I’ve been toying with the idea of switching to one of the popular Linux distros as my primary OS for a while now, but one thing has been holding me back, which is the lack of support for Zune, the Windows Phone sync software, on that platform. There are no sync tools available for my mobile phone of choice, sadly, which places a big limit on what I can and cannot use as an operating system.
This isn’t uncommon. Even Windows XP users are unable to sync Windows Phone devices without upgrading; this seems a little unfair when Windows Phone owners with Mac OS X computers can sync with no issue. Fortunately, there is a way around the problem thanks to VirtualBox and a copy of Windows 7 (although Windows Vista and Windows 8 should also work).
Why Use a Virtual Machine?
This solution requires the use of the VirtualBox virtual machine software. It’s a useful, flexible solution that is often overlooked in favour of VMware produces, but VirtualBox is packed with features that should always be considered. Oh, and it’s free.
The beauty of a VM means that you can regularly archive the entire OS whenever large system changes are made, saving the virtual PC or server to disk for later restoration. If you’re using a Linux or XP host installation (and your hardware is cable of virtualization) then there should be plenty of resources available for your guest OS to utilize. That gives us a great platform for installing the Windows Phone 7 sync software and media player.
Configuring Your Virtual Machine
You’ll need to have a Windows 7 virtual machine setup in VirtualBox. This might sound complicated but the software makes it fiendishly simple, as explained previously on MakeUseOf.
Your Windows Phone is connected to your physical PC via USB. The guest operating system (Windows 7 running in VirtualBox in this case) cannot use the device while it is in use on your host OS. In order to resolve this problem, you will need to enable the device.
Before you can do this, however, you will need to install the Oracle VM VirtualBox Extension Pack, available from the Oracle website. This software is available in several releases, so make sure you choose the one that matches your version of VirtualBox – otherwise while installation of the extension pack will work, VirtualBox will be unable to use it. Check your version of VirtualBox in Help > About VirtualBox… (note that if you do install the wrong edition of Oracle VM VirtualBox Extension Pack, simply follow this by installing the matching version; this will downgrade the previously installed version).
Before proceeding, and with your guest Windows 7 OS switched off (a full shut down as opposed to a saved state), in Oracle VM VirtualBox Manager right-click the OS and select Settings > USB, and check the box labelled Enable USB 2.0 (EHCI) Controller.
Next, restart the guest OS in VirtualBox. Once it has booted, open Devices > USB Devices > Unknown Device – this will prompt the host OS to install the required drivers, which will in turn enable the guest Windows 7 OS to install the necessary drivers for your Windows Phone. You can check this – or force the process if it doesn’t initialise automatically, by going to Start, right click Computer, select Properties and then Device Manager.
Here you should see USB Composite Device listed. If a yellow triangle with “!” is displayed alongside, right-click and select Update Driver Software….
Installing Zune On a Virtual Windows 7 Installation
Everything you have done so far should make it possible for you to install Zune and connect a Windows Phone 7 handset. Head to Zune’s download page to download the latest version to your virtual PC, and follow the installation instructions.
Once this is installed on your guest OS, connect your Windows Phone via USB, and click Devices > USB Devices > Unknown Device once again – you’ll need to do this each time you connect the phone.
You will then be able to sync data to and from the phone, take advantage of the Zune software for adding content and apps and generally use it just as you would on a non-virtual Windows 7 computer!
The lack of support for Windows Phone 7 on Linux systems (and even Windows XP) is somewhat short-sighted, but Microsoft’s mobile platform can easily be connected to a virtual machine in order to sync data. MP3s, photos and videos can be transferred from the VM to your main, host computer using a shared folder that you might have setup already.
VirtualBox is the recommended solution for this approach. Although there are other virtualization applications (such as VMware) the solution provided by Oracle seems to be more stable when it comes to supporting Silverlight applications such as Zune.