Which operating system do you use and why?

Virtual box is pretty cool, and performance is usually "reasonably acceptable" (although hard to predict, because the host OS will act as a sort of massive disk cache. Maybe. I run most of by VMs with 2G to 4G of memory, and my host has 14G. Things get pretty painful if I run enough VMs and Host apps at the same time to fill up the available memory.

One problem is that windows (in particular) doesn't come with particularly VM-friendly licenses. Put a purchased windows 8.1 on a VM, and you won't be able to clone it to a second VM on the same host, even if you were only going to run one at a time. I'm not sure what will happen if I delete the VM and try to install windows on a brand new one; I'm afraid to try till I actually HAVE to. (and being able to delete everything and start fresh is a very fundamental feature of using something like virtual box.)

One cool feature that helps with that, is you can take a snapshot, and then revert back to it. So, take a snapshot of your guest while it is pristine, before you screw up your OS installation (with a poorly behaving or experimental program or virus, for example).

take a snapshot of your guest while it is pristine

Ah; maybe I should be using "snapshot" instead of "clone" to revert back to virgin install state. WXP clones nicely; I put together a nice, bare, XP system, and then cloned it to have one for AVR development, one for PIC development, one for TI development, etc... The W8.1 "clones" are the ones that won't "activate."

I use Ubuntu (Linux). About a year or so ago I made the break from using OS/X (I still have a few Macs) but made my Linux box my main PC. Email, Firefox, Arduino, etc. I haven't regretted it.

For a start it is fast and reliable. Secondly you don't have licensing issues like "I see you haven't activated your copy of Windows yet - you have 14 days to do that".

But the really great thing is, a lot of stuff you just expect to pay for on Windows and Macs, you get for nothing on Linux. For example, video transcoding (ffmpeg). Mucking around with PDFs (pdftk). Some things (like Firefox, Audacity, Blender, ffmpeg) are also available on other platforms as well, to be fair.

I haven't had any problems using Arduino on Ubuntu, after maybe an initial hiccup with permissions (covered on this forum and others).

As for VirtualBox, I am running a Windows XP partition to support my Windows programs I wrote a while ago. Compiling a large program is still fast under VirtualBox, so I don't have any complaints there. Plus Wine is a possibility for running Windows programs.

Another consideration is: virus-writers tend to concentrate on Windows. I'm not saying there aren't Linux viruses, but I haven't personally experienced any.

Another great program to look into is rsync - I use that for incremental backups. It's like Time Machine on the Mac (at least, it can be configured to be similar) where you can keep files that were deleted or altered.

you can run it [ubuntu] from a USB flash drive. Here are the Instructions on the Ubuntu site

So can I use the live boot USB drive with a small file system ALSO on the USB drive? (saved config, user file, user documents, etc, all in real files on the flash drive.) I'd gladly sacrifice boot time and ram for the "live" image to have a USB stick I could insert "anywhere" and run MY unix environment... (normally, the "try it out" option just decompresses a virgin filesystem to ramdisk, right? I want it to decompress almost everything to ramdisk, and look to the USB drive for everything else...)

westfw: I'd gladly sacrifice boot time and ram for the "live" image to have a USB stick I could insert "anywhere" and run MY unix environment...

That is really what Puppy Linux was developed for. Try it. Note, however that it is a single-user Linux. But it sounds like that would be OK for what you want.

...R

westfw: So can I use the live boot USB drive with a small file system ALSO on the USB drive? (saved config, user file, user documents, etc, all in real files on the flash drive.)

Do a google for persistent install. The information I found is a little outdated (e.g. referring to Ubuntu Jaunty (9.something)) but it should still be possible.

curious48: The only thing that can be installed on a blank hard drive so that you can boot it is an operating system (because the definition of an operating system is that you can boot it), so your question about installing it on a blank hard drive is equivalent to asking "Is VirtualBox literally an installable operating system like Linux"? Which is an interesting question and the answer is "No". As far as I know neither virtualbox, nor VMWare, nor QEMU nor any number of other other options can literally be an operating system themselves that you can install on a blank hard drive.

You can boot any sort of program on a computer, from the hard disk. It may or may not be an operating system. An operating system is just a program that provides convenience for launching and supporting other applications, and often to manage running multiple programs concurrently. But those same applications could be written to not need an operating system at all, and to boot directly. In this modern times that is called bare metal programming.

You can do bare metal programming with a Raspberry Pi, or even your PC. We are accustomed to doing it with Arduino (at least most Arduinos). It is appropriate to do bare metal programming for some applications, but to do that for any and all applications would be extremely inconvenient, because you would miss out on all the stuff the operating system would normally provide for you. For example, you could write a version of gedit for bare metal, sounds easy, just a file editor. Suppose that is the one and only program you need to run on your PC. When you go to write a bare metal version of it you realize there's all sorts of stuff, like bootstrapping, window handling, file opening and closing, fonts and rendering, cursor and mouse pointer handing, drivers for everything (including mouse, keyboard, screen). The full list would have hundreds if not thousands of items you need to worry about. It would be pretty much a royal PITA.

A hypervisor is a fancy name for a virtualization host. VirtualBox is a hypervisor, or to be specific it includes a hypervisor among all the other software that makes up the suite. I believe Oracle has not made a bare metal version of VirtualBox, but VMWare has one. VMWare's version of a bare metal virtualization program is called vSphere Hypervisor. You boot it up on your box instead of an operating system.