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Getting started with Debian Linux in VMware

At first you will have to download the zip file which includes the Debian VMware appliance completely installed with VMware Tools and ready to use. You will need at least the free VMware Player in order to run it. Unpack the zip file, start your VMware software, navigate to the unpacked DebianEtch folder and start the DebianEtch.vmx.

In the upcoming dialog box that asks whether you want tor create or keep an identifier and/or whether you copied or moved your image chose keep the old identifier or that you have moved the image. This is especially important for the Mini image, because it increases chances that the internet connection via the host system works out of the box. Some more messages may appear so that you become acquainted with the software.

Now you should adjust the amount of RAM the virtual machine (VM) uses by editing the VM or (for Player users) with the menu entry Troubleshoot->Change Memory Allocation to a higher value than 96MB. Fine is having 512 MB physical RAM and using 256 MB for the VM. If your computer has less than 512 MB you have to experiment a bit. Under Windows 2000 as the host system I got the Windows-Debian tandem working with real RAM of 224 MB and RAM usage for the Debian Linux guest system in the VM ranging from 96 to 192 MB. Workstation users will have to click the red start button now whereas the Player software already started the VM with the selection of the .vmx file.

The virtual PC is much like a real one, so make sure you don't have a floppy disk or cdrom inserted, or VMware may try to boot the virtual PC from there. The boot behavior of the appliance can be changed by clicking into the window (to give the guest system the focus) and pressing F2 shortly after starting the VM. To get the cursor back into the outer host system press Ctrl-Alt. When the graphical system of the guest has started this is only necessary in full screen mode.

After powering on the VM you can just wait or log in at the welcome screen with:

username: user password: user
username: root password: root   (for administrative purposes only)

Shutting down is done in the guest system with Desktop->Shutdown...->Shutdown. If you close the Player window from Windows the whole guest system will get suspended (frozen) and will come up exactly with the same state the next time you start the VM. Very convenient! A double click on the top label of the Player window will switch to full screen mode. To get back to Windows press Ctrl-Alt.

Connection to the internet is done via virtual networking with the host system. The VMware Player or Workstation software has a network configuration switch which must be enabled and in mode NAT. Moreover, you have to assure that this network is in the guest Linux connected. There is a network icon at the Gnome menu bar (e.g. two monitors) that must not show a sign of being disabled. To connect the network the right way, click it and then click Wired Network. Now the icon should become animated and finally change to its normal state. Guest and host OS should be connected now, which means if the host is online the guest has internet access, too. However, it may be necessary to be online with the host before starting up the VMware appliance. For a suspended appliance that means restarting with shutting down and starting again from the Linux Quit menu entry. As a final resort try rebooting the host system first.

For installation of new programs go online, start Desktop->Administration->Synaptic in the guest using the root password root. Ignore some error messages that Synaptic may show and press reload. You are now ready to search the updated software catalog of more than 18000 packages! Select what you like, mark it for installation and start the installation with apply.

The start-up screen resolution of the appliance is 1024*768. It may be possible to change the guest desktop size simply by resizing the VMware window from the host. Otherwise it may be useful to configure the screen resolution.

If you want to access files of the host system you need either the convenient Shared Folders feature of VMware Workstation and the new Player 2.x or if you use the older Player 1.x you have to set up virtual networking via CIFS or SMBFS.

Now it is time for a short note of caution. Linux is in some aspects different to Windows and this little page can't cover of course all important issues that a Linux newcomer may experience. Just one example - the installation - package versions have to fit together and while e.g. for Debian testing it is tried to assure this, it is not guaranteed all the time, because the testing distribution is continuously updated and there may be temporarily "disharmonies".

So be careful before hitting the mark all upgrades button or have a VMware Workstation and make a snapshot before applying bigger changes. If you see that Synaptic wants to upgrade or remove and not only install other packages in order to install what you selected, you may shutdown Linux or suspend the VM first and pack the whole directory into a zip file if you have only the VMware Player (which can't make snapshots).

It is a big advantage of Debian testing to be one of the few Linux distributions that is designed to be upgradable ad infinitum. So, at least in theory, Debian testing is installed once and from there on develops by upgrades only, whereas Microsoft requires everyone to buy the next generation software and replace the old one - with much effort.

Note: If you have the newest appliance - the Debian Etch Stable distribution - upgrading everything should be save, because only security updates and no major changes will be applied anymore. The distribution is held stable.

Note2: Even upgrading a stable distribution may cause problems with the installed VMware Tools. Integrating things like e.g. copy&paste from and to the host, resizing the guest desktop from the host or the Shared Folder feature may not work anymore. Have a backup or snapshot of your appliance or be prepared to reinstall a newer version of the VMware Tools which may or may not work.

Basic other packages that could be installed:

Desktop environments and window manager which will add session entries in the options menu of the startup-screen. It is probably best to keep Gnome as the default desktop, because then KDE programs are displayed as they should (fonts...) whereas the other way round Gnome programs get the ugly default X-look and font settings are not obeyed. However, in order to change the settings of KDE you have to make KDE temporarily the default desktop (in the options menu of the startup-screen).

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