This tutorial will be fairly sparse on text for two reasons:
- The setup process is fairly straight forward. In fact its your run of the mill Linux install process, so if you’ve installed a Linux Machine before you’ll feel right at home. If you have never installed a linux distro, I suggest you look at more detailed how to’s like Lifehackers Guide to Installing Linux. (In fact, if you are new to this check out Lifehackers complete guide to linux) and/or check out this illustrated guide to installing Ubuntu on gHacks.
- The best way to understand whats going on is to see it first hand. So screenshots are more useful than text.
Alright. So I’ll assume that you’ve already downloaded and installed VirtualBox and an .iso of Linux Mint 10 (I would suggest downloading via torrent, since it continuously checks the file for errors while its downloading) Note: In this tutorial I use the AMD64 Gnome version, but for the most part this process is similar regardless of the exact version or desktop shell.
Open VirtualBox and select ‘New’. Look for a light blue star icon near the top left. A user friendly wizard will pop up and guide you through the process. For Operating System select ‘Linux’ and then select ‘Ubuntu’ (or, Ubuntu 64, if your using a 64 bit version). I have seen other tutorials tell you to select Linux 2.6 but I don’t see any advantage to using that. Linux Mint is based off Ubuntu so I don’t see a reason not to use the configurations pertinent to that distro. This can always be changed later in VirtualBox, so don’t worry too much about it.
Next page instructs you to select how much RAM the Virtual Machine gets. This will depend on how much RAM your host system has. The default is 512, and most Linux Distros can run on 512MB of R AM. They will not perform optimally though, so I prefer to give mine 1024 (or, 1 GB) of RAM to play with. My host system has 4GB so I am able to do this, if you only have 1 or 2 GB of RAM on your system (or if your host is a 32 bit OS) then you should leave it be.
The next step is creating the the hard drive your installation will use. Inside VirtualBox this hard drive acts exactly like a physical drive would. On the host system it appears as a .VDI file but in the Virtual Machine it can be formatted, encrypted, mounted, ETC just like a physical hard drive. I have been choosing to use Dynamically Expanding Storage when creating a new Virtual Hard Drive. That way even if my virtual machine can get up to 20 GB of storage space, the file stored on the host doesn’t become that large until I actual use all 20 GB of that storage. If your using this virtual machine just for testing, leave the hard drive at 8GB. If you plan on using it alongside your host operating system you could get away with leaving it at 8GB also, but you’ll; need to setup the VM to have access to files on the host system. If you are going to use this VM as a private and secure operating system purposefully separate from your host system then you should consider making the hard drive much larger, I’d say 20 -> 30 GB is you plan to use it long term without transferring any data back and fourth.
VirtualBox System Settings
Once the VHD setup is done start editing the system settings in VirtualBox for your new Virtual Machine. Select your machine from the list and then click on any of the categories that appear on the right, lets start with General. This is where you can change the OS and Version. If your VM is working theres no need to touch this, but if you are having issues you can easily change these settings without effecting your data on the VM.
In System you can adjust the memory your VM gets, the boot order, Chipset, ETC. Again for the most part these do not need to be touched so long as everything is working correctly. The tab over allows you to control how many CPU cores t he VM can utilize (Just like RAM, this will depend on your host hardware and how much power your host system can sacrifice). I would suggest heading over to the Acceleration tab in system and enabling VT-x/AMD-v so your VM can utilize AMD’s virtualization power (This will only work if you have an AMD CPU and have virtualization enabled in your BIOS). This can yield a performance increase so its worth turning on if you are able.
Down to display you can adjust how much Video Memory the VM gets to use. Like RAM and CPU this depends on how beefy your hardware is. I have a ATI 5850 so I give my VM’s 128MB of memory whenever I can (Which is small even though its as high as virtualbox allows). Should you have a powerful GPU you should also enable 3D Acceleration along with 128mb of video memory to really experience compiz fusion effects flawlessly. If you use an onboard video card I would suggest leaving everything at the default level, since two operating systems sharing an underpowered card can cause things to get unstable.
Here you can add virtual CD drives and .vdi files to serve as secondary hard drives. For the most part I leave this be, with the default .vdi of the install and an empty CD drive. It can be useful to mount other .iso’s and such at boot, that way the VM always has them. Not sure why you’d want that long term but it can be done.
