PCs

How is VirtualBox on the Mac?

Vincent Danen compares VirtualBox to Parallels and VMware Fusion for use on the Mac. Here's what he found out about it.

With the move to the Intel architecture, Macs finally had the advantage of using virtualized hardware that was not available in a decent form when it was PPC (the only real contender then was Microsoft's VirtualPC which was less than stellar). Today, the top players for virtualization on OS X are VMware with its Fusion product, Parallels with its desktop offering, and Oracle's free VM VirtualBox software, which came with the acquisition of Sun Microsystems.

As of this writing, the current version of VirtualBox is 3.2.6. The question I had to answer was how it measures up to the current heavy-weights: Vmware Fusion and Parallels Desktop.

As with Parallels and VMware, VirtualBox has community-provided, precreated virtual machine images that can be downloaded and used. A lot of these are appliances to perform a specific task: run a wiki or some specific server software. All of them are built on open source operating systems like Linux or FreeBSD. The Free VirtualBox Images web site is one site that will let you get up and running quickly with a distribution, saving some hassle in downloading ISOs and installing.

To use these VirtualBox images, you need to create a new virtual machine and select the image as the drive image. To do this, click the New button and go through the creation wizard. When it comes time to select the hard drive, or create a new one, select the .vdi image file you downloaded (and uncompressed). Once this is done, the details will show up.

By default, VirtualBox creates the network interface of type NAT, so it will use the host system as a firewall of sorts. If the virtual machine needs to talk bi-directional to the host system, use the Host-only Adapter, and if you want it to be reached by any system (i.e., a physical machine on the network), select the Bridged Adapter. Then click the Start button to start the virtual machine and your new appliance will boot.

VirtualBox is pretty decent, considering the price tag. It definitely has some rough edges -- I'm not sure how well it works on Linux and whether it is a match for KVM there, but on OS X if you want more polish, you'll need to spend a few dollars for VMware Fusion or Parallels to get it.

Having said that, if your budget doesn't allow for it, VirtualBox works quite well and perhaps if the guest is Windows it would have even better support (I found the Linux guest support to be much less functional than on VMware Fusion, but do not have a Windows license to use to see which offers better Windows support).

For the price, it works well enough. Perhaps Oracle will do with VirtualBox what Sun didn't, and turn it into a better product that can compete with the current standards for virtualization on the Mac.

About

Vincent Danen works on the Red Hat Security Response Team and lives in Canada. He has been writing about and developing on Linux for over 10 years and is a veteran Mac user.

11 comments
tr
tr

I have been using VirtualBox on Linux for years and have used it in the past on Windows XP. VirtualBox has been an excellent option, not only for the price, but also for the features and performance. Since getting my Mac, I chose to purchase VMWare's Fusion because of the ability to run the bootcamp partition as a VM without affecting the ability to still dual-boot. As of my last review of the VirtuBox specs, it did not have this option. I still use my Linux system regularly and still have VirtualBox update-to-date.

zhuatclfk
zhuatclfk

I've used VirtualBox to run Windows 7 on the Mac, and Windows XP on a Linux host. Works great for basic functionality, but won't support anything that requires accelerated graphics, including Aero. This means you can't even play Solitaire on Win 7. The other commercial VMs now do support that, so I paid for Parallels to get the complete Win 7 experience. While it works as advertised I will say that Parallels takes *forever* to boot up the VM while VirtualBox seemed quite snappy in this respect. Oh well, as the author said, if your demands aren't too high, VirtualBox is a win, no pun intended, but I had to go with paid software.

AnneCHPostma
AnneCHPostma

I personally had little trouble setting up VirtualBox and it is running fine for about half a year on my iMac now. I run Windows 7 Home and use Visual Studio 2010 without any problem. It has not failed until now.

