October 21, 2010

Bulk view

Saving development time through virtual appliances

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3291/2838195408_cd8f049914.jpg
Photo (c) 2008 JakesDad – Creative Commons Attribution Licence 2.0

I’m beginning to be a big fan of virtual images for development work, because they save me from having to have the setup above. I already bring two laptops – don’t need more!

By downloading and customizing an image of a system that is already configured for typical development tasks, I can save myself a lot of administrative time – and keep development work more cleanly separated from the other files on my computer.

Both VMWare and Virtualbox have many virtual appliances available, and you can start using them with the appropriate player. Both VMWare and Virtualbox are free for personal, non-commercial use. I’ve taken advantage of a VMWare licensing program at work, installing VMWare Workstation so that I could take snapshots of my development environment if necessary.

I picked the Turnkey Drupal 6 distribution, a 175MB download. Installing Apache, MySQL, and PHP on Ubuntu is easy, but it was good to be able to take advantage of Turnkey’s support for https and other niceties. I may still have to install everything onto the production server manually, but at least we can do the setup easily. I changed the passwords from the defaults, of course.

I didn’t think it would be this easy. I had avoided virtualization for a while because it had felt slow and clunky the last time I tried it years ago. With 3GB of memory, this tablet PC can run both Windows 7 and the development server images just fine. Running Linux inside Microsoft Windows (instead of the other way around) might have helped, too. Setting up networking was a breeze, too. I chose bridged networking, which made the virtual machine seem like a new computer on the network.

The only quibble I’d like to fix is definitely a nerdy one – I’m back to QWERTY in the virtual machine, because it ignores the Dvorak keyboard mapping I’ve chosen on the host operating system. It’s an easy matter to change this on Linux (“loadkeys dvorak” at the command-line), but an even easier (and more responsive) way to work with this is to use ssh to connect to the virtual image.

Full speed ahead!