Try out Linux: How Linux works on the Mac, without stress

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Many talk about it, not everyone has tried it themselves: install the alternative operating system Linux in a so-called virtual machine, without making any changes to make your own hard disk. Sounds awfully complicated? It is not. This is what we show you in our workshop.

Regularly reads in online news or journals of new Linux distributions with exciting new features. Then, when screenshots of the chic-looking user interfaces are added, the interest quickly arises in daring to do the installation. Since the BootOS dual-boot system belonging to macOS is intended exclusively for Windows, it is very easy to make experiments. But it is also possible without manual creation of partitions and crafts on the boot manager: The solution is called virtualization!

What is Virtualbox?

Virtualbox is a so-called virtualization software that includes a complete computer system including processors, hard disk and Mimicking memory on a host system. This makes it possible to install any operating system that runs in its own window. This is called a guest system, your current macOS accordingly as a host system. This is not only useful if you want to quickly test a Linux distribution or a version of Windows. On the contrary, it works so well on today’s Mac systems that you can even work productively with the second system. Another advantage is that you can copy the entire operating system, the so-called virtual machine, in one go and transfer it to another computer.


It takes : 55 minutes
You learn : Installation of Ubuntu Linux in a virtual machine.
You need : Enough free Storage space, the freely available Ubuntu and the likewise free Virtualbox.


You can download Virtualbox for free at Under the somewhat hidden point “Virtualbox binaries> Virtualbox 5.2.6 platform packages> OS X hosts” you will find the right link. Then open the downloaded DMG file and run the included installation program “Virtualbox.pkg”. Now click on “Continue” and “Install”. Since Virtualbox wants to install a system extension, it may happen that macOS interrupts the current installation process and asks you first for the appropriate permission. In this case, change to the “Security” system setting displayed and click the “Allow” button. If the installer aborts with an error message as a result of this operation, there is no need to worry – just run it again after confirming the security warning.

You will still need a Linux distribution, of course. In this article we do not use the current Ubuntu version 17.10, but instead the more stable Ubuntu 16.04.03 LTS. The “LTS” stands for “Long Term Support” and means that this version will be provided with security updates for a longer period of time. On the website you will find the corresponding download in the top right corner

If you are trying out Linux for the first time, we recommend that you also decide on this version first – it runs in usually the safest. Note that the steps shown in this article may differ, for example, if you prefer the Linux Mint distribution.

Create Virtual Machine

Before you begin installing Linux, you will need first a virtual machine on which the operating system will run. This basically works the same way as putting together a real machine: you choose the hard disk capacity you want, the amount of RAM you need, the number of processors, and so on. The difference now, however, is that all these properties are recreated by software. The necessary resources are shared with your main system. So, if you have eight gigabytes of memory and allocate two gigabytes to the virtual machine, then only six gigabytes remain for macOS while the guest is running. Your existing Internet connection will also be shared with the guest – and vice versa. You do not have to worry about setting up a Wi-Fi network after installation.

Virtualbox offers you a huge number of setting options during the setup of the virtual machine. These include, among other things, the desired chipset, the graphics acceleration and even the passing through of serial interfaces. However, we will limit ourselves to basic options such as disk space and memory. This is quite sufficient for most applications.

It is particularly practical that several virtual machines can be created and even started in parallel. The number of concurrent systems depends on the performance of your Mac.

After the setup is complete, you can proceed with the installation of Linux.

Save Space

The virtual disk is stored in a file and does not need a separate partition. We recommend a dynamically allocated hard disk. Although this has a limited size, but takes the necessary file only as much space as is actually needed. The hard drive grows with a sense. The work may be a bit slower, but saves space.

Installing Ubuntu

The Ubuntu Installation Wizard greets you as soon as the virtual machine boots for the first time. It also gives you the opportunity to try the new operating system first, before deciding on a permanent installation. This option is especially useful if you pack the downloaded ISO-format drive image onto a bootable USB stick or burn it to a DVD to boot the system in this way. In this case we speak of a so-called live system, which is completely loaded into the main memory. Although this is possible within a virtual machine, it is not recommended because of its ease of installation.

