Running Ubuntu as a Virtual OS in Mac OS X

Our intrepid writer installs and tests Ubuntu Linux within both VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop on Mac OS X. Can you really run both Linux and Mac OS X simultaneously and achieve nirvana?
Unpacking Virtual Appliances

While everything was downloading, I made sure I had downloaded and installed both apps properly, VMware Fusion 1.1 and Parallels Desktop 3.0 Build 5582.0. Both offer fully functional 30-day demo licenses, so you can try Ubuntu in both environments without paying a dime. I used fully licensed commercial versions of the two programs, but they're functionally identical.

Once the virtual appliance files were downloaded, as shown in Figure 1, it was time to unpack them and double-click to see what would happen. Remember, Macs are the computers for the rest of us, so it really should be this easy if the vendors have done their work correctly.

Figure 1. Both the VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop virtual appliances download as RAR archives, easily handled with Mac OS X.

To unpack the RAR archives, I installed and used an application called The Unarchiver, which you can grab from, among other places. I encountered a glitch while unpacking VMware, as shown in Figure 2. I optimistically clicked on Continue, but it didn't work. None of the files extracted were larger than a few dozen KB. Plan B was to download a different Ubuntu virtual appliance, Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon 7.10 Desktop. And this time, it didn't use BitTorrent, so I watched it slowly download a 468MB image, just to find an archive file ending with .7z, which I'd never seen before. The Unarchiver claimed to deal with 7z archives, but rejected this as corrupted too. Before I gave up though, I downloaded yet another app, 7zX, and after almost 20 minutes, it unpacked successfully.

Figure 2. The first Ubuntu virtual appliance download for Fusion was corrupted, which is darn frustrating after waiting for a 657MB download to complete.

Although the Parallels download comes in four parts, with cheery names like ubuntu-7.04.tar.part1.rar, RAR-friendly apps like Unarchiver automatically concatenate the files. The end result is ubuntu-7.04.tar.gz, which can again be double-clicked on and unpacked to ubuntu-7.04.tar, which again unpacks (why am I reminded of Russian nesting doll puzzles), finally, into the files we seek. The end result is a folder called ubuntu that contains all the necessary files. You can see the files unpacking properly in Figure 3.

Figure 3. It's always exciting to watch a progress bar. This one shows Parallels Desktop virtual appliance Ubuntu 7.04 unpacking from the RAR archive into a .tar.gz file.

Now it's time to double-click on the virtual appliance images and see what happens. In the case of Parallels, I clicked on ubuntu.pvs, and about a minute later, I was presented with the login window shown in Figure 4. I logged in, and it all looked great, but there was no network connection, which was solved by changing the network option in Parallels Desktop itself from bridged to shared networking (NAT), then clicking network connection on the Ubuntu menu bar. A few seconds later, and you can see the results in Figure 5.

Figure 4. Parallels Desktop running Ubuntu—we're ready to log in.

Figure 5. Parallels Desktop running Ubuntu within the Mac OS X world, logged in, on the network and quite usable.

With the VMware Fusion archive, it wasn't as obvious what needed to be double-clicked to get started, but Ubuntu-7.10.vmx seemed like a good choice. It worked, as shown in Figure 6, but notice that the window was far bigger than the Fusion parent window. Additionally, VMware Fusion complained that the VMtools hadn't been installed, which was a surprise given that it's a download I found at the VMware site. Also, the account and password pair didn't work, because it was a different VA image from what I originally had planned. I guessed and lucked out: ubuntu and ubuntu worked, and after fussing with screen resolution settings—but not having to tweak the network settings—I had Ubuntu working within VMware Fusion too, as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 6. VMware Fusion running Ubuntu. By default, the Ubuntu virtual appliance had a ridiculously high resolution set, far bigger than the Fusion window itself. You can see that by how the login prompt isn't centered.

Figure 7. VMware Fusion running Ubuntu within Mac OS X. Once tweaked, it worked perfectly in the virtualization environment.


Dave Taylor has been hacking shell scripts for over thirty years. Really. He's the author of the popular "Wicked Cool Shell Scripts" and can be found on Twitter as @DaveTaylor and more generally at


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Mac OS X's Unarchive Utility and Passwords

lowell's picture

Wow. I think he gets the message. Mac OS X is UNIX, not Linux because of its NeXTSTEP origins.

Anyways, you /didn't/ have to re-download anything. Mac OS X's default unarchiver can't handle password protected archives (though it never explicitly warns of that) - and it looks like you inadvertently invoked that instead of whatever app you had intended. Next time, remember (and use) either the app's shortcut key or control-click and use the context menu to unarchive to make sure you invoke the right program. Or you can reassign the filetype altogether in cmd-I.

I just wanted to say that

Anonymous's picture

I just wanted to say that having the vote star ajax thing above the article prompted me to just try it out and give it one star. it should be placed below the article so people might read before voting...

Mac OS X is built around a

Teddy's picture

Mac OS X is built around a *fully* compliant 100% certified UNIX kernel. There is no Linux there. Apple is the world's largest supplier of UNIX-based machines...


David Herron's picture

You left out VirtualBox -- which also runs on Mac OS X. I use it quite a bit with various operating systems and it does a really good job as well.

