Ulteo Virtual Desktop: run a virtual Linux environment inside Windows

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Ulteo Virtual Desktop installs a virtual Linux environment inside Windows.

This free program shows up as a panel inside the Windows desktop and allows you to access Linux applications within Windows with little effect on performance, enabling users to run both Windows and Linux apps simultaneously and to switch between them at will.

For those who would like to run Linux inside Windows “Ulteo Virtual Desktop” provides a virtual Linux environment inside Windows.

Ulteo is based on Debian Linux and comes pre-bundled with a wide range of Linux apps, including Firefox, OpenOffice, KPdf, Kopete, Skype, Thunderbird, Enigmail, GIMP, Digikam, Inkspace, Scribus, and many others.

Why run Linux in Windows?: I am assuming that you have a need to access both Windows and Linux apps or, like me, you have the desire and/or curiosity to run Linux applications. Or perhaps you would like to learn Linux or want to use it because you are looking into it as a replacement for Windows.

Having the Linux environment inside Windows will save the time spent switching between operating systems and will circumvent the need for messing around with partition tables and other technical details (and, of course, let’s not forget the sheer coolness factor!).

Here are more notes on this program:

  • Downloading/Installing: once you get the 500 meg installer downloaded installing it is a breeze; however it will take up some 6 gigs on your hard drive, so make sure you have the space for it. Once installed (does not even require a reboot), the program will show up as a panel on top of your screen, and you can simply run the application you need to use from the Ulteo panel and its window will show up like any other Windows application.
  • Performance: is very good, from my experience, but of course this is difficult to measure objectively. The Developers state that this software doesn’t run “traditional virtualization software”, and that instead they built it using “a special Linux kernel patch called coLinux that achieves great performance, close toa native installation on the PC”.
  • The virtual file system: this is a 5 gig virtual file system that lives in a file (C:Program FilesUlteoVirtual Desktoposvdisk ). What you see as a user is a Linux file system that can also access the root (C:) and “My Documents” folders in your Windows filesystem. You can thus easily transfer documents back and forth across the two OS’s. Also note that the Linux vdisk can be both resized or mounted into Windows (see the FAQ for info on this).
  • Access to your computer’s resources: Ulteo virtual desktop supports sound and is able to print from your regular printer. The Linux apps can access the internet (no proxy support but it’s promised), and I am assuming that they can also use the other hardware resources (e.g. CD/DVD drives, etc.)
  • Creating an Ulteo user account: you will find that this software will ask you to do this, which involves creating an account and supplying a working email. The creators of Virtual Desktop have a number of projects going on including a so-called “online desktop” platform also based on Linux, and they apparently want to be able to integrate these by having users access them using the same account login and password.

A note on installing your own apps: as someone who is interested in free software I am often intrigued by the growing number of free Linux-only programs that I come across. This, in fact, is probably my main reason of wanting to install a Linux environment, but alas as things stand right now installing Linux apps into this environment does not seem possible. Here are some notes on this.

  • The Ulteo Desktop FAQ states that installing additional software other than the many apps provided is possible through using “dpkg -i as root” (for .deb files), but that they do not recommend it because “it will break the consistency of the system when your system will upgrade from the net to more recent version of libs and apps”.
  • I tried, in fact, to install a program using dpkg -i as mentioned above but was not successful; I got a message that I did not have “superuser privileges”.
  • The developers of Ulteo Virtual Desktop do however state that they are “looking for ways to circumvent this issue”.

The verdict: as someone who wants and is actively searching for a way to run Linux apps inside Windows, Ulteo Virtual Desktop is probably (as of this writing) the most complete and well rounded solution out there, and probably the easiest to work with (although I am keeping my eye on similar projects such as andLinux and Lina). Having said this, I sincerely hope that the developers will be successful in enabling the free and unrestricted installation of Linux apps on this platform, because, to be honest, I find the usefulness of having a Linux environment that does not accept installing my own apps quite limiting (if I wanted this I might just as well use a Linux live CD). To conclude, I would definitely say that this is a program to keep an eye on.

Version Tested: beta2

Compatibility: Windows XP, Vista.

Go to the program page to download the latest version (approx 500 megs).