VirtualBox 4.1.12 and Linux Mint 12

Since VirtualBox 4.1.12 was released a few days ago on April 2, 2012, I was curious to see if the sluggish menus and faulty Compiz experienced in Linux Mint 12 would perform better in the newer VirtualBox.

I tested three varieties of Linux Mint 12: An existing installation, a fresh installation, and Linux Mint 12 with MATE.

The results with MATE lead to a pleasant surprise.

Linux Mint 12 Existing Installation

After updating to VirtualBox 4.1.12 and installing the 4.1.12 GuestAdditions in an existing Linux Mint 12, I restarted the virtual machine only to experience the same sluggish main menu as before.

There was about a half second delay before the menu highlight would follow the cursor. I wrote about this in the Linux Mint 10 vs Linux Mint 12 article, and it persists in VirtualBox 4.1.12.

Somehow, I think GNOME 3 is the culprit, not VirtualBox, since anything based on GNOME 3 tends to slow down in VirtualBox. However, this is only a theory.

Compiz refused to work. Same errors. Same hassle. No improvement.

Linux Mint 12 Fresh Installation

To be fair to VirtualBox, I created a fresh installation using the linuxmint-12-gnome-cd-nocodecs-64bit.iso image. Also, I updated Linux Mint 12 to the latest Update Pack 4 released today (April 5, 2012).

The Update Pack 4 took almost an hour to complete its installation, but after that I installed the GuestAdditions and began experimenting.

The menu was still sluggish with the highlight lag. No improvement. Performance was the same as Linux Mint 12 in VirtualBox 4.1.10, and Compiz was a struggle to install. Compiz eventually worked — partially. The panels disappeared the same as before once Compiz was enabled.

New this time was a complete system freeze when attempting to install Compiz from Linux Mint’s Synaptic Package Manager. The entire host desktop froze, and only the mouse cursor would move. Nothing responded.

This is the first time I have ever experienced a system lockup on Linux when I was not tinkering with the kernel or video drivers. Rare. I restored the system by exiting to CTRL + ALT F1, logging in at the command line, killing all VirtualBox processes (they were still running), then returning to graphical mode with CTRL + ALT + F7. All open windows were lost since X had restarted. I am not sure what caused that to happen, and it has not happened again despite repeating the same procedure.

The panels disappear in Linux Mint 12 with Compiz enabled.

Linux Mint 12 MATE

A version of Linux Mint 12 labeled Gnome + MATE provides the MATE user interface for those who prefer the classical look and feel of GNOME 2 and previous versions of Linux Mint. To switch to MATE, click the gear icon at the right of the username in the login screen and choose MATE.

MATE actually performed better than Linux Mint 12 with GNOME 3. Menus were snappy and responsive — just like Linux Mint 10.10.

After installing Update Pack 4 on the MATE installation (a process that took yet another hour), I installed the GuestAdditions and attempted to install Compiz.

Compiz works with Linux Mint 12 MATE!

After hours of struggling with the “main” version of Linux Mint 12 and GNOME 3, the MATE version does what Linux Mint 10.10 does well: Install and show the Compiz desktop effects. The panel remains visible too.

Well, sort of. Linux Mint 12 defaults to a single workspace layout, so the cube is really a plane. But Compiz is working, so only tweaking remains. Setting multiple workspaces is not as obvious as Ubuntu 10.10. Adding the Workspace Switcher to the panel and increasing the number of workspaces does not add more faces to the cube as it does in Ubuntu 10.10.

Enabling Compiz from a terminal produces error messages that should never appear, so this might have an effect. Anyway, Compiz works in Linux Mint 12 MATE without too much hassle. It is still not as easy and straightforward as Linux Mint 10.10, but it works and the animation is fluid inside VirtualBox.

Linux Mint 12 MATE contains Linux kernel 3.0.0, yet it uses the GNOME 2 desktop environment. In short, it performs well in VirtualBox — better than the flagship Linux Mint 12 with GNOME 3. If you would like to have a somewhat updated Linux Mint while retaining the GNOME 2 interface and snappy response, then give Linux Mint 12 Gnome + MATE a try.

One truly bizarre effect I experienced with MATE and the Compiz Raindrop effect is that when the Linux Mint 12 MATE screensaver kicked in and the virtual machine went blank, the virtual machine’s desktop repeatedly drew itself onto the HOST DESKTOP!

Do not adjust your screen! With each new raindrop, the host desktop redrew a squashed version of the guest’s desktop after the screensaver activated. Multiple, squished desktops were appearing in random locations on the host. Weird…

 

It felt like the guest OS display was “leaking out” onto the host desktop. Powering off the guest OS stopped the effect.

 

What About Linux Mint 10.10?

Linux Mint 10.10 runs flawlessly inside VirtualBox 4.1.12, and I never encountered any problems similar to those seen with Linux Mint 12 (or any problems at all, in fact). I could not ask for better performance from a Linux distribution. The menus are snappy, the guest system is stable, and Compiz installs and runs without fuss. Linux Mint 10.10 does what I wish Linux Mint 12 would do, and Linux Mint 10.10 does it well.

Linux Mint 10.10 is a superb performer.

Conclusion

VirtualBox continues to improve and impress. At first glance, it looks the same as previous version 4 VirtualBoxes, so the interface is familiar and easy to pick up and use. With version 4.1.12 available, I would recommend the upgrade because its reliability affects the reliability of every guest OS running under it.

Compiz works with Linux Mint 12 MATE running in VirtualBox 4.1.12, but this is most likely due to the version of Linux Mint rather than VirtualBox since different Linux distributions behave differently. So, if you want to experience the most responsive, hassle-free VirtualBox + Linux Mint combination, choose Linux Mint 10.10.

For those unfamiliar with VirtualBox and virtual machines, it is definitely worth trying. The ability to run multiple operating systems — each inside its own virtual environment — opens new computing possibilities and ideas.

VirtualBox is one of those must-have programs that, once used, becomes a vital addition to the computing toolbox.

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  1. #1 by anthonyvenable110 on May 19, 2012 - 8:17 PM

    Thanks for this article I really enjoyed it a lot!!! After all, you managed to talk about one of my favorite programs Virtualbox, and a desktop environment that I look forward to messing with in the very near future. What I enjoyed most was the detail and it shows you put some time into it.

    • #2 by delightlylinux on May 21, 2012 - 4:01 PM

      Thanks! I appreciate your kind comments and the time you spend writing them.

      The research and writing requires quite a bit of time (sometimes days) to produce an accurate article, so if at least one other person enjoyed it, it was worth the time.

    • #3 by delightlylinux on May 21, 2012 - 4:11 PM

      VirtualBox is a fantastic, must-have piece of software because it allows people to experiment with other operating systems on a familiar system. When people inquire about Linux and ask to try it, I recommend VirtualBox inside Windows (for Windows users) to eliminate the panic of going cold-turkey. If they do not like Linux, they can always remove it without damaging the Windows system that contains their personal data. If they wish to switch to Linux as the main OS, then they already have experience running it from VirtualBox. Almost all people I have shared Linux with has tried Linux inside VirtualBox running on Windows before installing Linux as the primary OS.

      For anyone else curious about virtualization, VMWare is another product similar to the free VirtualBox. However, VMWare is a pay product, so I do not recommend it to those new to virtual machines. This way, if people decide virtualization is not for them, they can remove VirtualBox without losing money.

      People seem to appreciate that, and it makes experimenting with Linux risk-free and inviting.

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