Set up a VirtualBox VM

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On a sufficiently-resourced computer, VirtualBox is a useful way to spin up a virtual machine (think of a computer within a computer). There are many uses for this - e.g. creating a Windows machine on your Mac so you can test on Windows, or creating a space where you can experiment with tech things with no risk to any data you care about.

On Windows, this is also another alternative to putty and WSL.

Prerequisites

Hardware

  • 16GB storage (you will allocate 8GB)
  • 4GB RAM (you will allocate 1GB)

Software

  • The latest stable version of VirtualBox

Other

  • a .iso file for the version of the operating system you want to install, e.g. Debian

Any operating system will do, including Windows.

Note: these steps have been tested with Debian, so there may be additional work for some other OS's.

Creating your VM

First, check the hardware prerequisites, install VirtualBox, and download your .iso file.

Launch VirtualBox.

Click "New" and follow the guide. Make sure to give 1024 MB of RAM, as some choices will default to a lower amount. Otherwise, stick with the defaults.

The window for creating a new VM will then close, but you're not ready to start yet. Click your VM on the left sidebar, then click the "Settings" gear.

In "Settings", go to "Storage" and select the device under "Controller", which probably says "Empty" or similar. Click the blue CD, click "Choose a disk file", and find your .iso. If you haven't moved it, it's probably in your "Downloads" folder. Click "Open", then "OK" to finalize your choices.

Now you can power up the VM and walk through the installation guide.