VirtualBox 4.0 cleaned up the user interface and added resource controls to reign in desktop virtual machines as it enters the battle with VMware Workstation and Parallels Desktop. VirtualBox retains its low-cost position in the desktop virtualization field while trying to keep pace with the pack leaders.
Oracle VM VirtualBox 4.0 is now easier to install and has a cleaned
up user interface as it enters the battle with VMware Workstation and
Parallels Desktop. In this second release under Oracle's stewardship,
VirtualBox retains its low-cost position, making it a tempting choice
for budget-conscious developers and advanced users.
The advances in VirtualBox aren't enough to dispense with a hefty
amount of reading and forum surfing to get all the bells and whistles
up and running. Thus I had to download a VirtualBox extension pack to
get USB 2.0, VRDP (VirtualBox Remote Desktop Protocol) and Intel PXE
boot ROM support for the E1000 network card. While the VirtualBox
documentation pointed to the open-source virtualbox.org Website as the source for this extension pack, I was able to download the bits from the Oracle Website.
While VirtualBox 4.0 incrementally advances the capabilities of
Oracle's desktop virtualization offerings the product sets no new bar
for performance or scale. For example, the product does not currently
support Windows 7 Aero Peek in guest VMs as competitor
offerings do. VirtualBox 4.0 became available on Dec. 22,
2010. VirtualBox is available at no cost for individual use and $50 per
user for a commercial license.
In VirtualBox 4.0, Oracle restructured the VirtualBox to create an
installable base product. Earlier versions of VirtualBox open-source
edition were provided as a tarball with a GPL license that had to be
compiled to run. The personal use/evaluation license version of
VirtualBox could be downloaded as an installable binary that included
non-GPL licensed drivers for such things as USB 2.0 support.
Now in VirtualBox 4.0 there is a single, installable base package to
which an extension pack containing the non-GPL bits can be added. The
basic extension pack available from Oracle enables VM support for USB
2.0, VRDP and Intel PXE boot using an E1000 network card. I downloaded
the Oracle VirtualBox Extension Pack and added it to my base
installation for my tests at eWEEK Labs. I was able to use my USB 2.0
devices including a Verbatim external hard drive with my VMs.
Developers can create extension packs to add to the functionality of
VirtualBox or to extend device support in VMs.
While the devices that I used with the extension pack worked and the
actual configuration work needed to add the functionality was minimal,
using the extension pack required me to spend a fair amount of
time reading the documentation to ensure that I had all the proper
components. It didn't help that while the user documentation pointed to
the the open-source community site virtualbox.org
as the extension download source, I was able to download from the
Oracle Website. For a commercial-grade product, I would like to see
greater consistency between the documentation and the downloadable
extensions, especially since the extension pack comes with a fairly
ominous warning against installing software from unknown sources.
Creating and configuring VMs and then providing them to
other users is an important function on any virtual desktop tool. A
good way to facilitate VM portability is by using the industry-adopted
OVF standard. VirtualBox 4.0 has added support for an emerging feature
called OVA (Open Virtualization Format Archive), which is basically a
compressed OVF. I created a virtual machine, exported it while
selecting OVA from a drop down list and created a compressed OVF
version of the VM. I was then able to import the VM by selecting the
.OVA file. VirtualBox was able to successfully decompress the files and
import the VM disk and settings.
I had mixed results when using the newly added "delete all files"
capability in the VirtualBox Manager. I was able to remove most systems
with just a few mouse clicks. However, I got an error message
when attempting to remove a Windows XP virtual machine. Although the VM
details were removed from the VirtualBox Manager interface, the VM
directory and files were left on my host system. Oracle engineers were
investigating the problem at press time.
There were several important changes made to the VirtualBox 4.0 user
interface that make it easier to manage VMs. There is now a preview
window that shows the screen of a selected, running VM. The VM display
can now be scaled by enabling "scale mode" on guest systems. I was able
to view several different VMs that were running at the same time and
scale the displays of each so that I could easily see what was running
on each system. It was easy to change into and out of scale mode by
using a hot-key sequence.
VirtualBox made incremental changes to resource management in the
latest version. It is now possible to assign more than 2GB of RAM to
VMs running on 32-bit physical host systems. I installed VirtualBox on
a Dell Inspiron desktop system equipped with 4GB of RAM and was able to
use the memory to support VMs that used 3GB of memory. Additionally,
VirtualBox 4.0 is able to limit VM I/O bandwidth. Using the
command-line-oriented VBoxManage interface, I was able to set up a
group that limited asynchronous I/O to 5M bps. I then assigned VM
disks to the group. Thus, I was able to limit low priority VMs to a
relatively low I/O usage, which the guest systems had to share between
Cameron Sturdevant is the executive editor of Enterprise Networking Planet. Prior to ENP, Cameron was technical analyst at PCWeek Labs, starting in 1997. Cameron finished up as the eWEEK Labs Technical Director in 2012. Before his extensive labs tenure Cameron paid his IT dues working in technical support and sales engineering at a software publishing firm . Cameron also spent two years with a database development firm, integrating applications with mainframe legacy programs. Cameron's areas of expertise include virtual and physical IT infrastructure, cloud computing, enterprise networking and mobility. In addition to reviews, Cameron has covered monolithic enterprise management systems throughout their lifecycles, providing the eWEEK reader with all-important history and context. Cameron takes special care in cultivating his IT manager contacts, to ensure that his analysis is grounded in real-world concern. Follow Cameron on Twitter at csturdevant, or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.