Qubes may be the perfect OS for the Linux newbie

Qubes OS is thought of as a unique OS which emphasizes security, in this case security by compartmentalization, and this is why people like Edward Snowden and Micah F Lee have said positive things about it (see the Qubes home page).  But could it also be a great OS for someone trying to learn Linux?  Let me explain why I think the answer is YES.

I’ve installed Ubuntu linux multiple times on older Macs (and Canonical has done a fantastic job of making it easy to install on a wide variety of hardware).  Just like when they were running OS X, these old Macs booted into Ubuntu on startup and I could practice using the GUI programs and even a little command line interface (CLI).  The file system was written to the physical disk.  This worked great…..until I broke something. I would either spend hours trying to figure out how to fix it or (more likely) just re-install Ubuntu Linux and start again. This became quite frustrating and time consuming.

In Qubes, each operating system installed is running in its’ own virtual machine (VM), something that’s made possible by the Xen hypervisor.  (This also means you can install a variety of operating systems, even Windows.)  Put another way, the bare metal of the computer, instead of just running one operating system for one user, can run multiple operating systems for multiple users with multiple roles and levels of trust.  The key here is that a virtual machine can be easily duplicated (and erased).  And that is why it’s great for beginners.  Install Qubes (my installation of Qubes OS 3.1 came with VMs for Fedora 23, Debian 8, and whonix), duplicate one of these VM’s, then tinker away on the copy. Screw it up? No problem! Shut down the VM, delete it, duplicate yourself a new one from the template and start from scratch…..in minutes.

The VM Manager in Qubes OS
The VM Manager in Qubes OS

QubesOS on a System 76 Lemur

lemurI’ve been fascinated by the security-by-compartmentalization model used in Qubes OS, a Linux-based operating system.  I even managed to get it running as a virtual machine in VMWare Fusion on OS X, but wanted  to get dedicated hardware to run it on.  Failing on several older macs I had around the house, I decided to ante up for a Linux laptop.  With some encouragement from Micah  F. Lee via Twitter, I decided to order a System76 Lemur  14″ laptop for my experiment.  The Lemur arrived today and it looks like I have successfully installed Qubes 3.1!  I’m happy to say the hardest part was figuring out how to get a boot menu (F7 after powering on in System76 computers).

My plan is to post about my experience as I go along.