Linux on the Mac

Linux on the Mac

By now, you know that you can run Windows on an Intel Mac, using either Apple's own Boot Camp or a virtualization program like Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion. But those virtualization programs don't just run Windows: they can also run Linux (or any other Intel-compatible operating system) on your Mac. Here's how.

Get the software

Both VMware and Parallels are available as free, time-limited downloads. (If you decide you like Parallels, it'll cost you US$80; VMware, still in beta, will cost the same when it's released.) The most significant difference right now is that VMware offers clipboard integration, so it's easier to cut and paste items between Mac OS X and Linux; it's only a matter of time before the Mac version of Parallels supports full clipboard integration, too.

Once you've installed your virtualization software, you need to get Linux. While there are many Linux distributions to choose from, I recommend Ubuntu. Out of the box, it offers a clean, well-tested set of Linux applications, utilities, and functionality.

You can download Ubuntu from Choose the Desktop Edition of the Standard Personal Computer version (for x86) of Ubuntu 6.06 LTS.

Before you install Ubuntu, make sure your hardware is ready. I think that 2GB of RAM is a minimum; you're also going to want at least 8GB of free space on your hard drive.

Set up virtualization

Your next steps depend on the virtualization program you've chosen.

VMware Fusion

Launch VMware Fusion and click on the New button. In the New Virtual Machine Assistant, click on Continue. In the next screen, choose Linux as your operating system, specify Ubuntu, and click on Continue.

When you're asked to choose a location for the virtual machine, pick a drive with sufficient free space and click on Continue. You'll also be asked to choose the size of your Virtual Hard Disk; 8GB is good.

In the next screen, click on Use Operating System Installation Disk Image File, select None: Other, and choose the Ubuntu ISO that you downloaded. Click on Finish to boot Ubuntu.

Parallels Desktop

Launch Parallels and click on New. When the OS Installation Assistant appears, select Typical and Next. Set OS Type to Linux and OS Version to Ubuntu Linux. Then click on Next.

Give the virtual machine a name; if you want to choose a specific location for it, click on More Options and specify the drive. When you're done, click on Next.

You now pick your performance options. If you plan to run other Mac OS X applications while you're running Ubuntu, make Mac OS X faster. If you plan to run Linux all by itself, go ahead and let the virtual machine hog your computer's resources.

You'll now be prompted to insert the Ubuntu disc. If you're installing from the ISO image, click on More Options and select it. Click on Finish.

Parallels has trouble displaying 32-bit color in Linux, so click inside the Ubuntu window as soon as it starts booting, and press F4 when you see the message "Start or install Ubuntu." From the text-mode menu that appears, use the arrow keys to select one of the 16-bit graphics modes (such as 800 x 600 x 16), and then press enter. Press enter again to boot Ubuntu.

Install Ubuntu

Whichever virtualization program you're using, after Ubuntu boots up you should see the Ubuntu LiveCD desktop.

As soon as you click inside that window, the virtual machine's cursor should start responding to your mouse. Double-click on the desktop Install icon. Choose your language, time zone, and keyboard layout. You'll then be asked to partition your disk. Don't worry -- you aren't partitioning your real hard disk, just the virtual one. Tell the installer to erase the entire disk, and click on Forward.

The installer will then ask you a few questions to set up your user account on the Ubuntu system. After that, review the install settings and, if you're happy with them, click on Install. When installation is finished, you'll be prompted to restart Ubuntu. After it restarts, you can log in.

Tweak your setup

You're not quite done yet: you'll need to tweak your setup so you can use your Mac's optical drive, and cut and paste text and share files between the two OSs.

To start, in Ubuntu go to System: Administration: Synaptic Package Manager, and enter your Ubuntu password. Click on Search, find the package named build-essential, and mark it for installation. Next, click on Mark All Upgrades, and then on Apply.

VMware Fusion

Right-click on the icon for the Ubuntu ISO image on your virtual machine's desktop and choose Eject. From VMware's menus, select Virtual Machine: CD/DVD: CD/DVD Settings. Select the Specify Physical CD/DVD Drive radio button, and then choose your CD drive from the drop-down list. From Ubuntu's menus, choose System: Quit: Restart.

After Ubuntu restarts, log in and, from VMware's menus, choose Virtual Machine: Install VMware Tools. After a short delay, a window should open up on your desktop showing two files, one of them a tar.gz file. Double-click on that, and then click on Extract. Save the file to your home directory and close the windows.

Within Ubuntu, select Application: Accessories: Terminal. There, type cd vmware-tools-distrib , press enter, and type sudo ./ . You'll be asked for your Ubuntu password, so type that in now. The installer will ask you a lot of questions: accept the default answers by pressing enter until you get to the question about display resolution. Choose the one you want and press enter. You should see the message "Enjoy, the VMware team."

Parallels Desktop

To enable Parallels to use your Mac's optical drive, choose Devices: CD/DVD-ROM 1: Default CD/DVD-ROM.

Then select Actions: Install Paral-lels Tools from the Parallels menu. You'll get a brief set of instructions. Within Ubuntu, open a Terminal session (again, by selecting Application: Accessories: Terminal.) At the prompt, enter sudo mount /media/cdrom0 and provide your Ubuntu password when prompted. Next, type the command cd /media/cdrom0 followed by sudo sh . When those commands are done running, reboot your virtual machine by selecting System: Quit: Restart from the Ubuntu menu.

Share files

To share files between Ubuntu and Mac OS X, you first need to turn on Windows file sharing in Mac OS X.

Within OS X, go to the Sharing preference pane. Choose the Services tab, select Windows Sharing, and click on the Start button. Before you leave, note the IP address that OS X says you'll need to use.

That done, go to Ubuntu and click on Places: Connect To Server. From the Service Type drop-down menu, select Windows Share. Enter the IP address of your Mac in the Server field and your Mac user name in both the User Name and Share fields, and then click on Connect. An icon for the connection should appear on the Ubuntu desktop. When you double-click on that icon, you should be prompted for the password you use to log in to OS X. You should now have access to your Mac's home directory from within Ubuntu.

[Brian Jepson is an editor for Make magazine and blogs at]

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