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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