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Look out VirtualPC and VMWare... VirtualBox is in the house

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

I recently took a test drive of the free virtualization option of a subsidiary company of Sun's product, called VirtualBox.

At first site of the website and screenshots, it looks like nothing special or different, but after using it, it just may have become my number 1 option for virtualization.

My reasons? There are a few.

It works out of the box with both Windows and Linux, without having to make crazy configuration changes while trying to get Fedora Core or Ubuntu's graphics systems to properly handle their default 24-bit display.

It works perfectly with Windows Server 2003 and Windows Vista. Enough said here.

The management interface is no BS. It walks you through the settings you want created, has the perfect amount of settings per machine and they are also globally configurable.

You don't have the repeater-key issue with *nix distributions. This applies to any of us that have used any linux or unix distributions in VirtualPC: you know the awesome, fun, and incredibly annoying typing that is working great, and then randomly decides that you need 15 a's or z's inserted into your sentence. There are fixes for this issue in VMWare and VirtualPC, but they are a pain to implement.

All and all I must say I am very impressed. I had 2 simultaneous installations of Fedora Core 8 and Windows Server 2003 running at the same time on a low CPU laptop with 1024 megs of RAM and both worked great, did not crash, did not lock, and worked great out of the box.

VirtualPC and VMWare... you have a new contender.

VMWare: You need to provide your desktop virtualization product for free, and I'm not talking about some BS "Player" for free, I mean a full-fledged VirtualBox or VirtualPC contending piece of software. With options like VirtualBox and VirtualPC available for free, you are starting to lose some serious clients, including myself.


step said on Thursday, May 22nd, 2008 @ 8:11 PM


vmware server is just an unfortunate name. It runs perfectly well as a replacement for vmware player. You can access your machine through a local gui, exactly the same as player.

Think of it as vmware + network accessible vmachines + running as a service.

The only downside to vmware server as a desktop option, is there is some minor loss in overhead from running the service. *BUT* you don't need to have your machines start up when you physcical machine boots, so there's no reason to have any major overhead unless you're actually using the machine.

virtualbox doesn't look terribly free to me. In fact it has that opensource gimmick feel to it.

The version we're all going to download is not the free one, it's the one you're supposed to be forking over cash for to use for anything other than "personal" use.

Lets face it 90% of virtual machine use is commercial - if you need another operating system to get work done, then it's commercial. The other 10% is people that just want to have the option of tinkering.

I'm very impressed by virtualbox, I just feel that at least vmware is honest about being commercial.

An a big thumbs up to the easyvmx site. vmware player + easyvmx is a great solution. Vmware does have the benefit of a much larger community.

Mike Irving said on Wednesday, May 7th, 2008 @ 5:25 AM

Will VirtualBox run the Microsoft Virtual PC hard disk images? i.e. the old favourite - XP with IE6 ?

remi said on Thursday, April 10th, 2008 @ 9:08 PM

"VMWare server is free, but their Desktop edition is not, and I don't mean their player, I mean a VirtualPC equivalent."

VMware Server *is* a "Desktop edition." When you install it, you get a graphical tool, just like VirtualPC / VBox. For example, let's say I run Windows and I want to install Windows or Linux in a new virtual machine, you can simply ...

1) Download VMware Server (
2) Run the Windows installer ... when you're done you'll have VMware on your Start Menu like any other app
3) Run the VMware Console (from your Start Menu) and pop a Windows/Linux CD in your tray
4) Click 'Create a New Virtual Machine'
5) Start the new Virtual Machine ... it'll boot up to the installer for the Windows/Linux CD you have in your CD tray
6) Done!

"VMWare server is not an option for some of us that don't have extra machines around that can run Server upon. VMWare server is not compatible with Windows XP."

Wrong, wrong, wrong! VMware Server doesn't require special hardware or a dedicated machine. To install it on Windows, it's a simple Windows double-click style installer!

Don't get me wrong, I'll be the first one to switch to an open source virtualization solution that performs well, is stable and featureful, and is usable for business. I'm going to try out the latest open source version of VirtualBox over the weekend to see if it has the features I need (namely, to see if I can remotely administrate my VMs freely and that I can get bridged networking working).

