Installing VMware Player 4.04 on Linux Mint 13

Curiosity about the Release Preview of Windows 8 saw me running into bother when trying to see what it’s like in a VirtualBox VM. While doing some investigations on the web, I saw VMware Player being suggested as an alternative. Before discovering VirtualBox, I did have a licence for VMware Workstation and was interested in seeing what Player would have to offer. The, it was limited to running virtual machines that were created using Workstation. Now, it can create and manage them itself and without any need to pay for the tool either. Registration on VMware’s website is a must for downloading it though but that’s no monetary cost.

One I had downloaded Player from the website, I needed to install it on my machine. There are Linux and Windows versions and it was the former that I needed and there are 32-bit and 64-bit variants so you need to know what your system is running. With the file downloaded, you need to set it as executable and the following command should do the trick once you are in the right directory:

chmod +x VMware-Player-4.0.4-744019.i386.bundle

Then, it needs execution as a superuser. With sudo access for my user account, it was a matter of issuing the following command and working through the installation screens to instate the Player software on the system:

sudo ./VMware-Player-4.0.4-744019.i386.bundle

Those screens proved easy for me to follow so life would have been good if that were all that was needed to get Player working on my PC. Having Linux Mint 13 means that the kernel is of the 3,2 stock and that means using a patch to finish off the Player installation because the required VMware kernel modules seem to silently fail to compile during the installation process. This only manifests itself when you attempt to start Player afterwards to find a module installation screen appear. That wouldn’t be an issue of itself were it not for the compilation failure of the vmnet module and subsequent inability to start VMware services on the machine. There is a prompt to peer into the log file for the operation and that is a little uninformative for the non-specialist.

Rummaging around the web brought me to the requisite patch and it will work for Player 4.0.3 and Workstation 8.0.2 by default. Doing some tweaking allowed me to make it work for Player 4.04 too. My first step was to extract the contents of the tarball to /tmp where I could edit patch-modules_3.2.0.sh. Line 8 was changed to the following:

plreqver=4.0.4

With the amendment saved, it was time to execute the shell script as a superuser having made it executable before hand. This can be accomplished using the following command:

chmod +x patch-modules_3.2.0.sh && sudo ./patch-modules_3.2.0.sh

With that completed successfully, VMware Player ran as it should. An installation of Windows 8 into a new VM ran very smoothly and I was impressed with performance and responsiveness of the operating system within a Player VM. There are a few caveats though. First, it doesn’t run at all well with VMware Tools so it’s best to leave them uninstalled and it doesn’t seem to need them either; it was possible to set the resolution to the same as my screen and use the CTRL+ALT+ENTER shortcut to drop in and out of full screen mode anyway. Second, the unattended Windows installation wasn’t the way forward for setting up the VM but it was no big deal to have that experiment thwarted. The feature remains an interesting one though.

With Windows 8 running so well in Player, I was reminded of the sluggish nature of my Windows 7 VM and an issue with a Fedora 17 one too. The result was that I migrated the Windows 7 VM from VirtualBox to VMware and all is so much more responsive. Getting it there took not a little tinkering so that’s a story for another entry. On the basis of my experiences so far, I reckon that VMware Player will remain useful to me for a little while yet. Resolving the installation difficulty was worth that extra effort.

Getting VirtualBox working on Ubuntu after a kernel upgrade

In previous posts, I have talked about getting VMware Workstation back on its feet again after a kernel upgrade. It also seems that VirtualBox is prone to the same sort of affliction. However, while VMware Workstation fails to start at all, VirtualBox at least starts itself even if it cannot get a virtual machine going and generates errors instead.

My usual course of action is to fire up Synaptic and install the drivers for the relevant kernel. Looking for virtualbox-ose-modules-[kernel version and type] and installing that usually resolves the problem. For example, at the time of writing, the latest file available for my system would be virtualbox-ose-modules-2.6.24-19-generic.  If you are a command line fan, the command for this would be:

sudo apt-get install virtualbox-ose-modules-2.6.24-19-generic

The next thing to do would be to issue the command to start the vboxdrv service and you’d be all set:

sudo /etc/init.d/vboxdrv start

There is one point of weakness (an Achilles heal, if you like) with all of this: the relevant modules need to be available in the first place and I hit a glitch after updating the kernel to 2.6.24-20 when they weren’t; I do wonder why Canonical fail to keep both in step with one another and why the new kernel modules don’t come through the updates automatically either. However, there is a way around this too. That means installing virtualbox-ose-source via either Synaptic or the command line:

sudo apt-get install virtualbox-ose-source

The subsequent steps involve issuing more commands to perform a reinstallation from the source code:

sudo m-a prepare

sudo m-a auto-install virtualbox-ose

Once these are complete, the next is to start the vbox drv as described earlier and to add yourself to vboxusers group if you’re still having trouble:

sudo adduser [your username] vboxusers

The source code installation option certainly got me up and running again and I’ll be keeping it on hand for use should the situation raise its head again.

