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Sun Microsystems' Virtual Box is a family of virtual machine products targeting desktop computers, enterprise servers and embedded systems.

The software is being actively developed with frequent releases and has an ever growing list of features, supported guest operating systems and platforms it runs on. VirtualBox is a community effort backed by a dedicated company.

There are two versions of the VirtualBox software. The full VirtualBox package is released under a proprietary license which allows using the software free-of-charge for personal and educational use and evaluation of the product. The VirtualBox Open Source Edition (OSE) is the edition which has been released under a freely distribuable license and comes with complete source code. It is functionally equivalent to the full VirtualBox package, except for a few features that target enterprise customers.

VirtualBox allows you to run each of your guest operating systems on its own virtual computer system, which is called a "virtual machine" (VM). The guest system will run in its VM as if it were installed on a real computer, according to the VM settings you have specified. All software running on the guest system does so as it would on a real machine.

There is considerable latitude in deciding what virtual hardware will be provided to the guest. VirtualBox comes with a graphical user interface which greatly simplifies this process. Below we have two screenshots giving a flavour of the customization options that are available.

VirtualBox works on any PC with an x86 architecture. The software supports Intel's hardware virtualization VT-x and has experimental support for AMD's AMD-V, but does not use either of them by default. The software comes with special drivers for the Windows host that enables full USB support inside a virtual machine, and extra networking drivers to support Host Interface Networking.

To make full use of the system users must install the Linux Guest addition. The Guest Additions are designed to be installed inside a virtual machine. They consist of device drivers and system applications for the guest operating system that optimize the guest for better performance and usability. Specifically, they provide better video support, time synchronization, shared folders, mouse pointer integration, and seamless windows. For example, without the guest addition being installed the desktop resolution is limited to only 800x600.

Fortunately, installation of the Linux Guest addition is a breeze; it only involves the following steps.

sudo apt-get install dkms
mount the VBoxGuestAdditions.iso
run sh ./

Both of the above screenshows show VirtualBox in action with Ubuntu 8.10 as the guest operating ststem. We have the popular Firefox, Rhythmbox (an integrated music management application), and OpenOffice running in the first screenshot, and GIMP, Freecell (solitaire card game), OpenOffice (again), with a dialog box ironically proclaiming no proprietary drivers are in use on this system (although, of course, it is being run under XP) in the second.

The performance of VirtualBox is very good, and is roughly on a par with VMware. Networking is fast, audio works out of the box, the software is stable, and the graphics performance is sufficient for the majority of tasks. VirtualBox is a very impressive piece of virtualization software.

 VirtualBox 2.2.0

Free to download


VirtualBox Personal Use and Evaluation License

OSE released under GNU GPL

Sun Microsystems


Support Sites:
Documentation, User Manual, FAQ, Forums

Selected Reviews:, Idea Excursion

Features include:

  • Modularity. VirtualBox has a modular design with internal programming interfaces and a client/server design. This makes it easy to control it from several interfaces at once: for example, you can start a virtual machine in a typical virtual machine GUI and then control that machine from the command line, or even remotely
  • Virtual machine descriptions in XML. The configuration settings of virtual machines are stored entirely in XML and are independent of the local machines. Virtual machine definitions can therefore easily be ported to other computers
  • Guest Additions for Windows and Linux. VirtualBox has software that can be installed inside Windows and Linux virtual machines to improve performance and make integration much more seamless
  • Shared folders.VirtualBox allows for declaring certain host directories as 'shared folders', which can then be accessed from within virtual machines
  • Virtual USB Controllers. VirtualBox implements a virtual USB controller and allows you to connect arbitrary USB devices to your virtual machines without having to install device specific drivers on the host

Closed-source features

  • Supports the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). A virtual machine can act as an RDP server, allowing you to "run" the virtual machine remotely on some thin client that merely displays the RDP data
  • USB over RDP. With this feature, a virtual machine that acts as an RDP server can still access arbitrary USB devices that are connected on the RDP client
  • iSCSI initiator - contains a builtin iSCSI initiator making it possible to use iSCSI targets as virtual disks without the guest requiring support for iSCSI
  • Serial ATA controller
Next Page: VirtualPC

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Last Updated Sunday, April 19 2009 @ 04:05 PM EDT

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