Here are some of the advantages of using VMware Server:

1) Popularity. This is why I use Ubuntu over other Linux distributions. Because it's popular, the support community is very large and you're likely to find the answers to any of your questions quickly. I would guess that VMware Server has the largest number of installations of ANY virtualization software, especially in businesses.
2) Free for Commercial Use
3) VMware Appliances ( ... don't want to wait while the latest version of Ubuntu installs in a new virtual machine? Download the pre-installed version. Wanna try out the latest open source CRM (like vtiger or sugarcrm, etc)? They all have VMware Appliances available for download from the "Appliance Marketplace." [VMware 'appliances' are nothing more than VM's that someone has zipped up and put online for everyone to download]
4) Scalability. So, you like VMware for your servers at work, but you want more performance or you want more features? VMware has tons of products you can upgrade to ... VMware Workstation has all kinds of features geared towards desktop users while, on the server side, VMware offers software that installs on "bare metal" hardware, reducing the overhead of running a host operating system. That said ... VMware Server is functional enough that I've never needed the non-free versions of VMware, but it's good to know that upgrade paths are available for when you need them.
5) It "just works." No having to tweak network configurations and whatnot. This might be true of competitors, nowadays, but VMware Server is literally just a few clicks away ... once installed, creating new VMs is just a few clicks away ... super, crazy simple with no hassle.

That said, I hope VirtualBox OSE is stable and featureful enough for me to try out and start migrating some VMs to. I also hope that it works out for everyone who tried it because of this article, but please be aware that, unless you're manually installing the open source edition of VBox, you're installing the proprietary version that's only free for Personal and Educational uses. Please use the OSE version or pay for your licenses, if you're using VBox in your business.

FOSS ftw!

Tom said on Thursday, April 10th, 2008 @ 9:12 AM

@Donkey: You can install VMWare on XP, but it is not officially "supported" on XP.

For an example:
Ask your developers to uninstall VMWare and they will know what I am talking about. It will break IIS.

donkey said on Thursday, April 10th, 2008 @ 2:52 AM

Re: VMware Server not being compatible with Windows XP.

I think this may be some misinformation from somewhere. We have two developer guys where I work who have Windows XP workstations and both are using VMware server to run various test VM's guests.

Tom said on Wednesday, April 9th, 2008 @ 5:52 PM

@Remi, you made some assumptions that are altering my point:

1. I am not using VirtualBox for commercial purposes, therefore, it IS free.
2. VMWare server is free, but their Desktop edition is not, and I don't mean their player, I mean a VirtualPC equivalent.
3. VMWare server is not an option for some of us that don't have extra machines around that can run Server upon. VMWare server is not compatible with Windows XP.

Thanks for the comments!

remi said on Wednesday, April 9th, 2008 @ 4:39 PM

As a few others have pointed out, VMware Server is free (as in beer) and has been free for years. VMware Server is not just a "player" ... it can create images and run on your production servers. I believe the same is true of VirtualPC nowadays. It's 100% free for personal and business use. That's more than VirtualBox can say!

I've used VirtualBox a few times, but it's not a viable option for me for a few reasons:

* It's NOT free! Just because it has an open source version doesn't mean that it's free and people need to stop installing the binary, non-free version and promoting VBox as being free. You can NOT use the binary version of VBox (the one that supports remote management via RDP) for business use.

* The network configuration is a pain in the ass - bridged networking works right out of the box with VMware and none of the various tutorials on the VBox forums has ever worked for me.

The day VirtualBox adds their RDP server to their GPL version is the day that I'll think seriously about migrating to it. For now, I'll use this as an excuse to try out the latest free [for business use] version of VirtualBox and see if has the features I need ... otherwise, it's business as usual with VMware Server.

1 - VMware Server is FREE (for creating images and for business use)
2 - The version of VirtualBox that most of you are installing is NOT FREE FOR BUSINESS USE

If you didn't install VirtualBox by doing a Subversion checkout of the source code and then compiling and installing ... you're using a non-free version. Visit the Editions section of the VirtualBox website for details:

As much as I _really_ hope to see more open source in virtualization, I recommend VMware Server for everyone that wants to use something that they can use for business use.

Vexorian said on Wednesday, April 9th, 2008 @ 10:32 AM

I've been using virtual box for 6 months now, and it is an outstanding, stable, complete product, thanks to it I was able to use my scanner, and my newly acquired palm on a Linux host using a windows guest, it can also run quite a lot of applications like office and Delphi without any noticeable loss of performance.

