Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Virtualbox with Ubuntu and Xubuntu

It has been a few years since I last used Ubuntu Linux and since some of my students are using it, I decided to install it on Virtualbox and see what the fuss is all about.  Ubuntu used to be quite a nice system, but it seems to have regressed terribly and is now almost unusably slow and clunky due to the Unity/Gnome desktop.

My favourite desktop system is KDE.  I like my rotating desktop cube and wobbly windows, but on slower systems, I use the simpler XFCE or LXDE.  Gnome/Unity however, is the Win8 of Linux at this stage of its development and is much unloved.

Security Problems

The Ubuntu desktop also presents a serious security risk in its default configuration, since the Lens sends all your local and remote search activities to various third parties.  Ubuntu now is really a spyware system just like that other legacy system when it is infected with viruses and junkware. The only difference is that in Ubuntu, the spyware is deliberately installed, though it can be deactivated with a dozen or so clicks of the mouse, it doesn't deactivate everything.  The result is that Ubuntu is a total no-no for government users, lawyers, doctors and the like.  Anybody that needs FIPS compliance, should use Red Hat Fedora Linux.

However, Linux is Linux is Linux - so it can be fixed without too much trauma, by switching to the XFCE desktop.

Of course, you can avoid half the hassle by installing Xubuntu to begin with and not Ubuntu, but most people select the default download and then they are disappointed with the performance and don't know how to fix it.  So here, I deliberately use the bad version and then repair it.

Get It

Go to and download the latest and greatest version of Ubuntu desktop edition.

Make a VM

Run Virtualbox and make a new VM.  Select Ubuntu Linux for the type, size the disk as 30GB and allocate 1GB RAM to it.  Boot up and select the ISO image file you downloaded from Canonical and let it go with all the defaults.


Once you have Ubuntu up and running and experience its sluggishness, you'll be permanently cured of this  version of Linux in no time.

Click the lens at the top left, search for a 'terminal' and install some fixes:
$ sudo apt-get install linux-headers-$(uname -r) build-essential xubuntu-desktop

That lot will ensure that you can use the system for software development as well.

Restart Using XFCE

Restart the VM:
$ sudo reboot

 When you log in, select the XFCE desktop in the round little thingy to the right of your user name.

Your system will now run a hundred times faster.

Install Guest Additions

To make it work properly, you also need to install the guest additions, so that you can resize the screen, make the mouse move smoothly, share files with the host and make sound work.

Click on the top Virtualbox menu bar Devices and Install Guest Additions.  Nothing much will happen.  Open the File System browser and click VBoxAdditions.  Right click and select Open Terminal Here.  Run the file:
$ sudo ./VBoxL[tab] 

Now when you reboot the VM again, things should be honky dory.

Browser Security

While I am on the security complaints topic, you can make your internet browsing a lot more pleasant by installing a couple of add-ons called Adblock Plus and Ghostery.  These two will make your internet browsing much faster and will suppress the worst of the web. These are available for most browsers, even for Google Chrome.  In Firefox, click on Tools, Add-ons and search for them.  In Chrome, click the Spanner, then Tools, Extensions.  It is a similar process in other browsers.

Other VM Optimizations

In a Virtual Machine, you should also disable power management and the screen saver, since they will cause trouble and you already got these features on your host.


If the Virtualbox guest additions process complains that it cannot find the correct kernel headers even though you know that you installed them and other things compile just fine, then you may need to upgrade Virtualbox itself on the host machine.  The error message is a maybe a little subtle - it cannot find the correct kernel headers, so you got to upgrade.

La voila!


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