Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Virtualization: VirtualBox

I've been using VMware Fusion, but I decided to give VirtualBox a try. It's from Sun. To summarize:
  • It seems faster than VMware Fusion
  • It's free and mostly open source
  • It's just a bit rougher around the edges
What do I mean it's mostly open source? There are two versions. According to their docs:
The VirtualBox Open Source Edition (OSE) is the one that has been released under the GPL and comes with complete source code. It is functionally equivalent to the full VirtualBox package, except for a few features that primarily target enterprise customers. This gives us a chance to generate revenue to fund further development of VirtualBox.

Please note that the Open Source Edition does not include an installer or setup utilities, as it is mainly aimed at developers and Linux distributors
What this means in practice is that it's not easy to use the open source version since there are no precompiled binaries and no installer. Hence, you're stuck with the free, but not open source version. The two things that I actually care about that are missing from the open source version are USB support and a gigabit ethernet controller. Oh well. That's still better than what I had to pay for VMware Fusion.

As for speed, I haven't actually timed it, but the BIOS stage of booting is crazy fast, and installing Ubuntu didn't seem to take forever like it did under VMware Fusion. Of course, this could be a figment of my imagination. I can't remember if I had the same amount of RAM when I installed Ubuntu under VMware Fusion either, so take my comments with a grain of salt. I will say that sound seems smoother.

Speaking of sound, by default it's turned off. That was easy to fix.

By default it uses NAT, and the host computer cannot connect to the guest computer. Since I like to login over ssh, that was a no go. I figured out how to switch to "Host Interface Networking", and I was happy again. In general, this is one area where VMware Fusion seemed to just work.

Just like VMware Fusion, VirtualBox has custom kernel mods for Linux. Installing them was easy. Once I did, the mouse was perfectly integrated between the host and guest computers. Furthermore, full screen mode now uses the same resolution as my Mac. Sweet!

To be fair, VMware Fusion does the same thing. Of course, this only works for Linux and Windows. There are no kernel mods available (that I know of) for other operating systems like FreeBSD.

One more feature that I haven't bothered trying out is:
Shared folders. Like many other virtualization solutions, for easy data exchange between hosts and guests, VirtualBox allows for declaring certain host directories as "shared folders", which can then be accessed from within virtual machines.
Anyway, it's good stuff. I'm guessing that VMware Fusion is probably better if you need to run a Windows client (because of all the "Fusion" functionality), but if you just need to run a Linux client, VirtualBox is free and good.


JohnMc said...

I use VirtualBox by preference.

As to networking there are three modes. NAT, Private, Host. The reason is simple -- ability to support network testing. For example I can set up a private only with 4 guests. One of the guests I can utilize 2 Eth's. One private, one Host. That way I can test gateway software. Or I can turn off the second NIC and run a private test LAN seperate from the rest of the net.

Shared folders work like a charm.

Neat trick department: Want client guests but don't want to eat up disk space with VDI's? Configure guest space with no VDI. VB accepts that config. Now install a live cd or one of the many 'in ram' Linuxes (eg Siltaz, Puppy). They run perfectly. Just remember to save their state before you close them down or you will have to go through the install again.

matt harrison said...

I ocasionally need to run windows. I guess for Mac/Win OSE is a pain unless you find a precompiled version. I'm using it on Gentoo and finding it really straightforward.
When VMware no longer booted my windows guest, it made it hard to do the vmware->VB migration (since it requires booting/tweaking under vmware), so I just reinstalled.
The open source aspect is appealing for freetards like me (I guess gentoo kinda gets around the need for compilation, but I know that ubuntu has OSE in it's repos too, as I would image most distros do)

Anonymous said...

I use Virtualbox now, too. One of the good things about VirtualBox is, it supports more recent linux kernel versions, where vmware needs quite some patching to work

Doug said...

I've been using VirtualBox on my MacBook for a couple of months. It was my workaround to getting GnuCash running on the Mac. After a few hours of chasing failures in the GnuCash build under MacPorts, I grabbed VirtualBox, installed Ubuntu 8.10 as a guest OS while I ate breakfast one morning, and had GnuCash running under Ubuntu not long afterward.

Shared folders work fine to give me access to my GnuCash data stored on my server - just have to remember to mount the directory from the server before I try to mount it in the vbox/ubuntu. Interestingly, the mount on the Ubuntu side sometimes (but not always) survives a Leopard-side unmount/re-mount of the server directory!

One limitation I have found is that OpenBSD does not play well in VirtualBox, despite it being listed as being supported. I've been able to do installs of 4.3 and 4.4 (others report failures during installation) but the resulting guest systems segfault far to often to be useful. Apparently this is a known issue that Sun has declared they have no intention of fixing because the user demand for OpenBSD is too small.

Shannon -jj Behrens said...

VirtualBox crashed on me while I was trying to setup USB.

Firefox on my guest machine crashed one me while I had a USB stick plugged in and configured under VirtualBox.

Shannon -jj Behrens said...

I started up Ubuntu under VirtualBox and then switched to another virtual desktop on my Mac. When Ubuntu was finished loading, I switched back to log in. The keyboard wouldn't work. I had to reboot Ubuntu and make sure my focus was on it the entire time in order for the keyboard to work. Weird.