I have a word of advice for anyone bringing out a new version of a Linux distro — or any other operating system (OS) for that matter. Make sure it works in VirtualBox! Why? Because VirtualBox and similar programs are increasingly becoming the major testing grounds for any new software, particularly software that could destroy or seriously damage a system. I’ve been through enough failed installations and dual-boot nightmares to know that you don’t install a new OS unless it offers some fairly spectacular advantages over the one you currently have. Admittedly, when you already have Linux Mint that’s pretty hard to do, but I am happy to give other systems the benefit of the doubt, and as each new version of Ubuntu or Fedora or OpenSUSE comes out online, or appears in the letterbox with the latest copy of Linux Format, I fire up VirtualBox and give it a run.
The results, alas, are not inspiring. I make an exception for Fedora, which usually behaves itself pretty well. But both the latest OpenSUSE and the new Ubuntu 11.04 failed to properly deal with the VirtualBox Guest Additions, which means I can’t view them full-screen sized or try out any of the hardware acceleration tricks. Maybe these are wonderful, and just what I would need to make me abandon Mint and become a devoted OpenSUSE KDE’er, or a Unity fanboy, but since I can’t see them working in VirtualBox. I’m never going to find that out.
Yes, I could use Live CD mode, but this is reeeealy slow, it doesn’t give me any indication of how the system will actually behave on a hard disk, and it doesn’t remember any extra drivers or other software that I happen to install. And after several years of fighting with Linux installations before they became user-friendly, I’m still not totally happy about handing control of my PC to a piece of plastic with its own agenda.
So Canonical, Red Hat and all, here’s my two cents’ worth: if you want your new releases to get good reviews and wide testing, make sure they install and run properly under the major virtualisation programs.