Linux at work again!

For the past couple of months I’ve been working in a very nice workplace with a bunch of nice people and even better some of them run Linux on their desktops without any fear of the SOE-police coming to march them out of the building! I’m also working again with a chap who despite an unnatural love of emacs is a great help at solving any problems I face running Linux at work. So off I set to install Ubuntu Hardy on the client desktop – with their blessing!

I love Linux (and particularly Ubuntu) as a working environment. Most of the applications I’ve worked on in the last 10 years have been deployed on a flavour of unix, and despite doing a lot of Java I also do a lot of scripting and glue code, build and deployment tooling in particular. Working on Windows even with cygwin is just a world of pain.

Unfortunately I’m not able to avoid Microsoft Outlook *sigh*. I spend more time in meetings than I care to admit, and I regularly have to set up meetings with invitees and meeting room resources. Webmail doesn’t cut it. Evolution really doesn’t cut it for much more than reading mail – even sending mail it’s a bit flakey. Great effort, I really hope one day someone gets involved who can make it stable.

So what I and some others are doing is running VMWare Server under Ubuntu, booting the physical Windows partition from disk. When I installed Ubuntu I resized the existing single partition and left the client SOE Windows installation fully functional. It works incredibly well booted under VMWare once everything is loaded – we run Outlook 2007 which is slow as a dog even non-virtualized – and I’m never going to look back. The best part is if I ever NEED to I can boot the same partition directly.

It’s a little tricky getting VMWare Server to run on Ubuntu, as you have to apply a patch (vmware-any-any) to make it install. I followed the instructions here on howtoforge, and they worked on Hardy. I found I had to run twice – once when the patch is applied, and then once more to make it work properly.

Once VMWare is installed it is important to boot under Windows directly, and set up a new hardware profile for “virtual boot”. When you boot Windows under VMWare the first time, choose the virtual boot profile. It will detect a bunch of new VMWare hardware, which will then be associated with the virtual boot profile. This means when you boot directly for some reason later, you can choose the default boot profile and everything will work as it always did.

I’m stoked at how well this works. I have VMWare tools installed so that it gives focus to Windows when I move my mouse over the VMWare window (no Ctrl-Alt-Esc). Highly recommended.

5 thoughts on “Linux at work again!”

  1. Hey, emacs rocks!

    I’ve used Evolution with outlook for quite a while. The only *really* annoying thing is that you can’t access the global address book and you have to type the correct email address of everyone. Meetings, schedule and send/receive mail were never a problem.

    One thing that may ease the pain is using IE under Linux. Outlook webmail is *way* better in IE.


  2. Evolution seems to work fine accessing the global address book via LDAP (active directory) but it does hang occasionally. I could accept meeting invites and maintain my calendar okay, but very difficult to create/update group invitations.

    Yeah I’ve used ies4linux exactly for this purpose, but find it regularly goes into a spin chewing cpu and ram. Webmail even under IE is no substitute for Outlook IMHO.

    Thanks for the suggestions!

  3. If you do this, you have to be wary of the Windows Licence Activation stuff. Obviously you didn’t find it problematic, but when I tried this I had to reactivate Windows XP several times, as it detected new hardware: not just when I first loaded it under VMWare, but then again when I booted back to native Windows, and *again* when I next ran it under VMWare. This required phone calls to Microsoft to say “yes I really am only running Windows on one machine, *please* can I have an activation code” to get it running properly again, as I had now exceeded the permitted automatic reactivation count.

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