Virtual Machines are fantastically useful – whether you want to try out something beta, something old, run apps across platforms or in the cloud, VMs are a killer part of any power user’s repertoire.
One thing which I’ve felt has always limited their flexibility, however, is their storage mechanism, the virtual hard disk. In a previous tutorial, I used Oracle’s VirtualBox to install Ubuntu Linux to an external storage device. Out-of-the-box, however, VBox and its ilk don’t make booting from a physical disk a particularly simple process (see here, for example).
Luckily, this doesn’t need to be, thanks to the Plop Boot Manager.
This boot manager obviates the need for any command line trickery to boot your VM from USB. (This assumes you’ve already got an OS installed to a USB drive – if you don’t, have a look at this tutorial, which demonstrates how to install Ubuntu to a USB disk from within a VM).
1. Download the Plop boot manager to your host computer (here)
2. Open up your virtual machine and connect ‘plpbt.iso’ to your virtual CDROM drive.
3. Connect your USB disk to the virtual machine.
4. Boot up the VM. When the Plop boot screen appears, select USB.
The machine will now boot from the external disk. Once the OS has started loading, it’s safe to ‘remove’ the Plop image from the virtual CDROM drive.
Ubuntu Linux made its way onto my 13″ MacBook Pro this week via external storage. While installing, I was armed with just the laptop itself and a wireless-only internet connection, a real problem given that Ubuntu doesn’t detect the WLAN card out of the box.
I put together a disc to get the machine up and running which includes the DKMS package and the WLAN & nVidia display drivers. It’s not a full collection of files needed to get the laptop playing perfectly with Ubuntu, but it takes care of the most important core functionality.
You can get hold of the ISO by following this link, and I’d also highly recommend reading up on this page, although I’ve outlined and expanded on what I consider to be the most useful pieces of information from it below. I used Ubuntu 11.04 on a 13″ MacBook Pro 7,1 for everything in this post.
I, like millions of others, use Mac OS X as my main operating system. It’s fast, reliable and secure, and the computers it runs on are undeniably the best designed and built machines available on the market. There are many options available to users who need the added flexibility of running Linux or Windows alongside OS X, perhaps through SSH or by using a Virtual Machine. Sometimes, though, you need a full, non-virtualised OS environment to work in, and while Boot Camp is great it’s not ideal for someone like me who rolls with a very fast, but very small, SSD boot drive.
In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to install Linux to any external USB device and boot your Apple computer from it. I’ll be working with Ubuntu 11.04 32-bit and a MacBook Pro running Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. Guides elsewhere online seem to only help you if you happen to already have a Linux box to work with – my tutorial only requires one Macintosh computer. All the software used herein is open source and free of charge.