Imagine this scenario: you need to run your favorite application under Linux but the application has not been ported to Linux yet and there is no other alternative that would completely suit your needs. Or you need to work with several operating systems.
Of course you can have multiple OSes installed in multiboot configuration but that means that often you would end up with limited access to data stored in other OS installations and you cannot work with two or more systems simultaneously. One possible solution is to run (possibly several) guest OSes inside virtual machines installed on the host system. In order to do that special piece of software is needed to emulate and manage the virtual machines. Examples of such software are VMware, VirtualPC (both commercial), Bochs, Plex86 (both are free but yet not suitable for ordinary use). But there is another promising alternative coming soon: Serenity Virtual station.
I am currently using VMware Workstation and I usually work with several Linux distributions, BSDs and other OSes installed under WMware. However I have been periodically encountering some stability problems regarding VMware and I have been looking for some alternative. Then I came across Serenity Virtual Station project and they provided me with a trial copy.
Note that SVista is still under development and the early beta trial version that I have received for the purpose of testing is not yet available to the public. This article is focused on Linux version of SVista and therefore some features may be different or missing with respect to Windows and OS/2 version.
Hardware and software requirements
- PC equipped with at least 400MHz or faster processor (Pentium II or compatible, 700MHz or faster is recommended for reasonable performance)
- Enough memory for host OS including SVista and the guest OS. In practice, it is possible to run average Linux distro with X Window System installed inside SVista virtual machine on PC with 128 MB RAM. Of course more memory
- Disk space: enough space for virtual hard drives. Each virtual hard drive occupies 100MB to 4000MB. SVista is able to compress empty space on virtual
- Any graphic card supported under X Window System will do, 8 bpp depth or higher.
- Any network card supported under Linux.
- Linux kernel 2.4.x is required at the moment, support for 2.6.x kernel.
Supported host operating systems
These OSes will be supported as host operating systems when the first version of SVista is released:
Windows NT 4 SP6, Windows 2000 SP2, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. Linux (kernel 2.4) will also be supported, but the initial feature set may be different compared to the Windows version. Also OS/2 and eComStation will be supported as host OSes (again, the feature set may be different). FreeBSD should be supported too.
Supported guest operating systems
The following guest OSes will be fully supported in the first production version: OS/2 2.1, Warp3, Warp4, WarpServer, Warp 4 Convenience Pack, eComStation 1.1, Windows NT 4, Windows 2000 and XP, DOS. Other operating systems are under testing, for example Linux.
SVista installation (under Linux)
During installation SVista kernel module is compiled, therefore it is necessary to have corresponding kernel sources installed. I had troubles to compile SVista kernel module on Red Hat Linux kernels. For the moment being it is safer to use vanilla kernel from ftp.kernel.org. SVista comes with startup script which takes care about loading necessary modules at system startup. When upgrading to another kernel version (or just recompiling kernel with different options) it is necessary to recompile SVista module too.
Serenity Virtual Station
First try: Damn Small Linux
At first I have tried to boot some small live Linux distribution. For this purpose I have chosen Damn Small Linux which is a nifty lightweight live Linux distribution that fits on miniCD. Configuring virtual station is pretty straightforward: pick Linux as guest OS type, then point SVista to boot from ISO image of Damn Small Linux instead of physical CD-ROM drive, set the size of memory for the virtual machine, setup virtual hard drive (size and location), turn on networking support. After powering on virtual machine Damn Small Linux boots without problem.
Damn Small Linux running under SVista
Second try: Vector Linux
Next I have tried to install Vector Linux 4.0 to virtual hard disk under SVista. Vector Linux is small footprint Linux distribution aimed at low performance computers. First boot from ISO image of VL4.0, subsequent installation to virtual drive completed without problem. Then I set VM to boot from virtual hard drive. Again, Vector Linux comes up without problem. After that I have spent some time playing with Vector Linux, doing some compiles – performance looks good.
Vector Linux 4.0 install
Third try: DOS
Apart from Linux distros I have also run DOS (no screenshots here, everybody knows what does DOS look like :-). I have not tried Windows at the moment.
As this is beta software I have agreed not to publish benchmark comparisons at the moment, however I can say that SVista looks very promising. The beta version exhibited comparable performance to VMware and one can expect that the final version will bring further improvements and optimizations. I am eagerly awaiting the final production version.
SVista is commercial product. In detail, the user interface part will probably be released under some free license (possibly LGPL?) while the virtual machine core will be covered by commercial license.
According to Serenity Systems, Serenity Virtual Station will be probably released in the 2nd or early 3rd quarter of 2004. Several features like support of USB and sound devices are still under development – it is not clear whether these will be included in the first release or not. Later releases will also include the possibility of saving and restoring virtual machine state. Support for 2.6.x branch of Linux kernels will be added when the 2.6.x kernel becomes more widely used. A public beta version is planned in April 2004.
While this article is based on beta version of SVista which is still under development I can say that it looks very promising. The sooner there is another alternative of virtual machine software to pick from the better.
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