starters.  Having already spent a lot of time downloading, upgrading, and installing stuff for Fedora, I was ready for something a little easier, please.

I downloaded the LinuxMint version 8 code named “Helena” (apparently Ubuntu has a thing for animal code names, and Mint went for a feminine moniker: “always female names ending with “a”.”).  This was an “.iso” file which is the standard basis for a single file to install a Linux distro.

I went with the Main edition (for 32-bit systems in the USA).  I didn’t want to be limited to running this on just a 64-bit system, although there is an optional version optimized for that.

I also first copied the PDF manual for Mint to the flash drive, to have it handy.  Plus, it gave me something to read while waiting for the big .iso file to download.  It was 704, 662 KB.

Now, to set up inside VirtualBox.  Inside VirtualBox, I clicked on the blue New sun, selected Linux as the operating system I wanted to install, and hit my first snag.  No Mint.  It was supposed to be like Ubuntu, but I didn’t want to hit any snags that might arise if something was looking for a hook named Ubuntu and it wasn’t there, so I picked “Other Linux.”

I allowed for 512MB of memory and set it to create a new hard disk with dynamically expanding storage.  I allowed for 8GB for the virtual hard drive, which would be on the USB flash drive:


This basically sets up a virtual hard drive using part of the storage on the flash drive, and installs the Mint Linux on it in condition to run through VirtualBox.

Once this was completed, VirtualBox showed me a layout of the settings for Mint inside VirtualBox.    I changed to enable the 3D acceleration.

Started my new installation, entitled Mint8.

A wizard kicked in, to install the system.  It wanted installation media, and assumed I was using my D: drive for a disc.  Nope — browsed for the F: drive and the .iso file instead.

Some flashes of code, some screens, and Mint is up.  There’s a nice clear Install Linux Mint 8 icon.

VirtualBox requires you to let the mouse be “captured” in the VirtualBox operating system so it can “see” the mouse, react to clicks, etc.  Right CTRL button gets you in and out of it (there’s a reminder in the lower right corner of the VirtualBox screen about this).  I allow the mouse to be “captured” and start the process.

There’s a wizard for the installation, and I follow along with that.  Had to change the time zone from Eastern to Central.  Accepted the standard keyboard layout.

There’s the scary part here where it says “this computer has no operating systems on it” and wants to “erase and use the entire hard disk” but it just means it can’t find another operating system on my flash drive, and will only use the VirtualBox 8GB drive I’ve allotted to it already (check the size of the hard drive shown to confirm).

I put in my name, a password, and rename the computer to use “flashdrive” instead of “computer”.

Working, working.  Shows some screens boasting about Linux Mint.  Claims to not need anti-virus/anti-spyware, which I don’t believe — Linux is just less of a target because there’s less of it, so hackers focus on more popular systems like Windows and the Mac OS.

Still, a cheerful, confident attitude as it goes along setting up the drive for itself.

Since I’m putting this on the flash drive, I didn’t need to go through the hassle of partitioning my C: drive or anything like that, as outlined in the Mint manual to allow co-existing operating systems.

This part is slow, but I do get a progress line and percentage amount.  “The installation should take between 10 and 15 minutes.”  Well, maybe for some, but not in my case.  More like 45 minutes.

Reboots, and there we are.  Now, I need to install the VBoxAdditions, so I use the VirtualBox Devices dropdown menu and select to install those.  Mint pops up a question, I tell it to go ahead, and I get the VBoxAdditions icon on the screen.

Right-click on it, open the folder containing it, and right-click to get a list of programs to open it.  Nothing that looks like Terminal so I go down to Use a custom command and try sh just for luck.  Nothing happens, as far as I can tell.  Try open with sh and still nothing.

Okay, probably an authorization thing.  Need to become Superuser (= Windows administrator status).  Go down to the bottom of the Mint window, click on the Menu, and get a nice group of choices, including Terminal.

Slightly different from the Fedora sequence.  This time, I use

  • su to become superuser
  • cd / to change directory
  • dir to get a list of directories — ah, there’s media.
  • cd /media
  • dir for a list of directories, and get cdrom, cdrom0, floppy, floppy0 which isn’t too helpful.  I guess.
  • cd cdrom
  • dir and there’s my command.
  • sh

and it’s off, installing the additions.

Reboot when that’s done, and this time it says it has no problem with the mouse being used in Windows or Linux without switching.  The Machine dropdown menu for VirtualBox has a resize option, so once I’m logged in and running in Linux, I use that to expand the screen.  I like it so I can still see my Windows taskbar at the bottom of the monitor and the VirtualBox surround window, but otherwise have a full Linux screen.

Now, Mint has a little unlocked padlock in the bottom bar that the manual says indicates updates are available.  Click on that, give my password, and start the updating.  Another long session, I expect.  Oh, good — 239 updates available.  I might save that for later.

The Mint menu is a nice feature.  Lots of stuff pre-installed, too.  Very good organization, overall.

So far, so good.  This seems to work well.  Next, I’ll try the flash drive on a different computer, say my laptop with Linux 64-bit.  Let’s see if that chokes.