Ubuntu Server VM Console Tweaks

As technologists, we're blessed with a wealth of interesting and useful tools these days. One of my favorites is the VirtualBox virtualization product from Oracle. It runs on a variety of host platforms including Windows, Linux, and Mac and enables one to easily run another guest operating system. I use VirtualBox to run Arch Linux, Ubuntu Server, and Snow Leopard on my Windows 7 and 8 hobby hacking notebooks.

I could prattle on about why every self respecting developer should do the same, but that's a ditty for another time. Today I'm going to show you one way to fix the puny default command line UI of a fresh Ubuntu Server installation on VirtualBox.

On most modern systems, when you fire up a freshly installed console-based VM, you're greated by a tiny little window and terrible looking fonts. If you installed a GUI-based VM, you can change the default graphics behavior by building and installing the Guest Additions.

But how do you change things on a console-based VM? There are a number of ways (setupcon in .profile, deprecated vga kernel boot parameter, etc) but I'm going to show you a more elegant way using grub and an updated initial RAM disk.

Update Grub

I'll assume you've already installed a Ubuntu Server 12.10 VM and are sitting at the shell prompt.

First, configure grub (actually grub2) to use a different display resolution and grow the tiny VirtualBox VM window by editing grub's defaults and compiling a new /boot/grub/grub.cfg. On my Windows 8 64bit host system, setting GRUB_GFXMODE=1024x768x24 was the perfect size. You may need to drop into grub's shell and run vbeinfo to find your systems supported graphic modes.

jon@ubusvr64:~$ sudo vim /etc/default/grub
# modify the following configuration variable
jon@ubusvr64:~$ sudo update-grub

Update the Initial RAM Disk

Next, update your console setup and init RAMdisk environment to use a better looking font. You'll tweak a couple configuration variables, copy the desired font to the correct location, and update the current init RAMdisk. As my console uses CODESET=Lat15, I chose the TerminusBold font sized at 24x12.

jon@ubusvr64:~$ sudo vim /etc/default/console-setup
# modify the following configuration variables
jon@ubusvr64:~$ sudo cp /usr/share/consolefonts/Lat15-TerminusBold24x12.psf.gz /etc/console-setup
jon@ubusvr64:~$ cd /etc/console-setup && sudo gzip -d Lat15-TerminusBold24x12.psf.gz
jon@ubusvr64:~$ sudo update-initramfs -u
jon@ubusvr64:~$ sudo reboot


As you can see, this was a fairly painless yet elegant way to save your eyes when using a console-based Ubuntu Server VM via VirtualBox. If you've discovered a cleaner solution, drop me an email.

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