Portable Linux Virtual Machines

By Blane Warrene
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Quite the buzz is building over the technology preview released by MetroPipe. This package runs on Damnsmall Linux and uses QEMU (a CPU emulator).

Essentially an Internet communication system, it can run entirely on a USB mini-drive key (128 MB) and other flash-media devices, and even iPods. It includes a bootable Linux OS, a web browser (Firefox), email client (Thunderbird), Enigmail GPG (for email encryption) and a persistent home directory.

It is this last feature that intrigues me from a web application development perspective. The core feature of this portable machine is that while it can run atop a Windows, Linux and OS X (the latter soon) machine, all traces of its activities are segemented on the bootable flash device, this also retaining a level of privacy.

This means cookies, logs and other trails of data do not get left behind as remnants on the host machine being used to boot the device – as the virtual machine exists as its own ‘computer’ while parasitically attached to a full computer.

The buzz has been primarily aimed at those seeking privacy and other individual profiles — I am interested in how web developers can find applicability for this in the applications and solutions they build for their clients.

Does this open up windows for sales to companies with large mobile sales forces who need to access and update CRM on the road (who do not always have places to jack up notebooks to the web)? Could they simply be on site closing a sale, and jump onto a machine and update data?

Could a kiosk be deployed for a company and employees able to jack in via USB, download and upload data into web apps, and then simply pop their ‘PC’ into their pocket? What web apps could be deployed to manufacturing environments now, that prior would be considered hostile to multiple PC’s in the production workspace?

Even more — can demos or drafts of web apps now be shipped or handed to clients with complete running environments ready for review?

While only a technology preview at this point, there is great potential for a device such as this, which could be considered slightly more durable and mobile than notebooks, PDA’s and high-end cell phones.

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  • Kevin Polston

    Maybe I’m missing something here but can’t the same result can be acheived by using VMWare as the virual machine and a lean distro(paired down Gentoo say)?

  • Perhaps – but probably not for the same price as this. Distributing 128/256/512MB Keychain USB Flash drives with a $99 or less software solution undercuts what it would cost to deploy VMWare and a generate a custom Linux and apps build to multiple field staff or even on multiple kiosks.

  • Robin Millette

    flonix sells usb flash drives with a Small Linux derivative, but no emulation – you have to reboot.

  • CodeWhacker

    Interesting product, alright. It doesn’t quite fit on a 128MB USB key (or at least, didn’t quite fit my JumDrive Sport 128) without a little liposuction of the harddisk drive image, but beyond that it runs fine on two machines so far (XP and W2K Advanced Server). Nice to be able to launch an insulated environment from J Random Pooter without the need to reboot. Wonder how many library computers have accessable USB ports?

  • Ryan MacLean

    Right so…
    To give you an example – BartPE can even do this with windows.
    This doesn’t bring much new to the table at all… in fact, StarOffice 5 had much of this functionality :P

  • Employed IT Head

    Note to many….

    This is a solution in a single low-cost, easy to distribute packege.

    The system is not required to reboot, merely to have access to the USB drive.

    This is not a Live CD/etc distribution in the classic sense, as it appears many of you are linking it to be (BartPE, etc)

  • Bob301

    How did you shrink the harddrive image, CodeWhacker? Other than removing firefox, I don’t know what to take off safely. It seems like I need only get a reduction of 2-3 MB’s. Any help is appreciated.

  • zeelog

    Here is a direct requirement – Linux with core network services, Java VM (IBM/Sun/BEA). We have a complete web app toolbox that requires Linux and Java VM. Our product platform/toolbox SFCRM has an embedded webserver (Jetty), McKoi SQL server and Java Servlet based app server with XML api support for integration. The entire app ships under 10.5MB compared to 500MB or more with MSCRM/SalesLogix and others based on WIndows technologies and monstrous server requirements to run – SFCRM needs only one P4 server for upto 250 browser based users.
    Now if we are able to create a USB drive with Linux/Java/SFCRM pre-loaded, the HDD is used only to store data. Instant installation compared to .net and other MS technologies.
    Further if we are able to run multiple Linux servers (Virtual private servers), we can run upto 5 SFCRM instances on one P4 box upto 500 users.
    Feedback is welcomed and I will be happy to provide evaluation copies.

  • duykhang

    but you only work in user mode, you can’t use root mode. If you know about the password for root, please provide for anyone.
    Thank you

  • VMWare Tutorial
  • Geekster

    root password

    sudo bash
    make it what you want

  • bryan

    I like to see linux version of g.ho.st that you can use applications