Saturday, July 26, 2008

Seamless mode of virtual machines could be improved.

Thanks to Windows, we are so used to Ctrl+Tab. (What? You are using a device called mouse?)

Virtual machine has advantages over host machines, though it is usually because of the users rather than the OS itself. Consider the case that you are using Linux as your host OS, but you would also like the the benefits from Windows, besides you get an licensed version. You might be using VirtualBox, or VMware products. They both have a seamless mode which integrates the guest OS into your host OS. This blurs the edge between the host and the guest. You might not notice that the applications are running on different machines. I could watch from Windows Media Player and update my Ubuntu at the same time.

All seems good before you come to a keyboard-only guru. The 'Ctrl+Tab' simply won't work when you want to switch between host and guest. The focus will not be released, when it is captured by the guest, unless the 'host key' is pressed. This is not an idea 'seamless' mode, where even gurus will not notice the switching from guest from host.

There are two possible trends of seamless mode for virtual machines on Linux. One is to make use of workspace on Linux. A workspace is like a separate root window on windows and the number of workspace can be changed by users. A virtual machine could use one entire workspace for the guest OS. This is especially convenient if the guest OS is a single workspace operating system. Another possibility is to make guest applications more like host applications. This is similar to Wine. However, one might still want to keep the original theme from guest OS.

A 'seamless mode' is a very good start point for improved user experience.
A screen shot of seamless mode of VirtualBox.


  1. "A virtual machine could use one entire workspace for the guest OS."

    Stop thinking about that seamless mode for a minute. I never used it during the time that I run my WinXP virtualized. Just use the 'fill screen' from VirtualBox (VMware has a similar function, if I remember correctly), and use the keyboard command (it works every time here, captured or not, when you install the VirtualBox Guest Additions) to switch from one workspace to another. I still have a screen of that to illustrate the idea. By doing things this way, I never felt the need to try that seamless mode when once again I would consider it.

    As I can make out from your blog post, I think this manner of working would suit you. Give it a try! :-)

  2. Thanks for your comments Goofy,

    There is no 'fill screen' mode in the VirtualBox OSE. Did you mean 'full screen' mode? But that won't work for me. I still have to strike the 'host key' before switching between workspaces.


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