Running Linux via Parallels inside another operating system

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Running Linux within OS X or Windows

If you are running Windows, the classic "dual boot" solution for having a Linux installation on your PC might be a bit daunting and is definitely an inconvenience. If you do most of your work in Windows, or are more comfortable with it, you can have the best of both words if you install the Parallels virtual machine (which costs about $50).

Likewise, you can run Windows within OS X this way, or Linux within OS X. Since pretty much anything you could need from linux is available on OS X, thanks to the similarities of the operating systems, this is most likely to be of interest to specialized users. Nevertheless, it is worth having a look.


Installation is incredibly simple. Just download a trial version of Parallels and install it. Then download a disk image of Ubuntu (I recommend Xubuntu because it is the least demanding on resources). Then start Parallels, select "Ubuntu" from the guest operating systems menu, and then direct it to the "iso" image, which is presumably on your desktop. Then just complete the installation.

Obtain Parallels

Download Parallels from here and install it. Either register for a two week free trial license (you will be prompted when you open the program), or else pay for it. After installation, it requires a reboot so that the hardware will all be recognized.

Obtain a Linux Operating System

Download an iso disk image of the Linux distribution you prefer. I suggest the latest stable release of Xubuntu as a very user-friendly, clean, and light-weight option. Like all versions of Ubuntu, it is 100% free. Xubuntu uses Xfce4, although it is trivial to install KDE or Gnome after that.

Install it

When Parallels starts up, provide the trial key (it gets emailed to you) or the registration code, and then as the program loads, it will prompt you for the guest operating system type ("Ubuntu" in our example) and then the location of the disk image (mine resides on the desktop and is named xubuntu-7.0.4-desktop-i386.iso). Parallels will read this directly and will open a Linux session immediately. This is running as a demo mode, and is designed to allow users to try it out before installing it. When you are ready, hit the "install" icon on the Xubuntu desktop, and it will require a (virtual) reboot (within parallels, not the host machine) and then it will begin the installation onto a virtual disk (disk image) that Parallels has created in your account on the host machine. It will say it is about to reformat that disk drive (i.e., the virtual disk drive). Don't worry, it won't try to reformat your host machine's disk drive. It can't see it by default. The installation will complete, and then require another reboot, and you are set to begin.

What it looks like

Here is Xubuntu Feisty running within Parallels on my i386 intel iMac.


I'm using a "theme" that mimics the OS X appearance. There is also one that mimics Windoze XP.

Run it

The Ubuntu operating system will now run almost exactly as if it were on a dedicated PC. First, update all of the default packages (sudo synaptic) and then add all the available distributions (universe, multiverse). I've put together a separate wiki page entitled Scientific Computing on Ubuntu that explains everything in more detail.

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