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Linux for Macintosh

LinuxWorld

June 16, 2000
Web posted at: 8:57 a.m. EDT (1257 GMT)

(IDG) -- Connectix Virtual PC (VPC) allows the computing world to run other operating systems on Macintosh hardware. Now Connectix offers VPC with Red Hat Linux that allows you to start running your favorite OS on your favorite hardware in just minutes. VPC can run on most modern desktop Macs (G3 and G4) and also on newer PowerBook, iBook, and iMac computers.

VPC has been under development for a few years, but until now Connectix has concentrated on VPC for Windows. It was possible for hackers to install Linux inside VPC by hand, although there were plenty of compatibility problems, and emulated systems crashed frequently. VPC with Red Hat Linux, therefore, isn't a revelation. Connectix simply signed an OEM agreement with Red Hat to ship a new version of VPC with Red Hat Linux.

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Probably the biggest benefit is that VPC with Red Hat Linux is preinstalled and preconfigured so it's ready to run right out of the box -- no partitioning or other setup is required. That is important because all Linux distributions for Macintosh are harder to install than their Intel equivalents. The two most important barriers are a different disk partitioning schema and the inability to use a standard LILO bootloader. Even experienced Linux users moving from the Intel platform encounter problems with Mac hardware.

On the other hand, VPC with Red Hat Linux isn't targeted only at newbies. You probably know that Linux/PowerPC development has always been a little behind that of Linux/Intel. So if you want to try the newest GNOME/KDE versions or use some apps that simply don't exist on Linux/PowerPC (i.e., Oracle or StarOffice), VPC might be the only solution. Another issue is cross-platform development. Programmers will benefit from having, for example, a GCC compiler for Linux/Intel running just a mouse click away.

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VPC emulates an ordinary PC computer with a Pentium MMX-class processor, IDE hard disk, ATAPI CDROM, VGA/SVGA graphics card with up to 4 MB video memory (3-D accelerator emulation isn't supported), Sound Blaster 16, modems, printers, and removable drives.

VPC can be treated as a Vmware equivalent for Macintoshes because it has similar architecture and design. When VPC runs a virtual machine inside a host machine, the virtual PC has its own BIOS, hard disk, floppy, etc.

VPC was a bit harder to create than VMware because it needed to run alien binary code prepared for a different OS, processor, and hardware. That is the same problem that the ARDI Executor Mac emulator encounters in the PC world. VPC converts all x86 instructions into native PowerPC on the fly, so it has some speed disadvantages.

VPC performs better than VMware when it comes to hardware support. Of course, hardware compatibility isn't much of an obstacle in the Macintosh world, which enjoys a single vendor with well defined product lines. The PC market, in contrast, is unpredictable when it comes to hardware compatibility. Furthermore, VMware is a cross-platform solution intended to work with completely different operating systems.

VPC supports Ethernet, so there is no problem setting up networking in virtual Linux. VPC supports TCP/IP, IPX (NetWare), and NetBEUI (Microsoft Networks) protocols. You will also need to install Open Transport (included on the Mac OS installation CD-ROM) to provide Ethernet device support for the Mac OS and VPC.

VPC with Red Hat Linux uses the Mac OS Internet setup parameters so you can use Linux's Internet connectivity abilities right out of box -- no additional steps are required. That's really impressive.

Virtual machine is able to share the same IP address as the Mac OS. The VPC Setup Assistant automatically configures Linux to use the IP of the Mac OS. VPC versions previous to 3.0 were unable to share the same IP address between the Mac and the virtual computer (IP address sharing is similar to bridged networking in VMware). If you prefer, you can revert to a previous version of VPC's networking features from the preferences dialog. The virtual machine will then show up as a separate system on the network, and you can even copy files between Mac and Linux machines over the LAN.

Ease of installation

Hardware requirements for VPC with Red Hat Linux are similar to VPC with Windows. You need a G3 or G4 Mac with a PowerPC processor running at 350 MHz or faster, 96 MB RAM minimum (128 MB RAM is recommended), 1.1 GB of hard disk space, and Mac OS 8.6 or later. The great thing about a VPC installation is that it doesn't require Mac OS rebooting, added extensions, or other system modifications.

VPC with Red Hat Linux comes with Setup Assistant, a utility that helps you set up VPC to connect with printers, your network, and other supported hardware. It also comes with Configuration Manager, which helps to configure and manage VPC parameters (RAM size, video, virtual disks, modem, etc.). You can create a number of configurations for different occasions.

Access to peripheral devices (i.e., printers, modems, drives) in VPC depends on their Mac OS support. That means Linux will be able to use hardware that is normally unsupported in PC and PowerPC Linux, i.e., soft modems known in the PC world as Winmodems and also in common use among Mac users. (most built-in PowerBook modems are soft modems). You can even use USB printers, keyboards, and mice with Linux if the Mac drivers are installed. You don't need to recompile the kernel for USB support because Linux will recognize the peripherals as generic PC devices.

A virtual machine uses a virtual hard drive, which is in fact one big file. You can use VPC preferences to set up many virtual drives. You can even back up your preferred Linux or have many different configurations if you like. It's great for beginners -- if they do something horrible, they can simply revert to the backup version of Linux.

You can run Virtual PC within a window on the desktop (the default) or in full-screen mode. Scripting is even possible via AppleScript, so you can launch applications and run repetitive tasks automatically. Another great thing is the ability to bidirectionally copy and paste text between Mac and Linux if the Linux X Window application you're using supports copy and paste functions.

Another impressive feature is the Save State function, which causes VPC to save the current virtual machine state (the content of RAM, the cache, and the virtual processor registers) to a file. That snapshot allows you to take up where you left off without waiting for system bootup, starting applications, opening files, etc.

Running an enterprise database or Internet server on Linux inside VPC isn't recommended -- you'll encounter a slowdown and lose the benefits of the PowerPC's processor horsepower. VPC also isn't intended for games (i.e., it lacks support for 3-D acceleration), so don't expect to easily run the newest 3-D games such as Quake or Unreal Tournament. Nor does VPC support SCSI devices, so you won't be able to use external SCSI disks, which are common on Macintoshes.

Connectix competition

VPC is well known among Mac users, but it isn't the only PC emulator available for the Mac. SoftWindows from FWB Software is a Windows-specific solution similar to Wine but using a customized version of Windows. Another option is the promising Bochs emulator, which has been open sourced lately, thanks to sponsorship by MandrakeSoft.

The strongest direct competitor for VPC is Blue Label PowerEmulator from Lismore Software Systems, which is also a virtual machine capable of running PC software on a Power Mac. It costs less (prices start from $19.95), but it only comes with PTS-DOS, an MS-DOS-like operating system. Blue Label has been officially tested with most of the popular Linux distributions: Red Hat, Mandrake, Slackware, Debian, SuSE, and TurboLinux. It can also run on other Unix systems, including SCO Unix, QNX, Solaris, FreeBSD, and OpenStep. It has full SCSI support and emulates the Voodoo 2 video graphics accelerator. The problem with Blue Label is that it isn't preconfigured and doesn't come with the OS.

The reverse of VPC is also available. Mac-On-Linux makes it possible to run the Mac OS and applications on top of the Linux/PowerPC platform. If you want to get Mac OS applications to work on the Linux/Intel platform, you can also use ARDI Executor, Basilisk, or vMac emulator.

Virtual PC with Red Hat Linux costs $99 through Connectix's online store.




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RELATED SITES:
Connectix Website
Bochs Website
Mac-on-Linux Website
ARDI Executor
Yellow Dog Linux Website

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