A recent laptop upgrade has finally given me the chance to escape the evil grasp of Microsoft Windows and move to something which I can consider "my operating system". An operating system which works exactly the way I want it to.
I still need Windows for a number of things but the majority of what I do (terminal based stuff) is better suited to Linux/UNIX anyway. I figure the extra horsepower the Thinkpad T400 provides me with will allow me to run Windows XP in a virtualized environment along side Linux. I chose Linux over FreeBSD because FreeBSD is more a server/desktop orientated operating system and isn't really all that suited to a laptop setup, especially on something as new as this machine. So why Debian? Ubuntu seems too much like "n00b" linux to me and I'd rather have more control over things than giving it up for the sake of it being "easier to use". Gentoo looked attractive, primarily because of "portage" but it seems Gentoo's direction is uncertain and a declining user base doesn't sound too healthy.
I downloaded a fresh copy of the Debian Lenny CD 1 ISO from debian.org and installed it as a dual boot setup using grub as a boot loader. The T400 features some shiny new gizmos and so I was forced to upgrade to the 2.6.29 kernel in order to gain support for the new Intel Wifi Link 3500 card. Running such a new kernel introduced some additional complications, mainly around getting the proprietary graphics card drivers for the ATI Mobility Radeon. I've yet to get that issue resolved and have fallen back to the open source radeon drivers for the time being. I don't think I will tackle Compiz until I get a decent framerate from my graphics card.. otherwise it just won't be worth the hassle.
I used Virtualbox to virtualize Windows XP. Originally I had planned to virtualize the copy of Windows which resided on the physical partition but in the end decided it's just all too messy(hardware profiles etc.). Instead, I just created a new instance of Windows using a virtualbox dynamic disk. The windows install is surprisingly usable. Once I had that installed, I followed some instructions from the ubuntu forums on getting a headless copy of Windows up and running. I did however, skip all the bridging stuff described in the guide as it seems very flaky when your system would not always have a static IP. Since this is a laptop, my IP would be changing to all sorts of things as I move from one network to another. Instead, I enabled a second network adapter using the "Host only network" option and communicate using RDP to the VM via the IP assigned to this adapter. Internet connectivity is then provided via the other, primary NAT'd interface. This approach removes the need for bridging, static IP complications and any IP masquerading which would be required by other methods.
I feel that running headless windows within X is really going to work out well for me - now I have the freedom of Linux without loosing out on any mandatory applications provided by Windows.
I will attach some screenshots shortly..