At the beginning of the installation process, you will be asked to determine the correct time zone for your location. The default is “Berlin”. By clicking on “Next” you will get to a configuration dialog for the preferred keyboard layout. Depending on the previously set location, a sensible preselection is automatically made, which you can of course change at any time. We recommend the setting “German – (Macintosh)”. Under the selection windows, you will also find an input field in which you can type freely and thus check the key assignment in advance.

In the next dialog, enter your name, the desired user name, a password and the computer name. If you select the option “automatically log in”, no password entry is required when starting Ubuntu. In addition, you still have the option to have your private data encrypted automatically. Unless you use the system for experimentation and experimentation, you can confidently give up encryption.

During the installation of Ubuntu, a presentation of the most important features and preinstalled programs is automatically started. If you have never worked with Ubuntu or any other Linux distribution before, this is a good opportunity to get acquainted with the most important things.

After the installation is complete, you will be asked if you have any Remove installation media and press Enter. Since you did not install Ubuntu via a USB stick or a DVD, you do not need to worry about anything. Pressing Enter will restart the virtual machine. Then you can log in with the previously defined access data and experiment with the new operating system as you wish.

Getting Started with Ubuntu

While this article basically refers to the software Virtualbox, it does Of course, we do not want to leave you out in the rain with Ubuntu.

After starting, you will first be on the Unity desktop. Similar to macOS, there is also a global menu bar at the top. However, the associated menu entries are only displayed when you move the mouse over the bar. On its right side is the system menu, whose symbol resembles a gearwheel. Here you can shut down, restart or configure the system.

On the left side of the desktop is the Start menu, which basically performs the same function as the dock on macOS. In addition to the standard links to the file browser Nautilus and the office software Libreoffice, the top button, the so-called quick start menu, is of interest. After clicking on it, an input field appears that corresponds in its function to that of Spotlight under macOS. You can also easily search for installed applications, look at directories, or browse your multimedia files for pictures, videos, and music data using the buttons at the bottom.

Shut Down Ubuntu

If you want to shut down Ubuntu, use only its system menu. While you can simply close the guest window and choose “Turn off the virtual machine,” that’s basically the same as pulling the power plug-data that you have not saved may be lost.

Enable 3D Acceleration

If you’ve already experimented a bit with the freshly installed Ubuntu, you’ve certainly noticed that the system behaves sluggishly. This is especially noticeable when moving a window. Ubuntu uses the so-called Unity desktop up to version 16, which requires an activated 3D acceleration for an efficient representation. However, this is turned off by default in Virtualbox. To change this, you must first shut down the guest. To do this, click on the gear icon in the upper right corner of the Ubuntu system and then select the “Shut down” entry. In the main screen of Virtualbox, select the previously created virtual machine and then click the “Change” button. In the configuration menu that appears, select the “Display” tab and check the box next to “3D acceleration”. After clicking on “OK” you can start Ubuntu again and enjoy the now much smoother presentation.

Keyboard, mouse and the host key

Virtualbox offers the possibility of mouse and keyboard input ” catch “. In this case, all inputs are forwarded to the guest system – they no longer have any effect under macOS. To toggle this mode on and off, all you have to do is press the Host key when you are in the guest system. Note that you must explicitly confirm the power-on, but you will not receive another message when the power is turned off. The host key is the left [cmd] key. To change this setting, from the Virtualbox menu, click Settings> Input> Virtual Machine> Host Shortcut.

Capturing is useful when keyboard shortcuts overlap. Thus, the shortcut [cmd] + [tab] under macOS is used to quickly switch through all open programs. On Linux, the same combination will cycle through the Start menu.

Where’s the catch?

