Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Trying out VirtualBox 2

VirtualBox 2 is out. VirtualBox is Sun Microsystems’ entry into the Virtual Machine market, and competes against Parallels and VMWare. Unlike the others, it is free and comes in an open source flavour.
Since I have been using Parallels for some time, and VirtualBox is free, I thought I’d give it a spin on my MacBook, using Mac OS X as the host operating system. Parallels is excellent for running Windows Vista (and presumably XP), but its Linux support has been a little lacklustre and the past 2 releases have not supported Ubuntu 8.04 despite being released after Ubuntu has been released.
For version 2, quite a bit of work has gone on to make VirtualBox fit into OS X better, and it shows – though it still feels like a port, it looks very much look a native Mac application and it’s very easy to get going. Since I only have 1 Windows Vista license and I’m already running it in Parallels, I decided to try it with Ubuntu 8.04.
And it seems to work well. Plus, VirtualBox’s ‘Guest Additions’, software for the guest OS which enhances support, work for Ubuntu 8.04 – unlike Parallels Tools which only work for older Ubuntu releases. They also go further; not only do you get dynamic screen sizing (the display area adjusts depending on the virtual machine’s window size), seemless mouse pointer integration and time synchronisation – there’s also clipboard synchronisation and an attempt at desktop integration, which resembles Coherence mode in Parallels, but it works under Linux as well as Windows. However, it’s a bit buggy and I had some rendering issues while trying to use it.
Other down points? There’s no importing from other disk formats – so if you already have virtual machine set up in Parallels you can’t use it straightaway in VirtualBox (although if you can find a tool that converts the disk to the VMDK format you may have some luck). And PowerPC Mac owners are out of luck as VirtualBox is Intel-only, although running an Intel VM on a PowerPC machine would be very slow anyway.
That all being said, VirtualBox is a strong contender, and you can’t argue with free. For many, this will do everything that they demand from its commercial rivals, without costing a penny.


  1. I’ve used an older version of VirtualBox on my iMac as I wanted to try Solaris out. I had a few problems with installation of Solaris but I was impressed with how well it ran when I did get it going.
    I’ll have to update to version 2 and see how much it’s improved since then

  2. Just FYI, VirtualBox actually supports VMDK (VMware) and VDI (Microsoft Virtual PC/Server) disk images. It’s very handy, although it works best if the guest OS is Linux, as Windows often has trouble booting with different virtual hardware, even if the disk itself is readable.