Virtualization Software: VirtualBox

I’ve settled on the free VirtualBox software for my virtualization needs. It runs using Windows, Linux or OS-X as host software although this article describes the installation of VirtualBox on Windows 7.

Virtual Box LogoI’ve been using Oracle’s VirtualBox software to run a virtual machine on my Windows 7 PC and I recently started using it as the virtualization software on my Virtual Server Testbed. I’ve used both Parallels and VMware Fusion on my Mac. Both of these worked fine and are commercial apps. Despite having already bought them I decided not to use them when I switched to the Mac Mini. VirtualBox can run on Mac OS X but I switched to Windows since my Windows machines have more horsepower.

Licensing

VirtualBox is available under a couple different versions/licenses. One is the open source GPL license, the other is a closed source license. The differences between the versions is documented here. The primary differences are that the closed source edition provides an RDP server and USB support. The open source edition provides a VNC server instead of RDP and lacks the USB support. I went with the closed source version mainly because it’s the one I downloaded and installed before I knew there were two versions. But I kept it primarily because of the USB support. The closed source version is free for personal use and evaluation.

Host Operating Systems

VirtualBox can be installed on Windows and most desktop and server versions since Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 are supported. For Windows XP and Windows 2003 only 32-bit is supported. For Windows Vista, Windows 7  and Windows Server 2008 both 32 and 64-bit are supported. I’m using it on Windows 7 64-bit. I’ve installed it on Windows 7 32-bit but haven’t created any VMs on it.

Mac OS X 10.5 and up are supported as are numerous flavors of Linux. A updated list of supported hosts are in the online user manual.

Guest Operating Systems

VirtualBox supports a wide range of guest operating systems. Windows 7 32 and 64-bit, Ubuntu 9 and later for both desktop and server along with Windows Server 2008 are the ones that are on my list of requirements and they are supported. All Linux 2.6 versions and editions are supported along with FreeBSD and OpenBSD (among others) so I’ll have plenty of choices to play with. The complete list of supported guest OS’s is in the online user manual.

VirtualBox Installation on Windows 7

The VirtualBox installation on Windows 7 is straight-forward. Download the installer, execute it and answer the prompts in the wizard. There’s nothing special in the wizard prompts. I’ve put screenshots of each wizard screen below. Click the thumbnail for full size.

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Once I click the Install button the progress status is displayed:

virtualbox-install07During the install there will be several driver prompts which will require confirmation and maybe a UAC prompt but eventually the completion dialog will appear:

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I accept the defaults except for the creation of the desktop and quick launch shortcuts which is just a personal preference to avoid shortcut overload. Be aware of the warning that the network connection will be briefly dropped.

Once VirtualBox is started the following screen will be displayed and the virtual machines can be created.

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Preferences

By default VirtualBox will create virtual machines and hard disk in the user profile directory. This isn’t where I want them so I go into File –> Preferences and change the defaults. They can also be changed on the individual virtual machines.

virtualbox-install12Other than that I’ve been running with the defaults.

Tips

The “Host” key is the right “Ctrl” (Control) key by default. To send a <Control> –<Alt> – <Delete> to the virtual machine use <Host>-<Del>

As each virtual machine is created and started the first time be sure to install the guest additions using the Device menu.

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Summary

As someone who doesn’t have any business specific needs for their virtual machines I find the free VirtualBox software is more than the equal of the VMware and Parallels software I was using. Although I’m admittedly still in the honeymoon phase and my feelings may change as I create more virtual machines with different guest OS’s.