CoolTools - Virtual Machine

When you're experimenting with new software, you don't want to endanger your existing set-up. The ideal way to go is using a Virtual Machine: you create a virtual computer inside of your existing computer and install everything there.
The advantages are many:

  • Only 1 thing to install on your existing set-up: the Virtual Machine player.
  • If you mess something up: just throw away your Virutal Machine and start again.
  • If you end up with a smoothly running Virtual Machine, and you want to experiment some more without endangering what you've already done, you can easily clone your existing VM and experiment on the clone. If you're happy with it, start using the clone. If not, stick to the original.
  • If you work in a big company, you'll probably be trying this out in your team/department. If you & your management get convinced of the added value, you can turn over the Virtual Machine to your IT-guys: there's a good chance your company is already using virtualized servers, which means they can most likely just drop the VM in their cloud and be up and running in 5 minutes. 
  • You can use a different operating system than the one your computer is equipped with. I.e. if you have an MS Windows computer, you can install the Ubuntu operating system in the Virtual Machine inside of MS Windows. Why not use Windows? To use the built-in features of Windows as a web server, you'd need extra licences as soon as the number of connections gets to be too high (or just buy their server software: Windows Server). We want this to be free. Also: the software we'll be using tends to get better support on non-Windows operating systems. 
There's actually only one disadvantage I can think of, and that is that your computer needs to run 2 operating systems instead of one, which means a lower performance. However, this disadvantage is a rather theoretical one: you don't need much power for running the tools I'll be describing, and as long as your public is limited to no more than a few hundred users, you'll be fine. And if you find you're serving more than a few hundred users (at which time you can definitely call your experiment a success!), you can throw the VM in a cloud to give it more power.

To work!

Installing the VM-player

The Virtual Machine player of choice is called VirtualBox. It's an Oracle product (the company known for their Oracle database). Although Oracle is a commercial enterprise, VirtualBox is free. In a following article, we'll be installing MySQL, a free database system also available from these guys.

Ok, to get started. Head over to and download the appropriate software from their Downloads page. You only need the VirtualBox platform package, the extension pack is not free for commercial use. If you have a Windows computer, download the one described as VirtualBox ... for Windows hosts.
Once downloaded, install it. The installer makes this a pretty straight-forward process, you shouldn't have any issues here.


Now that we've got the VM player in place, it's time to install ourselves an operating system. I've chosen Ubuntu, and will describe the installation in the following article.