It is amazing and free.

Tom said on Wednesday, April 9th, 2008 @ 10:20 AM

@Diggy very interesting, I haven't used VMWare server, but an interesting note nonetheless.

Thanks for the responses everyone!

RazeDK said on Wednesday, April 9th, 2008 @ 10:18 AM

# tony petruzzi
Xen is open source and runs on bare metal. Unfortunately it has a very strange way to get an OS installed, so I gave it up. Besides the newest version needs a CPU that has support for virtualization.

Diggy said on Wednesday, April 9th, 2008 @ 9:19 AM

I installed and used VirtualBox and, yes, it works well. I also use VMware Server. Where VMware shines brighter, in my experience, is in 1) SMP support (albeit only two processors), and; 2) easier configuration where using multiple NICs 9 (i.e. using separate physical NICs for separate VMs. As to the latter, in VirtualBox, I had to create bridged interfaces, then make VirtualBox use those, etc. etc. With VMware, the additional NICs work OOTB.

Just my 2 (fill in currency/denomination of choice).

None said on Wednesday, April 9th, 2008 @ 7:47 AM

I have used VirtualBox to try out live cds. I have a very low end machine with 128 ram - but it works awesome. display is great and speed is also great. I have given it to my friends and they too loved it.

Installing is a breeze in ubuntu.

Max said on Wednesday, April 9th, 2008 @ 4:16 AM

VirtualPC and VMWare are available "for free", but why should this matter? The only thing that should matter is that they are free as in freedom. See for more info.

Tom said on Monday, April 7th, 2008 @ 7:44 PM

@Bill I'm talking about a desktop version that is usable under Windows XP and Windows Vista. I wish I was able to afford servers to keep around for VMWare :).

VMWare server has indeed been free for quite some time, for anyone that is looking at that for an option it is a great suggestion.

Microsoft Virtual Server is also available for free.

Bill said on Monday, April 7th, 2008 @ 7:25 PM

VMware Server has been free for over two years.

Tom said on Monday, April 7th, 2008 @ 5:02 PM

@Cymen never heard of easyvmx, I'll check it out.

@Matt glad to be of assistance in helping you find a new product that is easy and free to use.

@Jane VMWare is not free for creating images and that is a major drawback for me.

Jane said on Monday, April 7th, 2008 @ 1:11 PM

I'm a definite fan of VirtualBox, but I vastly prefer vmware. I'm not sure why, but I use vmware fusion on my Macs and it runs awesomely, and performance just feels better in vmware over almost all other virtualization products out there. Plus using one product across all my OSs and have it be compatible was a pretty big plus. VirtualBox has a mac version which is great but last I tried it (when I was tired of Parallels being the only option) I wasn't very impressed. Things may have changed, but since then I've switched to vmware.

That being said, I have ubuntu, fedora 8, and gentoo installs (as well as xp, vista and server 2008) I use with vmware fusion and they all work pretty great and the installs (except for gentoo) were a breeze. I haven't run into the issues you're mentioning.

Florian Potschka said on Monday, April 7th, 2008 @ 11:34 AM

Im sold on Virtual Box too. Great software and free! I'm using it now for a few weeks and had no problems. And the performance is competitive.

tony petruzzi said on Monday, April 7th, 2008 @ 10:10 AM

AFAIK vmware is still the only company that offers a bare metal solution for virtualization. Anyone know if there is an OS alternative?

Matt said on Monday, April 7th, 2008 @ 9:02 AM

Wow, thanks for the heads up on this great VM tool. I have been pounding my head against the wall trying to force Virtual PC to work properly with linux, but VirtualBox was a snap to get running. The network card worked straight away within the VM, a huge problem with viirtual PC, and image installation was straight forward, just used the defaults! No boot editing needed, really great.

Cymen said on Monday, April 7th, 2008 @ 8:56 AM

VMWare Player + works for me and I haven't noticed either of these two bugs you mention (perhaps these only apply to VirtualPC?). Still, sounds like VirtualBox is certainly worth trying.

Amit said on Monday, April 7th, 2008 @ 8:01 AM

I agree with you. I had a lot of issues installing Linux on VirtualPC. I tried 3 flavours (Ubuntu, SUSE and Fedora) all three failed to start on VirtualPC, out of the box. But it was a breeze in Virtual Box.

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