I just wanted to say that

Anonymous's picture

I just wanted to say that having the vote star ajax thing above the article prompted me to just try it out and give it one star. it should be placed below the article so people might read before voting.

not only does X11 run on

Anonymous's picture

not only does X11 run on unix, that's where it was fucking created. linux is the late comer to this game. i like linux as much as the next engineer, but seriously, the opening lines of this article were so inaccurate i gave up and stopped reading.

OS X = Unix
linux ≠ Unix
linux is "unix-like", and linux isn't a fucking OS, it's a KERNEL. get it through your fucking heads.

It took me until he said all

Anonymous's picture

It took me until he said all operating systems were free except for Windows. Last I checked, there was a price tag on Leopard.

sounds like a pissed off asshole to me.

Anonymous's picture

Who pissed in your corn flakes? You seem like the type to "help" users by giving code to wipe out drives. Go smoke some weed.

or maybe ....

Anonymous's picture

Or maybe someone who gets tired of misleading information, especially when it comes from an authority like Linux Journal.


Anonymous's picture

Not being able to have desktop effects via Compiz is what bugs me most about running virtual.

Why virtualize?

Anonymous's picture

Although Mac OS X is built upon BSD, I was having some trouble getting some bioinformatics C++ code to compile on my Mac. As such, I used VMWare Fusion and Ubuntu 7.10 Server, and it worked great (I already had a few other Ubuntu servers doing the same thing). I was able to allocate one of the quad-cores as well as 4 GB of RAM just to that virtualization.

I haven't used Parallels, so I can't speak to that, but certainly here is at least one example of why someone might want to virtualize Linux on a Mac.

Nice article!

Mallory not Hillary

Anonymous's picture

Just a little correction - the quote you allude to in the 3rd paragraph "Because it is there" was made by George Mallory not Sir Edmund Hillary.

Wow! Thats amazing ! You

Anonymous's picture

Wow! Thats amazing ! You used a virtual machine to store...a...virtual machine...

Next up you should open up the chess app to see if it really plays chess!

Free alternatives to Fusion and Parallels.

Narcoblix's picture

i know of at least two free alternatives to Fusion and Parallels. One is VirtualBox, and the other is Q. I would recommend VirtualBox over Q, as VirtualBox is much more polished, but Q is lighter weight, and can be installed without admin privileges. Check both out if you don't have the cash, or just want to experiment without investment.

Parallels is not a "Mac-only company"

Withakay's picture

There is a version of Parallels for Windows too

There is also Parallels Server and Parallels Virtuozzo Containers.
It does not inspire confidence when an article has this many basic errors...

Yawn, OS X as a guest OS and

Anonymous's picture

Yawn, OS X as a guest OS and Linux as the host OS using Virtual Box, now there is a worthy article.

Use Sun VirtualBox, works GREAT

Mr. Save My Money's picture

Save all your money. Use Sun VirtualBox (FREE) and Unbutu (FREE) on OSX and it runs great.

I have it running right now! Works great.

Mac OS X is built on top of UNIX not Linux.

Anonymous's picture

Mac OS X is built around a *fully* compliant 100% certified UNIX kernel. There is no Linux there. Apple is the world's largest supplier of UNIX-based machines.

"Built atop NetBSD, there's

Anonymous's picture

"Built atop NetBSD, there's quite a bit of Linux sitting there..."
Mac OS X is built atop the Mach kernel, using FreeBSD userland tools and the Objective C based interface from NeXT/OPENStep(to the best of my understanding) and again there is no Linux "sitting" there...

well said A. Seda


AriX's picture

There are a couple of inaccuracies in this story... Mac OS X is NOT built off of Linux, it is built off of Unix. Please correct this, as the open source fanboys do NOT like it when you mistake the two.

Secondly, not only is Mac OS X 10.4 called Tiger and NOT Panther, you can NOT download Boot Camp for Tiger from Apple's web site. Boot Camp is currently only available for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard.

How much RAM

shampoo's picture

How much RAM do you have on your Mac Book and how much did you dedicate to Ubuntu ?


A. Seda's picture

I think you might want to clarify some things in your second paragraph.

"...already has a very nice Linux distro hidden beneath Mac OS X..."
In all cases what is beneath Mac OS X is Unix or Unix like, not Linux.

"Built atop NetBSD, there's quite a bit of Linux sitting there..."
Mac OS X is built atop the Mach kernel, using FreeBSD userland tools and the Objective C based interface from NeXT/OPENStep(to the best of my understanding) and again there is no Linux "sitting" there...

Overall is very nice article....

Virtualization software

Anonymous's picture

As well as Parallels & VMware, there's the free, open source virtualization software called VirtualBox (

Also, you can just download a LiveCD of the distro of your choice and install that way (no matter which virtualization software you use), straight from the .iso file - no need to download a virtual disk.

Wow, you missed the point.

Anonymous's picture

Wow, you missed the point. Sure, you could download a live cd, but Dave's method saves you the install. You aren't downloading a 'virtual disk', but a pre-configured VM w/ guest tools installed already.


Anonymous's picture

You might want to clarify your opening paragraphs; it almost sounds like you're saying that NetBSD and Linux are the same things. OS X is built on top of a Mach kernel derived mostly from FreeBSD, with some chunks from NetBSD as well. X11 runs on the BSDs and other Unixes as well as Linux.

After that, well done :)

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