Linux is an open-source Unix-like operating system that has been available in one form or another since 1991. Many servers operate on Linux, which is probably its primary use case. Early on in the Linux timeline, it was thought that the operating system would be popular for home and educational use; instead, those areas have been dominated by macOS, Windows, and more recently ChromeOS on Chromebooks. There’s still a lot of interest in Linux in the IT and scientific communities, and it’s a popular OS to learn more about. Today, we’ll look at two ways that you can quickly install and run Linux on a Mac.
Running Linux in Parallels Desktop
Probably the easiest way to set up Linux on a Mac is to create a virtual machine (VM) in Parallels Desktop. Parallels is an extremely popular VM environment for Mac, available from MacSales.com for just $79.95. The best things about Parallels Desktop for those interested in trying out Linux is that it includes free distributions for Ubuntu, Fedora, CentOS, and Debian GNU/Linux (a Linux-like OS that uses the Linux kernel). As an example, we’ll show you how to install Ubuntu in Parallels Desktop 12.
1) Make sure you have Parallels Desktop 12 installed and running on your Mac.
2) At the Parallels Wizard window that appears upon launching the Parallels Desktop environment, click “Download Ubuntu” from the list of Free Systems listed at the bottom of the window (see image below):
3) Click the Continue button once the Ubuntu logo is highlighted. A window describing Ubuntu is displayed, with a Download button in the lower right corner. Click the Download button, and Parallels Desktop begins to download the Ubuntu distribution files to your Mac.
4) Ummm…that’s really about it. Everything is installed in a brand spankin’ new virtual machine, and you’re presented with an Ubuntu login screen asking you to enter a new password:
5) To gain access to files on your Mac as well as external drives, it’s a good idea to install the free Parallels Tools for Linux. That’s done with a single click on the yellow “caution” triangle that’s seen in the menu bar at right in the image above. Reboot the Ubuntu VM after installation and log in again. This time, you’ll see the full Ubuntu desktop, complete with the “Dock” at left showing a variety of pre-installed apps like LibreOffice, Amazon, the Firefox web browser, and more:
Install Linux in Oracle VM VirtualBox
Don’t have the bucks for Parallels Desktop? There’s a completely free way to run Linux in a virtual machine using Oracle VM VirtualBox. It’s a free virtual machine system without a lot of the bells and whistles available with Parallels, but it’s perfect for those who just wish to experiment with another operating system without spending money.
1) Download a free copy of Oracle VM VirtualBox from www.virtualbox.org. The file ends up in the Downloads folder; find it, and double-click it to mount the .dmg disk image file (see image below):
2) Per the instructions, double-click the package file to run the installer. Let the installer have access to your system, then click Continue, change the install location if required, click Install to install Oracle VM VirtualBox on your Mac. Enter your user name and password when prompted.
3) At the end of the installation, you’ll be asked if you wish to move the Oracle VM VirtualBox installer to the Trash. It’s a good idea to keep things clean, so click Move to Trash.
4) Find the Oracle VM VirtualBox app in the Applications folder and launch it. In the window that appears, click on the blue New button to begin installation of a virtual machine.
5) Enter a name for your VM and select the type (Linux) and version of Linux to install. There are quite a few choices; for the purposes of this article we’re selecting Ubuntu (64-bit):
6) Click the Continue button. Over the next few pages you’re asked to select the amount of RAM to be allocated to the VM (use the recommended amount), to create a virtual hard disk file (use the recommended size), the hard disk file type (select VDI), whether the VM hard disk file should grow (dynamically allocated) or be of fixed size (choose dynamically allocated), and the location and name of the virtual hard disk. Instead of the standard 8GB virtual hard disk size, select 16.00 GB so that the Ubuntu installer has plenty of space to perform the installation. Between each question, click Continue or Create.
7) Here’s the big difference between Oracle VM VirtualBox and Parallels; you’ll need to download the installation disk image for your Linux distribution and make it available for installation of Linux. For Ubuntu, click this link to get to the download page and click the LTS version Download button to start the file download. Ubuntu is user-supported, so if this is the distribution of Linux you’re going to install, consider donating to the cause.
8) When the download is finished, an ISO disk image file (.iso) is in your Downloads folder.
9) Now return to the Oracle VM Virtual Box Manager window. Click the Ubuntu VM to select it, then click the green Start arrow.
10) A dialog appears asking you to select a disk image to start up from. Point this to the .iso file downloaded in steps 7 and 8, then click Start (see image below):
11) The next dialog asks you to select a language, then asks if you wish to “try Ubuntu” (run it from the disk image) or “install Ubuntu” (actually install it on the VM). Click Install Ubuntu.
12) You’ll be asked if you wish to download updates while installing Ubuntu or Install third-party software for graphics and Wi-Fi hardware, Flash, MP3 and other media. Check both boxes, then click Continue.
13) Since your VM currently has no operating system installed, select Erase disk and install Ubuntu on the next screen, then click Install Now. Note that this is not erasing your Mac hard drive — it’s erasing the virtual hard drive.
14) You’re asked “where you are”. Select your time zone and click Continue.
15) Select the proper keyboard layout for your country, or click “Detect Keyboard Layout” if you’re unsure. Click Continue.
16) Next, it’s time to set up yourself (or someone else) as a user. Enter your name, a computer name, a username, and a password. Require your password to log in (if you’ll actually be doing work on this VM), and optionally encrypt your home folder. Click Continue.
17) After a lot of installation action, you’re asked to restart the computer. Click the Restart Now button. You will most likely see a message asking you to “remove the installation disk” and press Enter. Just press Enter, and Ubuntu loads from the installed VM. Log in using the username and password from the previous step, and you’re up and running on a completely free Linux distribution.
Linux is a powerful operating system with a wealth of open-source software. The great thing? You don’t need another Mac or PC to try it on; you can easily create a virtual machine through Parallels Desktop, Oracle VM VirtualBox, and other virtualization applications. Let us know what your favorite Linux distribution is — and why — in the comments below.