A first look at Ubuntu 8.10

I must admit that my curiosity got the better of me when screenshots of Ubuntu’s 8.10, otherwise known as Intrepid Ibex, started to make their appearance. It is only at alpha2 stage so it’s definitely a no-no for production systems. However, it does run surprisingly smoothly even at this stage. Yes, I have seen rough edges and the biggest of them all has made me install it onto my spare PC; there is certainly tendency for systems to hang when you try running 8.10 in virtual machines, my preferred method for these kinds of explorations. Try it in VirtualBox and kernel panic messages ensue while you can log in on VMware Workstation only for the desktop never to load. Those could be major deficiencies for some but they have both been reported with the former being seen by many and the latter being flagged by my own self.

Because I was using a version with the alternate installer, the usual slickness that we expect of Ubuntu installations wasn’t apparent. I am sure that will change in time for the final release but I didn’t find it too taxing to get things going with this means. Nevertheless, I reckon that we will see the usual feel return in later development versions and very much in time for the final release. Because I was installing over the top of a previous Ubuntu installation, I didn’t want to lose everything but I needed to leave it wipe out the previous root system partition for it to continue without freezing. Because my home area is on a separate partition, there was no problem and it picked up settings like desktop backgrounds without a fuss. One thing that might annoy some is that all this takes manual intervention; you don’t get the sort of non-destructive and seamless upgrade capability that openSUSE 11 gives.

What you get when the installation is completed is a Linux desktop that won’t look too different from what we are used to using. Of course, we get the New Human theme with its tasteful chocolate tones in place of the previous default orangey browns. They need to sort out a bug (another of my reports)  where black text is being displayed on dark backgrounds on the default display of drop down menus in Firefox and maybe look into why changing the level of enhancements from Compiz Fusion messes up the display of the workspace switcher in the task bar but it’s fine apart from this.

Otherwise, it’s a case of steady as she goes with OpenOffice 2.4, Firefox 3 and so on. That may change as time goes on OpenOffice 3 looming in the horizon. For some, all this continuity is all well and good but I could foresee comments front some parts that nothing dramatic is happening and that Ubuntu cannot afford to stand still with the advances of Fedora, openSUSE, Mandriva and so on. Saying that, I personally like the continuity because it doesn’t mean that my apple cart is going to get overthrown now and again. Indeed, you could say that the whole Linux distribution market has matured very nicely with evolution being the order of the day and I suppose that Ubuntu needs to be seen to be evolving more than perhaps it has been doing.

In summary, it’s early days for Intrepid Ibex but it works well even at this stage. In fact, it is running sufficiently so that I am writing this very post in a Firefox session running on the thing.  It’ll be interesting to see how it goes from here and if any more pleasant surprises are visited upon us. After the “safety first” approach of Hardy Heron, I suppose that Canonical can feel a little more adventurous so we’ll see what comes. In the meantime, Here are a few screenshots below for your perusal:

Disk corruption can be virtual too

It’s the sort of sight that causes you to fear the worst, an unchanging black screen with a flashing cursor. That was what started greet me in recent days when I tried to fire up a Windows XP guest in VMware Workstation. The cause was the corruption of a virtual disk, an ominous thing that affected a supplemental virtual hard drive that I had added to the virtual machine rather than its main one. There might have been some data on there but it was nothing that I didn’t have elsewhere anyway. Removing the broken disk from the XP VM returned the situation to fuller health and I simply tried creating a new one again. So far, this seems to be working fine but I’ll be keeping a watchful eye on things.

I have no idea why the corruption happened but the broken disk files were created without a VMDK extension so that might indicate that something was amiss with the process that created them. It would be better if VMware highlighted the state of its virtual disks but it was when I tried opening the trashed disk with VirtualBox that a warning was given and VMware did the same when I tried I tried it with that afterwards (opening VMware virtual disks with VirtualBox is possible but you need to ensure that no attempt at importation is made or you could end up with a breakage). I may have discovered the fault in a roundabout manner but it’s better to know what’s gone wrong than not to know at all.

Killing those runaway processes that refuse to die

I must admit that there have been times when I logged off from my main Ubuntu box at home to dispatch a runaway process that I couldn’t kill and then log back in again. The standard signal being sent to the process by the very useful kill command just wasn’t sending the nefarious CPU-eating nuisance the right kind of signal. Thankfully, there is a way to control the signal being sent and there is one that does what’s needed:

kill -9 [ID of nuisance process]

For Linux users, there seems to be another option for terminating process that doesn’t need the ps and grep command combination: it’s killall. Generally, killall terminates all processes and its own has no immunity to its quest. Hence, it’s an administrator only tool with a very definite and perhaps rarely required use. The Linux variant is more useful because it also will terminate all instances of a named process at a stroke and has the same signal control as the kill command. It is used as follows:

killall -9 nuisanceprocess

I’ll certainly be continuing to use both of the above; it seems that Wine needs termination like this at times and VMware Workstation lapsed into the same sort of antisocial behaviour while running a VM running a development version of Ubuntu’s Intrepid Ibex (or 8.10, if you prefer). Anything that keeps you from constantly needing to restart Linux sessions on your PC has to be good.