Installing multiple operating systems in virtual machines is undoubtedly a nice thing. It is not only possible to easily try new things, but also to work effectively with the installed systems. However, since a virtual machine must share the existing capabilities of the Mac on which it is installed, there are inherently limitations. These are especially noticeable in 3D acceleration. So, if you’re thinking about setting up a windows system in the way shown to run up-to-date 3D games on your Mac, we’ll have to disappoint you.

If you intend to work with a guest while working run compute-intensive programs on the Mac, then be aware that these no longer work with the usual performance. You should therefore postpone a pending processing of the holiday videos to another time.

Despite these limitations, productive and enjoyable work is possible if you allow the guest sufficient resources. The use of Office programs, various browsers and even image editing programs and other multimedia applications is thus nothing in the way. So you’re by no means limited to taking a quick look at another operating system.

Installing Guest Extensions

If you decide to work productively with the virtual machine They usually have the ability to exchange data and files between host and guest systems. This can be realized with a shared folder, a shared clipboard and even USB sticks. Before that, however, another step is necessary: ​​the installation of the guest extensions. Fortunately, this proves to be quite easy.

First, make sure your guest is up and running. In the menu of Virtualbox then select the entry “Devices> Insert guest extensions” and click on the “Run” button in the window that appears. Unfortunately, it may happen during installation that the error message “Virtualbox Guest Additions: modprobe vboxsf failed” appears. In this case, right-click on the CD icon in the Start menu of Ubuntu and select “Eject”. Then restart Ubuntu and try again.

More efficient with keyboard shortcuts

There’s more you can do with the host key than just capture mouse and keyboard input. Use the keyboard shortcut [host] + [f] to toggle full-screen mode on and off, to generate a screenshot with [host] + [e]and to view current system information with [host] + [n].

Set up a shared folder

First, create a folder on your Mac whose contents you want to share with Ubuntu. To set up the shared folder, from the Virtualbox menu, select “Machine> Change” while Ubuntu is running, or click the “Modify” button in the overview if Ubuntu shuts down. Now select the “Shared Folders” tab and click on the small folder icon on the right. Now you can navigate to the previously created folder using the Modify drop-down box. Activate the check mark “Automatically include” and “Create permanently” and close the configuration by clicking on “OK”.

The shared folder is now set up, but the necessary access rights are still missing. Again, this is easy to change: Open a terminal window on Ubuntu by clicking on the “Scan Computer” button in the Start menu on the left, then enter “Terminal”. Now type in the command

sudo adduser your username vboxsf

and confirm with Enter. When entering your user name, pay attention to the correct capitalization. For the changes to take effect, you must reboot Ubuntu. You can then exchange files between both systems via the “Files” folder.

Set up shared clipboard

To share multiple files, the shared folder is perfect, but for the Of course, this solution is too cumbersome to copy texts quickly. Virtualbox therefore offers you the possibility to share the clipboards of the host and host system.

To do this, open the virtual machine settings menu as described in the previous section and select the “General> Advanced” tab. In the Shared Clipboard drop-down box, you can now specify which directions sharing is allowed. We recommend the “bidirectional” setting so you can conveniently exchange data in both directions.

Clipboard Restrictions

The shared clipboard only serves to transfer texts and images. Exchanging files or even entire directories is not provided. Use a shared folder for this purpose.

Include storage media in the guest system

If you connect a USB stick or an external hard disk to your Mac, these will not be displayed in Ubuntu, but will be included as standard in the host system. However, this behavior can be changed. To do this, go back to the virtual machine settings and activate the “Ports> USB” tab. Now connect the desired storage medium to your Mac and then click on the symbol with the USB plug and the small plus sign. A list of all connected USB devices appears. When making your selection, make absolutely certain that you have really selected the desired storage medium before confirming with a click on “OK”. For example, if you have accidentally selected your mouse, it will only be available in the guest system while it is running.

Now eject the storage medium under macOS. A short time later, it appears in the Ubuntu launch bar and can be used as usual.

Workshop: How to Create a Virtual Machine in Virtualbox

Workshop: How to Install Ubuntu on the Virtual Machine

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