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The thoughts, opinions, happenings, and just plain ramblings of a seemingly boring person.

Torrenting and Linux Virtual Machines

This weekend I dipped my feet into two technologies that i've previously never touched or shied away from. The first is Bit Torrent. Many will probably be surprised that i've never used this considering my geekiness.

Torrenting is another form of peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing, but is more aimed at quickly and efficiently sharing particularly large (i.e. 1GB+) files without needing to download it from a centralised server. It does a pretty good job, a main difference between torrenting and other P2P is that more than the others it is able to share parts of a file that you are currently downloading with other people before you finish downloading it (and vice-versa).

To download from a bit torrent, you need a 'client'. Whilst the 'best' client is different for different people (and the source of many flame-wars), myself merely wanting to step into this new field, opted for Shareaza, which not only a bit torrent client, as it also connects to other P2P networks as well. Although it is definitely a 'newbie' choice, it gets the job done.

After setting it up (which also required forwarding a few ports on the router) I downloaded a 1 gig virtual machine file, averaging around 390KB/s throughout the download.

That leads me to the other technology I have tried out for the first time: Virtual Machines. Basically a virtual machine is a 'virtual' computer within a computer. Within software running on a real physical computer you can emulate another computer virtually.

For example, after starting up Windows, you can start a flavour of Linux as a virtual machine and use them both concurrently. Probably the leading virtual machine software is made by VMWare, and they even have a free product, VMWare Player, which allows you to start and run pre-configured virtual machines, but not create them.

This kind of thing is fantastic for trying out new operating systems without having to go through the quite arduous process of partioning your drive, configuring a boot-loader, and installing the new OS, etc etc. All you have to do is download a pre-configured virtual machine (usually big: 1GB+), run it in VMWare Player, and bam, you're using the new operating system. Just one word of warning, to run virtual machines you will probably need a higher-end computer with plenty of RAM.

I took this opportunity to run a Linux virtual machine of Kubuntu, the quite pretty KDE version of its parent Ubuntu. The virtual machine ran great, click the below image for a screenshot of it running on Windows on our desktop computer.

Screenshot of VMWare on Windows
(click for larger image)

I haven't really used Linux since uni, and I was quickly reminded of why. You'll see everywhere various people singing Linux's praises as a great replacement for Windows, something I don't agree on at all. For the uber-geek (of which even I don't qualify), Linux is fantastic.

For everyone else, even myself who is pretty technological literate, it is totally unsuitable. My main gripe is that even the simplest things done under Windows is overly complicated in Linux: 90% of the time requiring the user to use a terminal (command line) to do something.

Linux is fantastically stable and secure, but if people have to go to the command line to install a program or something alike that is routine in Windows, then poof, there goes your customer base. I know a fair bit if Unix command line, but I hate having to still trawl through forums just to find out how to do a simple thing.

It's not really the fault of the Linux vendors themselves, but of a lot of other geeks, especially program writers, that cling onto their command line and cause inexperienced users grief (you can't even get Firefox from Mozilla as an easy self-installing package). Truthfully, I think they enjoy their own little private niche that is inaccessible to the general computing public; something they can use to look-down on others.

Probably the best alternative to Windows that combines the best of graphical user interface as well as a powerful base which fantastically uses the command line (and allows users to use one or both) is the Mac OS X , but i believe even they suffer a lot from the chin-up "we're so better than you" attitude which prevents 'newbie' users from very easily getting comfortable.

Apologies for ranting, life-blogging coming soon.

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