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I'd like to run a linux VM that let's me treat a disk exactly the same way a real Linux installation would - i.e.: I want to use it to prep disks that will then be transferred to and used on Linux boxes, so I want the entire disk formatted with ext4 partitions.

I've checked out Virtualbox, VMWare Fusion, and Parallels. Virtualbox and VMWare Fusion (5) seem to have some limited full disk support, but in a way that seems risky, fragile, and not recommended. (And possibly likely to accidentally overwrite data on the host drives if one is not extremely careful.) I couldn't find any info about how to do this with Parallels (8).

Additionally, the ext2/3 support in OSXFUSE seems relatively unstable for production use.

Is there a reliable way to do this?

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I'm not sure this is going to work very well. I'm not sure that your GRUB bootloader is going to maintain its integrity between a VM environment (which handles bootloading virtually) and a true environment. Which version of Linux will you focus on? That might direct us better. –  bispymusic Mar 5 '13 at 1:43
    
You might look into virt-sysprep. It is built into Ubuntu and certain other Linux distros. It generalizes a virtual machine image for use in cloning to physical machines, similar to Sysprep & ImageX in Windows. –  bispymusic Mar 5 '13 at 1:47
    
I'm less concerned with prepping disks for boot as I am with copying a lot of data to a disk to be eventually used in a linux machine as a secondary drive, so grub not working isn't a problem. I just need the drives to be natively formatted in a linux-compatible way. The obvious answer is to get a linux box to do that on, but I'm wondering if there's any way to do this via virtualization on OS X. –  fields Mar 8 '13 at 20:41
    
That changes things certainly. I know VMware and Parallels both support using Boot Camp partitions, which makes me think there is a way to do it. Also, if this is non-boot data, what about using a virtual disk, but having it mount your physical disk as a storage location, which you can then move over later to the linux box? –  bispymusic Mar 8 '13 at 20:50
    
That might be an option. –  fields Mar 8 '13 at 21:03
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