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coLinux: Linux for Windows Without Rebooting

by KIVILCIM Hindistan

Operating system virtualization is popular technology these days. People run different operating systems on top of their existing ones not only for experimental purposes but also for production use. Many different virtualization systems exist. VMware, which runs on both Windows and Linux, may be the best-known proprietary example. It can host many operating systems from Win98 to FreeBSD and different flavors of GNU/Linux.

Of course, the free and open source software communities have their own virtualization software. Bochs follows the example of VMware, while Plex86 also does CPU virtualization.

For cases in which you'd rather run different versions of Linux atop an existing Linux installation, User-mode Linux may be a better answer. It operates at the kernel level and can supply a very stable, try-and-see sandbox for different Linux kernels, with almost no virtualization penalty. Because of this, more and more developers use User-mode Linux to test new kernels, drivers, etc.

What if you want to run GNU/Linux atop a Windows platform or try Linux without installing it on a partition itself, thereby preserving — and not even rebooting — your Windows system? Don't worry; VMware and Virtual PC are not your only choices. A new free software project called coLinux, or Cooperative Linux, lets you do nearly everything User-mode Linux does on Windows 2000 or XP.


To start, download two packages from the coLinux site. One must be the binary coLinux system. The other is your actual file system, a pre-installed GNU/Linux system. At the current moment you have two choices for the file system -- Debian or Gentoo. The project's Wiki site has instructions for making a Togo Linux install also. We'll use the Debian system for the purpose of this article.

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With version 0.6, installation is easier than ever. Download and run coLinux-0.6.0.exe. The tap device and everything else will be taken care of. For the sake of simplicity, install to C:\colinux.

If you are using an earlier version, take the following steps manually.

Now that you have downloaded these files, extract them to some directory, preferably C:\colinux if you do not want to make many changes after the install. The file system (18MB) will decompress to 1Gb. Do not worry about that, just be sure that you have enough free space.

If you are using Windows 2000 as your base system, after extracting everything go to Settings -> Control Panel -> Add/Remove hardware -> Add/Troubleshoot Device -> Add a new device -> No -> Network Adapters -> Have Disk -> (Go to TAP-Win32 directory chose OemWin2k -> Next -> Next -> Finish.

If you are using Windows XP this process is a bit different: Control panel -> Add hardware -> Yes -> Add a new hardware device -> Install from a list (Advanced) -> Network Adapters -> Have Disk -> Chose OemWin2k driver (from where you unzipped it) -> Next -> Next, and Finish.

In version 0.54, there was a syntax error in default.config.xml where the root file system's <block_device> tag remained open. Change the root file system to refer to your file of choice or put the name of the extracted 1GB image file's name into root_fs. Then, close the tag by adding </block_device> after enabled="true"> and before the next <block_device> tag. This does not apply to version 0.6.

You can make other changes to the config file. For example, you can change the amount of RAM with the <memory> tag or choose your swap file. Be cautious, though.


If everything is ready, you can launch coLinux from the colinux-daemon. This will open a console window and boot your Linux system. You should see something like Figure 1.

coLinux booting
Figure 1. coLinux booting.

After booting, another window named "Cooperative Linux console" will open. This will be your virtual Linux monitor. Here you will see a normal Linux system booting, as shown in Figure 2.

coLinux console booting
Figure 2. coLinux console booting.

You're ready to go when it says:

Debian GNU/Linux 3.0 colinux tty1
colinux login:

Log in as root with no password (remember you are still on Windows ;). You'll be in the loop file system, still just a single file on your Windows drive. If you use df -kh to see used space, you'll see the following lines

Filesystem	Size	Used	Avail	Use%	Mounted on
/dev/cobd0	1008M	91M	865M	%10	/

This is a very basic system with just enough installed to use networking.

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