I had one of those sudden dawn-of-realisation moments last month: It just occurred to me that I was using Windows seven days a week. And yet if I thought back to over a decade ago, when I was buying my first computer (proper) I remember my operating shortlist was: OSX, BeOS or some flavour of Linux. Windows didn’t even get a look in! (During University, as well as the norm of Windows NT in the lab and people using 98/ME at home, I’d got to use Solaris and Vax/VMS on my year out - so I was fortunate enough to at least know there were alternatives). At the time I did not consider myself geeky (capable) enough to use Linux. I would have loved to use BeOS, but - as far as I can recall from at the time - it’s future was already looking dead. And of course OSX wasn’t yet out, but the promise of the beta was enough to sway me to drop my graduate loan on an iMac. And the rest is history…

…or it should have been.

Ok, I knew I’d pretty much have to use Windows five days a week at work, but could live with that if I didn’t have to at home, but with the advent of wife plus kids my computer quickly became the family computer which then soon became “the family, minus me” computer.

My work, for some obscure reason, provides me with a laptop as opposed to desktop and I’m free to take this home so I at least can have “my computer” again, but, “urgh!”, Windows. So I started off using VirtualBox and Linux Mint for my home/personal use, but I was unsure if using and installing VirtualBox on a ‘commericial’ machine was really compliant with the licensing and technically you are still using Windows (even if only as a host), so I swapped to using Slax as then I could boot off a usb drive (even the miserly 512mb one I’d got for free from work) and all was well - I was much happier.

Then my work laptop was up for renewal and I got a brand spanking new one, which was all very nice, but I could no longer get my wireless to work with Slax, or anything else I tried so after a while I just gave up. Afterall, I thought, I spend most of my time immersed in Vim and Chrome, what does the OS matter? (Plus, at about this time, I still had possession of my iPod Touch more than the kids did so that became by primary computer; until it got squashed - hmm, perhaps that also spurred my “dawn of realisation moment”).

I don’t know what made me look, but recently Haiku popped upon my radar and I fancied giving it a whirl. From a networking point of view (i.e. actually being able to use the thing), using a virtual image looked like the best bet. Looking at VirtualBox again I realised that the licensing for the personal edition actually permitted ‘commerical use’, i.e. I could legitimately install this on my work laptop without dropping my employer or myself in it (the fact that I’m still not meant to install anything is by-the-by; shouldn’t give everyone admin rights then). So I had a play with Haiku (I love it) and at some point whilst searching for information on VirtualBox I stumbled across a blog comment (I can’t damn well find the thing now; have spent ages trying!) along the lines of “…my company insists we use Windows, so I just use VirtualBox to run the OS of my choice…” which immediately got me thinking: Why don’t I just do that?

The majority of my computer usage is at work so being able to escape Windows for all seven days of the week would be amazing. My job had changed and no longer required specialist Windows specific software, work were just piloting Outlook Exchange 2010 so there was finally a decent web client should I fail to get any desktop software working with Exchange (likely), and there was a web client for our internal messaging service. All things considered, there was nothing really stopping me from switching.

And so I did. Haiku, as fun as it is, wouldn’t cut it as a replacement OS so I went looking at Ubuntu (I had played with Ubuntu before), learnt about the whole Unity vs Gnome 3 thing, saw Gnome 3 and thought “Wow!” and went and downloaded Fedora 15. Well, kind of, I did have a go with Ubuntu first, but not for long.

So far, so good. I run Fedora full screen in VirtualBox and I don’t really have to know I’m in Windows at all. And mostly don’t have to go back… just for the odd document compatibililty issue and screen share.

Of course, after I’ve done all this and I’m bringing my work laptop home at weekends so I finally have something that resembles my own computer again… “Dad, can I go on your work computer….”


I have (roughly) documented my experiences with living in a VirtualBox.