jjcanaday
jjcanaday

I run it daily on a Linux Ubuntu 9.04) host and a Windows 7 Host. I also set it up on my Brother-In-Law's Mac so he could run his old Windows-based personal finance software. As for guests: I've run just about every guest OS imaginable on the Linux host, and XP and Linux Guests on the Win 7 host, with no problem. I find it to be a much more flexible option on Windows machines that VirtualPC was; and, in my opinion, ran smoother (ymmv). I understand that your review was specific to running VBox on Mac, and I have little real experience with Macs but, in general, I think Virtual Box should always be tried first. Then, if it is not meeting some need promised by the others, then purchase one of your "more polished" products. I think it's a mistake to discount VBox just because it's "free". Just my $0.02

nwallette
nwallette

> "Since getting my Mac, I chose to purchase VMWare's Fusion because of the ability to run the bootcamp partition as a VM without affecting the ability to still dual-boot. As of my last review of the VirtuBox specs, it did not have this option." I had initially intended to do this on my Linux PC with a WinXP partition. Supposedly, it's possible to do.. but when I read the instructions and hacks online for setting up hardware profiles and such, I decided to can that idea in favor of a normal file-based virtual disk. I haven't yet had cause to regret that decision.

online
online

I'm sorry to say this "review" was pretty content-free. The majority of Mac users will want to use VM software for running Windows, and a review that is mostly Windows-free is just short of useless. I've used VirtualBox for over two years to run Windows XP, primarily to run those one or two little Windows apps I can't get away from. I've never had it fail to do what I needed it to do. I'm sorry it won't run Win7 in Aero mode, but my old Macbook Pro is pretty memory-constrained anyway. I wish it could run Windows installed on a Boot Camp partition. Its shortcomings are overwhelmed by what it does well, and for being free. I owned Parallels when I first got my Mac, and loved it, but the upgrade fees got to be too much. VirtualBox may not give me everything I want in a hypervisor, but it gives me everything I need.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

I've been using Vbox at home on Linux (Ubuntu 9.04 through 10.04) to run WinXP for the occasional "Windows only" situation. I also use it at work (RedHat Enterprise Linux 5) to simultaneously run multiple instances of Windows, RHEL4, and RHEL5, each running demanding apps. MUCH better than VMware (for our needs), elegant, trouble-free, and good performance. Oh, and the "price is right" too.

Snuffy09
Snuffy09

well no... mac just BLOWS! mac - crash different

jonnix
jonnix

Current version is 3.2.8 (virtualbox.org) Has nearly all the bells and whistles including CLI Utilities and supporting 3rd Party apps on the Mac side and 3D support Win side (admittedly experimental). 'Storage' Device registration is a bit cumbersome but necessary to ensure no multiple writes, etc. and 'USB' Device setup can be a bit tricky but all works well enough. [ Hint : For really low latency USB (e.g. TV Tuner) use VMWare Fusion instead ] Deploying to end users now for a couple of years. Examples follow. Today : "Screen Shared" from a Mac Mini (Intel Dual Core, 10.5 Leopard) through 400 Mbit Firewire IEEE 1394a to a Mac Pro with (2) G5 PowerPC processors (10.5 Leopard). i.e. silent, headless Mac Mini (size of external HD) is now slave to user of Mac Pro. User can now run full office suite and publisher under windows using same keyboard/mouse/display; hence need for Intel. Simultaneously use Mac Mini's OS X, Applications, Ports, DVD Burner, Storage Space, print from mini or Guest OS on mini (i.e also connected to gigabit LAN, creo, fuji xerox offset printer, etc.) ? all whilst retaining investment in, familiarity with, and performance of Mac Pro. Tomorrow : VirtualBox on Mac will be running "windows" games for an 11 year old girl on her new MacBook. "Authentic, Legal Code" from dead HP laptop for Windows installation. Major Hint : Expertly set up Guest OS/ss and GUI/ss improves experience for users of all virtualised machine solutions; and select your candidates carefully ? the new concepts surrounding virtualisation can be a mind bend for the casual user, if not presented and explained _very_ clearly.

nwallette
nwallette

I'm running Gentoo Linux on a little Core 2 Dell Optiplex box. I have another PC running Win7, so Virtual Box (on the Linux PC) runs a copy of WinXP 24/7 for reference, compatibility with older apps, and to provide a "2nd instance" of some apps that I use with different logins, etc. It's proven more convenient than RDP. With Synergy+ running on Linux and 7, I only use one KB/mouse for both PCs, too. (UAC or RunAs sometimes puts a wrench in the works, though.) As a side note, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to get my iPhone to show up under the XP VM. I plugged it in, selected it from the USB devices menu in the console window, and it just worked. I was almost disappointed by the lack of a fight.

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