Friday, December 18, 2009

Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde

After all the time that I'd put in to converting all of my computers at home to Linux machines, I had to cave. I had to set up a native Windows machine. And not just ANY native Windows machine - a VISTA machine.

It all began about a month or so ago, when I traded in my (formerly-) beloved BlackBerry for a shiny new iPhone. I could go on and tell you that I chucked the BlackBerry because I was sick and tired of the fact that the O/S kept crashing on me (which it did), or because my battery had gone psycho and kept draining for no reason, or that the same thing kept happening to my brand-new spare battery. I probably could've lived a bit longer with the BlackBerry. Ah, but there was the iPhone. Shiny and new. EVERYONE had one, and the fact that a) my BlackBerry was acting up, b) it wasn't a work BlackBerry, and c) it was an UNLOCKED BlackBerry so I could upgrade to an iPhone partway through my Rogers contract made it oh-so-tempting. So I caved and I got one. Actually, my husband and I "got each other" iPhones as early Christmas gifts.

I stayed up REALLY late for a few nights after I got my iPhone. I needed to get music from my iTunes library on there, and I needed to transfer all of my contacts (which I'd transferred out of the BB onto an Outlook data file) over. Since I had no more Windows machines, all of this happened via my Windows XP virtual machine running on Sun VirtualBox on an Ubuntu 9.05 host. I had set up iTunes to sync to my iPod before and it had worked, so I didn't think that I would have any issues. Never say never, right?

Issue number one happened when I (foolishly) decided to upgrade to the latest iPhone O/S. I say foolishly because a) it was a minor release, and b) I was attempting to do the upgrade off of a copy of iTunes running on a virtual machine. The end result was that a little over a day after getting my fancy new iPhone, it went from awesome toy to useless paperweight. And not even a very good paperweight, mind you, since it's fairly light. Fortunately, my husband's laptop still ran Windows natively and after fighting through crappy middle-of-the-night network connections (I hate Bell DSL), we managed to restore my phone to its out-of-the-box state. I think the reason why the upgrade failed on my machine is that iTunes did something funky whereby it connected and disconnected my iPhone. Because it was running on a VM, that meant that when iTunes disconnected the iPhone, the guest O/S unmounted the device and returned control to the host O/S. So as far as the VM was concerned, the iPhone went bye bye.

I then proceeded to plug it back onto my machine to re-sync contacts and music. The sync took FOREVER. Now, I hadn't done a full sync of my music library in a long time on my old iPod, but I didn't remember it taking this long. I mean, the thing ran overnight and it still wasn't done. After chatting with a hardware-savvy friend of mine, he informed me that USB over virtual machines are just plain slow, especially when you're on a single-core Pentium M processor. Well, that explains it. Still, I was willing to accept this über-slowness since I didn't plan on syncing my iPhone THAT often.

A couple of nights later, I was messing around on my computer and I decided to connect my iPhone. To my dismay, I found out that the Windows XP VM refused to recognize my iPhone. I tried it on my beefier desktop (Ubuntu 9.05 running a Vista Basic VM), and it finally worked after a few tries. My husband suggested that I might need to set up a native Windows machine if only to make using iTunes less painful. And he took that one step further and suggested that I set up a dual-boot machine, so that I could still keep my beloved Ubuntu.

I must admit that I was completely against the idea at first, but then I warmed up to it. After all, there are times when it's just easier to have the damned Windows machine around. And let's face it: VirtualBox is a great tool, but it's not perfect. So I embarked on my dual-boot journey. Now, I remember back in the day that setting up a dual-boot machine was a royal pain in the ass. But I did seem to remember from my last Ubuntu install that it seemed to support dual-booting out-of-the box. So I kept my fingers crossed and hoped that my memory wasn't failing me.

I decided to start with a Windows Vista install on my dual-core Dell desktop. I chose Vista only for a change of scenery. Besides, I'm REALLY hoping to get my hands on a cheap copy of Windows 7 and replace the Vista install. Since I'd set up my Ubuntu machine with a separate /home partition, I figured that I could just wipe the root Ubuntu partition, and install Vista on half of that. Great idea, but it didn't quite work out the way that I'd wanted it to.

When I went to install Vista, I found out much to my dismay that my root partition was a logical partition, and that the Vista install CD didn't like my /home partition was located. So I wiped everything clean, and partitioned out half of my 400GB HDD to Vista, and left the other half to Ubuntu, which I'd have to re-install from scratch.

Apart from the mess-up with the partitions, the Vista install went really well. Before long, I had iTunes installed and my sync time had increased DRAMATICALLY.

It would be another 3 weeks before I'd get around to re-installing Ubuntu. Installing Ubuntu alongside Vista was actually suprisingly easy. The installer recognized the fact that I had a Vista partition and even offered to import some of my profile settings (not that I had many). Since I didn't want to muck around with stuff, I didn't do any fancy partitioning. The install completed quickly, and voilà: I had a dual-boot machine! FYI - the dual-booting is handled by GRUB.

Still, I wasn't quite satisfied with the setup, since I hadn't gotten the Ubuntu partition quite the way I'd wanted it. Normally I have 3 partitions for my Linux installs: a root partition, a /home partition, and a swap partition. So I decided to re-install Ubuntu. When I went to re-install it, I found out that the Ubuntu installer had somehow INCREASED my Vista partition to a whopping 395GB, and only left 5GB for Ubuntu. So I had to go into the partition tool to fix things up. After that, I was good to go.

One final note. My original plan had been to give the Ubuntu machine and the Vista machine the same name since they were on the same physical box, but, as my husband pointed out, it's really like the computer had a dual-personality. So I've aptly named my split-personality machine Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. Can you tell which one is which?

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