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Review: VirtualBox open source virtual machine app

VirtualBox is a free, open source virtual machine application that will have you up and running with this technology in very little time and with much fewer headaches.

Virtual Machines can save a lot of time, money, and effort for your business. They can run multiple guest operating systems on one piece of hardware, they can take snapshots of a running operating system, they can aid with security, and much more. But some of the virtual machine applications are either costly or overly complicated. With VirtualBox you get the best of both worlds. VirtualBox is a free, open source virtual machine application from Sum Microsystems that will have you up and running with this technology in very little time and with much fewer headaches.

Requirements

  • Memory: 512MB of RAM
  • Hard disk: This depends upon how much space you want to dedicate to a virtual machine. VirtualBox itself takes up very little space.
  • Supported host operating systems: Linux, Windows, OS X, Solaris.
  • Supported guest operating systems: Windows 98 and later, Linux, Solaris, OpenBSD, FreeBSD, DOS, OS/2, ReactOS, SkyOS.
  • Additional information

Who's it for?

VirtualBox is for anyone that needs to employ virtual machines but needs to do so easily, quickly, and cheaply. VirtualBox will aid in testing, deploying, and many other tasks. VirtualBox bests most of its competition when it comes to ease of use, so anyone needing virtual machines, but not having the time to tackle a sharp learning curve, will benefit from VirtualBox.

What problem does it solve?

VirtualBox solves a problem many other virtual machine tools have struggled to solve - simplicity. VirtualBox makes getting a virtual machine up and running as simple as installing a standard application.

Standout features

  • Ease of use: No other virtual machine technology is as simple to use as VirtualBox.
  • Light weight: VirtualBox itself takes up little space and memory.
  • Seamless mode: Using seamless mode makes your virtual machine applications seem like they are running natively on your PC.
  • Guest Additions: Incorporate even more user-friendly features with this simple addition.

What's wrong?

There are two issues with VirtualBox. The first is that the Guest Additions must be installed separately. It seems to me this feature should be rolled in by default. The features it adds are pretty invaluable to a seamless interface. Installing Guest Additions isn't difficult (unless you are installing it for Windows 7 which has yet to gain official support - even then it isn't terribly hard.)

Another issue with VirtualBox is USB support. You can get USB support rolled in but you have to purchase the proprietary version. Only one problem - to purchase the proprietary version you have to call Sun Microsystems. You can't just download this version. This should be changed so that businesses can easily get the proprietary version.

Competitive products

Bottom line for business

If you're looking for a virtualization solution, and you need one that makes the task of setting up virtual machines easy, VirtualBox is for you. If, however, you are looking for a tool that will allow you to serve out virtual machines you will need to purchase the full version and even then you might find it more challenging than, say, VMWare Server. But for standalone virtual machine needs, you cannot beat VirtualBox for its ease of use and price.

User rating

Have you encountered VirtualBox? If so, what do you think? Rate the unit and compare the results to what other TechRepublic members think. Give your own personal review of the VirtualBox in the TechRepublic Community Forums or let us know if you think we left anything out in our review above.

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About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

14 comments
jprigot
jprigot

Jack, it is VirtualBox OSE (Open Source Edition) that doesn't have USB. The version from http://www.virtualbox.com does. It's a bit clunky to set up, but it does work. I currently have our computer room (OpenBSD 3.9, Windows 2003, Windows XP, Solaris 10, and CentOS) virtualized on my desktop to act as a testbed.

rbackus
rbackus

The last version I tried restricted access to the local disk(s) only through a virtual network driver. It did not allow local drives to appear local to the box. This made it near useless for DOS, and at least awkward for other OSs.

eokoye
eokoye

To me, VirtualBox seems ok, however, I've not been able to make two virtual machines see or ping each other successfully. There is a co-worker who is also having the same issue with VirtualBox. In Virtual PC and VMWare there is no such issue connecting any number of virtual images.

ssampier
ssampier

I love it. I was running Microsoft VM and it was giving me errors on a simple Linux distro. I downloaded Virtual Box and I was ready to roll in a matter of minutes. +++ I hope Oracle decides to continue this product.

d_baron
d_baron

A great product, now owned by Sun, keeps getting better. My arguments are, however, that one would want a VM to present "real" hardware (a dream--even that on the host!!) rather than need those guest additions. Qemu, fully opensource, presents common, recognized hardware to the guest OS. One point. Windows 98 runs abysmally on Vbox, slightly better on Qemu. There are no guest additions for it and Win98 is neither officially supported nor recommended for vbox.

mrmcl
mrmcl

The problem I have had is changing resolution to anything greater than 800x600 and 8bit in linux even after adding guest additions

marie.truman
marie.truman

I am using VirtualBox for application development. I needed something low cost and easy to use. There is talk in the systems department of licensing VMware but I needed something now not later. I have no problems and it does what I need it to do.

twinjenz
twinjenz

Hi can you get Server 2008 to run on it? Installed on Windows XP and Server 2003 works ok along with a lot of Linux programs and Windows XP etc. Just cant get server 2008 to boot.

twinjenz
twinjenz

I tried loading Server 2008 using DVD and cant get it to recognise it and every other System boots ok. It works fine on Server 2003. Anyone else with this problem. or is Virtual Machine better.?

catsophie
catsophie

Not sure how other VMs work.

Scotty Bones
Scotty Bones

Under the network section change the adapter type to "Internal Network". Or just add a second adapter to each guest that needs to communicate with each other with that setting. It should work without a problem.

Justin James
Justin James

I cannot say enough good things about Hyper-V for server room situations. I wish that it was more friendly for testing/development uses. I've been using Virtual PC for that for a while, because my personal needs are so slight. But for anyone doing heavy work, I tell them to use VMWare Workstation, and that's what we use at the office. I've been meaning to try VirtualBox to replace Virtual PC (and maybe VMWare Workstation as well), but the user manual is a real turn off. Makes it look like a miserable product. Plus, every Sun product I've touched has been very user un-friendly, from the Solaris install process to anything Java related... J.Ja

Ken Wolf
Ken Wolf

I don't think you will be disappointed. I've been using it for a couple of years now. Both on Linux and Windows hosts. Both hosts running Windows and Linux guests. I have a virtual Win7 RC2 running on my workstation at work and also host a Win NT 4 server on the same workstation (not at the same time of course :) ). The server I bring up only when needed (it was built from a snapshot from a dying server). VB is easier to set up on a Windows host using a bridge network interface so the guest can be another network device. On Linux it's a bit more work to get the bridge interface working, but not too difficult. All in all VB is my choice for virtual machines. Edit> failed to mention the recent version 3.0.2 (?) now supports both OpenGL and Direct3D which wasn't mentioned in the article. And it does support Windows 7

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