[wg-windows] Fwd: [Teaching] Fw: Minimal virtual machine for OCaml

Yotam Barnoy yotambarnoy at gmail.com
Tue Sep 1 16:26:18 BST 2015

I highly recommend that you look into vagrant https://www.vagrantup.com/
Last time I helped run a class that needed standardized components, vagrant
was the easiest choice. It's very uniform (everyone has the 'vagrant' user
by default), automatically sets up sharing of directories, and allows for
bring-up/tear-down/sshing in using very simple commands. You'll be able to
post simple instructions that everyone will be able to follow.

I recommend sticking with an Ubuntu distribution. Anything else will be
much harder to support.

Of course, a more ideal setting is to have everyone use the University's
standard unix accounts, as those will be even more standardized. But this
is a close second.


On Tue, Sep 1, 2015 at 11:02 AM, Thranur Andul <thranur at gmail.com> wrote:

> Thank you for the advice.
> To clarify what I'm looking for: I'm trying to make Linux usage as
> transparent as possible, exactly to avoid requiring much unix literacy,
> hence why I mentioned disk space usage. It's not so much an issue in
> itself, but if I wanted to distribute a static VM image with everything
> already installed, its size might become an issue.
> For instance, Eclipse, which used to be a quite large application, has a
> download size of 270 MB. It does not include the JVM, but after
> decompressing I'd estimate it (Eclipse + JVM) at about 1 GB.
> I don't know the exact size of Xcode, but some websites estimate it at 2-4
> GB.
> Visual Studio is probably the largest one, at about 6 GB.
> Certainly, installing a Linux via a VM includes much more than an IDE +
> compiler + runtime, but if it requires 7GB, it's still a hard pill to
> swallow.
> This brings me to another point: disk usage anxiety. Even with dynamic
> disk images, I'm afraid to give them a large size, so I end up worrying
> that it will run out of space. And the kinds of errors that happen in such
> situations are much less obvious to understand, especially for linux
> newbies. Should I just lose my fear and allow my disk images to dynamically
> grow to be as large as they want to be?
> For those reasons, I asked about a minimalistic Linux with the lightest
> possible UI, to save on disk space as much as possible. It's not so much
> about CPU, which for the intended purposes should be mostly fine.
> Finally, on the issue of transparency, another major difficulty I have
> when using a Linux VM is that the file systems are separate, so even if I
> tell the students to "just download that file and open it on your
> <Linux/OCaml-based application>", they'll either:
> a) Download it using Windows, then not be able to find the file using the
> Linux application (or have to move it to a shared folder, which they often
> forget);
> b) Be forced to use a browser inside Linux, which requires more disk
> space, setting up the browser, etc.
> I never found it very easy to configure Samba shares on Linux or to set up
> the filesystem in a way that maximum sharing could be achieved with minimal
> user intervention, especially without knowing in advance some parameters
> such as host/username, etc. Which would make it even more complicated to
> set up in advance in a static VM image for that purpose.
> Is there a better solution concerning transparency between Windows and
> Linux for OCaml usage purposes? E.g. using a Merlin-configured Emacs from
> Linux that could open a file downloaded via Windows and then compile an
> OCaml application that could easily read the files in a Windows directory
> to perform some action on them? It sounds almost like Cygwin, but that's
> another can of worms...
> Any partial solutions or tips you can give me about each of these issues
> is already greatly useful to me. I usually end up finding some solutions
> myself, but it takes a lot of time searching and trying, and if someone had
> already done exactly the same thing before, well, I'd be glad to learn from
> them!
> Best regards,
> On Tue, Sep 1, 2015 at 3:27 PM, Mr. Herr <misterherr at freenet.de> wrote:
>> Caveat: this is a general answer, my point of view, and not done with
>> OCaml
>> It certainly is technically feasible, depending on your desktop hardware
>> even easy to do.
>> You need a VM software. I had good experiences with Virtualbox. With MS
>> solutions you must find the right product for your Win version
>> (Virtual PC or Hyperv ) - I don't think it will beat Virtualbox in your
>> scenario.
>> Disk space: starting from 3G for the OS and ~4G for the opam directory,
>> this all depends directly on what you install.
>> You need quite some compilers, make and tools, and devel packages. Do a
>> pilot install, of course.
>> Linux distro: any current distribution will do. Performance will not be
>> much of an issue unless you have very weak desktops. I am using virtualbox
>> on my old notebook. But some ocaml package compile times are quite long
>> even on beefy machines (coq comes to mind).
>> As for the desktop environment: lighter is better, but not an issue
>> either, even on KDE you can turn off effects and background tasks to speed
>> it up.
>> Take what you and your students know.
>> skipping "... usual software ... coq ..." - is it an ocaml introduction ?
>> :-)
>> But:
>> There is a big risk of wasting time with subjects not in the centre of
>> your course, especially Linux setup and use.
>> This depends directly on the "unix/linux literacy" of your students.
>> /Str.
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