Why use a Linux VM?

This page explores some of the rationale for why we’re using this software.

Why virtualize?

Virtualization is a mature technology that allows one computer system to run multiple operating systems. Usually the first OS is called the “host” and additional installations are “guests.” Virtualization is a part of what we mean by “cloud computing.” Many Internet servers are actually virtual machines, so that one physical server in a data center is playing multiple roles, possibly for different organizations.

Computer science courses and projects tend to require installation and configuration of many complex software packages. Although most software can be made to work on most operating systems, it’s difficult for me to support students with vastly different systems and configurations.

By publishing a virtual machine image, I can ensure that all students have the same experience, and I have sophisticated tools to help resolve issues when things get stuck.

Why GNU/Linux?

Although you might have a Microsoft Windows laptop or desktop, most of the Internet and most mobile devices (including Android phones and tablets, Kindle readers and tablets, iPhone, and iPad) run on some variant of UNIX. Consequently, a great many software developers use UNIX systems every day.

Mac OS X is a variant of UNIX, but because much of it is proprietary, I cannot legally redistribute it. Furthermore, the license requires that it runs on Apple hardware.

GNU/Linux is a complete operating system that runs on everything from tiny key-chain–sized chips to large super-computers. Linux is the operating system kernel underlying many well-known consumer electronics brands, such as Android, Kindle, Nook, Roku, TiVo, Sonos, Cisco, Scientific Atlanta, as well as some newer televisions from LG, Sony, and Samsung. GNU/Linux is free to download, free to use, and we are legally free to modify it to suit our needs.

Why Debian?

The software package repository for Debian GNU/Linux is second to none. It contains a staggering range of free and open-source software, all thoroughly tested, well integrated, and stable.

I hope you find using your Debian GNU/Linux virtual machine to be a pleasure. Happy computing!