Recently, there's been a lot written about virtualization. Ever since Steve Jobs announced the move to Intel, there's been huge flurries of excitement as commercial virtualization products like VMWare and Parallels and open-source products like VirtualBox improved their offerings. Not just on the Apple platform, either (you should see the amount of work that has gone into the Linux KVM and Qemu programs). However, these "traditional" virtualization programs have had problems, mainly because they run a separate operating system in a separate window (recent products have sort of fixed this, but issues still abound). Luckily, there is another option: andLinux, a full-blown Ubuntu Gutsy-based distro that has been around for quite a while. andLinux utilizes the coLinux kernel, which is a port of the Linux kernel to Windows, which greatly improves speed (nice for those of us who only have 512 MB of RAM). Also, coLinux allows the VM and the host to share resources, while you have to virtualize all the resources in a "traditional" virtual machine offering.
I chose to use the "minimal" XFCE-based version of andLinux, since I was running the tests in a machine with limited resources (384 MB of RAM). It was a still a fairly hefty download sizes at 130MB, but there were a variety of mirrors and I found it fairly fast to download. The system requirements were huge too: andLinux wanted at least 3GB of space and 128MB of RAM. Obviously, if you use the KDE-based distro, the sizes will be much larger.
Installation was a breeze. Almost everything, including the PulseAudio sound server and the Xming X server, was installed without needing to consult me with complicated configuration problems. The file sharing part (where the user has access to the Windows partition) was a little tricky for non-savvy users, but as long as you stick with COFS, you're fine. The only other configuration option was picking the amount of RAM andLinux has to use (they have a recommended amount, so it's pretty easy). After rebooting, all seemed fine, except that Windows Firewall wanted to know if I wanted to allow Xming, which allowed for the graphical display of Linux apps. When I unblocked it, andLinux worked flawlessly. Also, you sometimes need to follow the instructions at the andLinux forum for it to work. Once that was done though, andLinux worked great. I found out later that it could have been a problem with andLinux starting as a service, so when I chose to "run andLinux manually in a command prompt + use Windows shortcuts" in the installer, andLinux worked much better.
Adding New Stuff
I decided to install three programs on each: Kopete (a KDE instant messenger), gedit (the Gnome text editor), and youtube-dl (a command-line app). This basically spans both major toolkits (KDE is based on Qt and Gnome is based on GTK+, so apps from either toolkit should work if Gnome and KDE apps work) plus a fairly complex command-line app.
In andLinux, you can use either the command-line apt or the Synaptic Package Manager interface to install new packages (the repository is the Ubuntu Gutsy official one). Since Synaptic is what most users will use, I used that. It worked like a charm, installing all 58 dependency packages and overall doing a superb job. All three worked out of the box, with the exception that Kopete wouldn't minimize to the tray. Gedit was flawless, able to save and read text files on the Windows partition, while youtube-dl... downloaded videos from YouTube with ease. There was one slight problem. The XFCE menu/launcher didn't include any of the three downloaded. Therefore, I had to manually launch them from the terminal, which most users wouldn't have thought of. I couldn't figure out how to add new programs, either. However, this could be simply because I'm using the XFCE menu, not the KDE one that most users will use in the full install.
There's one more thing that you can add to andLinux: GTK2 themes. andLinux looks REALLY bad out of the box. Luckily, you can add GTK2 themes really easily to the minimal install (KDE users can install the package kdeartwork and then change it using kcontrol). First, search for the word "theme" in Synaptic and pick the ones that sound nice (make sure they contain the word "gtk2"). If you're uncertain, just get the gtk2-engines package. Then, install gtk-chtheme and run it from the terminal (type in gtk-chtheme and hit enter).
If you're looking to try out Linux but don't want to mess around with partitioning, andLinux is a great option. It's certainly a lot more useful than, say, VMWare or Paralells. My one complaint is that it tends to be a little too complicated for non-UNIX types, but I'm guessing the full KDE install is much more user friendly.