In the past I’ve shown how easy it can be to run a full Linux operating system from inside of Windows (see my previous posts VMWare: See How the Other Half Lives and How to Create Your Own Virtual Machine Using VMWare Player). In both of those examples the Linux OS runs inside of a “virtual machine” where an entire virtual computer is created through software, right down to a virtual CPU, network card, graphics card, sound card, and disk. The Linux installation runs within this virtual machine and the virtual machine runs within Windows. This solution works but it makes a clear distinction between the Linux applications which are running in the virtual machine’s window and the Windows applications which are running natively on the desktop.
Recently I’ve been experimenting with a piece of software named andLinux which allows me to run my Linux application from within Windows without using a virtual machine or any other type of emulation. Let’s check it out.
andLinux is an application which gives you the ability to run Linux applications right on your Windows desktop. To understand how it does that we’ll first have to look at another piece of software which is at the core of andLinux. That core piece of software is name coLinux.
coLinux is a port of the Linux kernel which has been compiled to run on Windows. That means that it doesn’t have have rely on a virtual machine to be able to run on Windows — the kernel itself runs like any other Windows application. Because it’s a Windows application that means that it has access to your system’s CPU, memory, and hard drives. Don’t worry, though — coLinux was written to run cooperatively with Windows, not as a competitor. You choose how much of your physical memory you want coLinux to be able to use and what type of access (if any) to your hard drive you’d like to grant to it.
andLinux takes this coLinux kernel, bundles in a bunch of Linux applications, and wraps it into an easy-to-install package. For instance, the basic coLinux installation doesn’t include any type of graphical display ability. That means that if you had installed only coLinux and wanted to be able to use something other than the console (command line) you’d have to install and configure either some type of X-server (to run the apps locally in some sort of GUI) or a VNC server (to connect remotely and run the apps in a VNC desktop). andLinux saves you all of that trouble and automatically installs and configures the XMing X-Server. It also handles configuring its own connection to your PC’s network adapter by installing a virtual network adapter (called TAP-win32) and its own connection to your PC’s sound card using a utility called PulseAudio.
Running your Linux Applications
Once you’ve installed andLinux you can open any of the bundled Linux applications just like you would open any of your Windows applications (your Linux applications don’t appear under the Windows “Start” menu — they’re started from the andLinux KDE icon running in the system tray). If there are additional Linux applications you’d like to install you can just use the included Synaptic installation program, just like you would use in any other “normal” KDE Linux installation. Nothing special need to be done to install or configure those additional applications (with very few exceptions). Open Synaptic, choose the application you’d like to install, and Synaptic will do the rest.
Accessing your Windows files
It’s up to you to decide how much of your Windows file system you’d like to expose to andLinux. By default your Linux applications won’t be able to see any of the Windows files or directories on your hard drive. If you’d like to be able to easily copy files between Windows and your Linux apps you can use the included COFS or Samba packages to access your Windows shares from within your Linux OS.
Where’s the OS?
andLinux uses a kind of virtual file system to store the Linux OS and all of the Linux applications. This virtual file system is located under the Windows directory where you’ve installed andLinux. The file “base.drv” contains the OS and the applications (about 4GB when you initially install andLinux) and the file swap.drv contains the swap file used by the Linux OS. As you add and remove applications the size of the base.drv file changes accordingly. The Linux applications can only see this file system, not your Windows file system.
Benefits of andLinux
There are a number of ways to run Linux applications under a Windows OS. As I’d mentioned before, you can use VMWare to create a complete virtual machine and run your Linux OS within that machine. Alternatively, you can use a tool called Cygwin which acts as a kind of emulator and will translate many of your Linux OS calls to their equivalent Windows OS calls.
While both of these solutions are effective, neither can match andLinux in the areas of speed and simplicity. andLinux is lightning-fast because it doesn’t have to go through the emulation or translation steps required by VMWare or Cygwin to execute its Linux calls. Remember — the Linux kernel which it uses is already a Windows executable.
Not only is andLinux fast — it’s also easy to set up and use. The installation package only asks you a few questions and handles everything else on its own. Once you’ve installed andLinux your Linux apps are right there on your desktop, not in their own virtual machine or VNC connection. Need to edit a file? Now you can simply choose between Notepad or WordPad or their KDE equivalents, KWrite and Kate. Want to open a browser? You can choose between IE or the KDE browser, Konqueror. andLinux allows your Windows applications and your Linux applications to run side-by-side on your Windows desktop.
So that’s andLinux. If you’re a Windows user and you’d like a simple way to play around with Linux give andLinux a shot. Who knows — you just might find some Linux applications that work better than their Windows counterparts, or even some interesting applications which don’t have any Windows counterparts. If you’re a Linux user who’s forced to use a Windows machine this may be just what you need to run those Linux applications without having to go through the hassle of dual-booting or installing a virtual machine.
andLinux is free, it’s fast, it’s simple, and it works. Check it out.