Entering a virtual world

I wanted to run a specific contract bridge tutorial program for which there was only a Windows version available. No problem, I thought, I’ll just install and run it under Wine. Well, almost no problem. The program did indeed install – and run – as a Wine application, but then I hit a slight snag. The on-screen symbols used for the card suits (hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades) were showing up as red and black square boxes. Now this doesn’t help when the program tells me that the opening bid was one “black box”, followed by a response of one “red box”. I can infer that the opening bid was one club, since a red suit was subsequently bid at the one level, but the latter bid could have been either one diamond or one heart, since both of these bids outrank one club. Clearly, I need to be able to see the suit symbols displayed correctly if the tutorial is going to be of any use.

So, here we have a situation where (a) there is no equivalent native Linux application and (b) the Windows version misbehaves under Wine. Now, I could just restart my dual-boot Linux-Windows system in Windows and run the program under Windows, but is there a way to run the wayward application while still booted into Linux?

The answer is yes. We can use VirtualBox, an open-source package overseen by Oracle Corporation, that allows virtual machines using any one of a number of operating systems, including Windows, to be set up in the Linux environment. Of course, one needs a copy of the Windows’ operating system of choice (e.g. Windows XP) in order to make this happen but, after that, it’s a fairly straightforward process to run Windows – and hence Windows’ programs – inside Linux.

The package is available in the Ubuntu Software Centre. Just search for virtualbox and choose to install VirtualBox OSE (the open-source edition). After a few minutes, the program is ready to use – and ready to let us install Windows XP.

Running the program brings up the VirtualBox OSE window. The first thing we need to do is to create a virtual machine by clicking on the “New” icon to launch the New Virtual Machine Wizard. The first screen prompts for a name for the virtual machine so you can enter something really esoteric such as “Windows XP”. By default, the OS type and version are set to Microsoft Windows, and Windows XP, respectively. The subsequent settings can essentially be left at their default values, so that we assign 192 MB of memory to the virtual machine, and create a new bootable hard disk, initially with 10 GB, but with dynamically expandable storage, and named Windows XP.vdi.

We are almost ready to load an operating system on our virtual machine. But, here is the first trick (there will be more!) We need to enable the CD/DVD drive in the virtual machine so that it will be able to read data from our master disk. We click on the “Settings” icon and then navigate to Storage – the CD icon (currently marked as Empty) – and set the CD/DVD Device to the physical host drive present on our system.

With a copy of the Windows XP distribution disk inserted into the CD drive, we now press the “Start” icon and the virtual machine roars into life with a Windows XP installation in process. Now, it’s just a matter of being patient, answering the prompts as they arise, including entering the serial number associated with your copy of Windows XP, and letting the installation reach completion.

The VirtualBox window now displays a running version of Windows XP. Magic!

References:

VirtualBox
https://help.ubuntu.com/community/VirtualBox

Exploring Linux – Part 17
http://www.opcug.ca/public/Reviews/linux_part17.htm

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