Audio, Network, Serial Ports and USB Settings
All of these are nice to have and should something go wrong changing some of these settings could help fix the problem. Thus far all the distros I have tried work just fine without me touching these settings, so chances are your install will to.
Shared Folders Settings
Heres the part where you can share data between your VM and your host machine. Unless you add folders here your VM will have no idea where it is and will not have access to any of the files on your primary machine. The VM will operate as though its all alone on its very own hard drive, oblivious to the host machine.
After all your system settings are tweaked to y our hearts content double click on your virtual machine from the list in VirtualBox. A first run wizard should pop up and prompt you to select the installation media. Navigate to the .iso you downloaded and your off!
Virtualbox will boot the .iso like its a Live CD, so you will be greeted with a clean Linux Mint desktop. Remember, this is just like a live CD so nothing is installed or permanent yet, its just booted into virtual RAM. You can wonder around and make sure everything is working (Take note of your internet connectivity and the monitor resolutions available), and when your done start the installation process via the shortcut on the desktop.
If you’ve installed Ubuntu or any derivatives before the process should be familiar.
You can chose to have Mint automatically format your hard drive (remember, this isn’t your hosts hard drive its a virtual one, but your VM has no idea its virtual) or do it manually. I like to manually adjust my partitions so I can add about a gig (or two) of SWAP space. Since the machine only gets 1 GB of RAM from the host (this can be increased if you host system has plenty of ram) I like to have plenty of SWAP available just in case. I use EXT4, but if you aren’t sure which file system to use read through How To Geeks explanation (Spoiler: For basic use, just go for EXT4 its the easiest and most widely used at this point).
From there the installer goes off on its own. A nice slideshow shows off the better parts of Linux Mint, like web browsing, music/video watching, ETC ETC. Seems like a little late in the game to be doing a sales pitch but its a very professional touch. One thing that always bugs me if how it tries to download Language packs at the end of the installation. I always chose to skip that step because honestly, I never use more than one language and don’t see a need to spend 10 minutes of my life waiting for my linux distro to learn how to speak Spanish and German.
Once the install is complete Mint will remind you that you are still inside a Live CD (Which is a very nice touch, since really theres no difference between the two when you first start setting everything up). Reboot and and virtualbox will then boot from the virtual hard drive, which now has Mint installed on it.
Once the reboot is complete I suggest creating a snapshot of your virtual machine. Just head to file -> create snapshot and name it something like “Mint Fresh Install”. This has VirtualBox save an image of your virtual machine that you can always switch back to (kinda like a manual system restore). Its useful to do one right after the first boot since then you always have a fresh and unaltered copy of the machine that you can revert back to at any time.
At this point its probably bugging you that your screen is only 800 x 600. This might be okay if you are leaving it inside a window, but I have two monitors on my host Machine so I’d like to dedicate one to my new operating system (Thats right, a different operating system on each monitor, booyah). To enable the machine to display other resolutions we need to install VirtualBoxes guest additions.
Just head up to virtualboxes devices menu at the top of the window (Not inside the virtual machine, the window around the virtual machine) and go down to “Install Guest Additions” (Note: in order for virtualbox to mount this disk the VM will need to have an empty CD slot in the System preferences of VirtualBox). If all is well you should see a CD mount on the desktop within a few seconds. Go to Computer – > VBOXADDITIONS_…… and Mint should pop up sayingf that “The media has been detected as “UNIX software”” and have a button for you t o “Open Autorun Prompt,”, which you should do. A command line will pop up and g o through the motions automagically. Thsi is the easiest way to install the additons, though it can be done via command line.
Once the terminal window says ‘press enter to finish’ do so and restart your VM. When you boot up again you can adjust the resolution to your hearts desire (well, kinda. It still tends to be a little restricted but you’ll have more choices than 800 x 600).
If you have any problems let me know in the comments, I’d be happy to try to help you with anything I can. More advanced issues are better troubleshot on the Linux Mint Forums.
Once everything is installed start tweaking a way! With a little tweaking your OS could look alot like this:
(Note: Not my video. Also note, the OS in the video is Mint 9, but the functionality it shows is all available in 10)