VirtualBox is a powerful virtualization software that gives you the ability to run another operating system within your native operating system environment. This robust utility gives you the ability to load multiple operating systems within a single host OS, making it useful for running software that is incompatible with your existing PC environment, protecting your hard drive from viruses by isolating activity on a virtual drive, or testing new operating systems before choosing to install them on a partition.
Immediately after clicking the first next button you’ll be brought to a custom install screen by default, which lets you select which components of the software will be installed. You can choose to install only the VirtualBox application, or you can add USB support, Python 2.x support, and support for various types of networking, including conventional, bridged, and host-only. Three mouse clicks later you’ll be initiating the installation process, which typically takes between 1-5 minutes on any computer with 2 GB of RAM or more.
For a software that provides such useful features, VirtualBox’s user interface is surprisingly simple, with only three main menus along the top taskbar – File, Machine, and Help. The File menu provides access to the virtual media manager, as well as the preferences module, and the ability to import/export appliances. The Machine menu lets you easily create and add new virtual machines (virtualized guest operating systems). You can also quickly add a new virtual machine by pressing CTRL+N, or by clicking the ‘New’ icon in the top left corner. After choosing to add a virtual machine you’ll enter a convenient wizard-style module, that will first ask you to choose the type of operating system you’ll be loading and assign a name to the virtual machine.
However, I did see a warning regarding 3D acceleration with one of my VMs when testing version 6.0, mentioning that VboxVGA graphics control support feature will be removed at some point in the future, i.e. the next minor release. In layman terms, I do not know what this means – as in, I’m not sure what the results will be when it comes to performance and supported usage. I guess 3D acceleration will still be available, and all it takes is a configuration change & Guest Additions update in the worst case.
I think one of the more interesting options is the ability to use nested virtualization. This means you’ll be able to expose virtualization features of the CPU (the whole VT-x thingie) to virtual machines, and possibly create a setup with hardware-enabled virtualization that is several levels deep. One step closer to the Matrix. However, at the moment, this only seems to work with AMD processors, and since my Slimbook uses Intel, this wasn’t available, and the feature was grayed out. You can still toggle it in the terminal using the VirtualBox command line, but while the option then shows in the system settings, it won’t actuall do much at this point.
I played with a bunch of other options and settings, just to see what gives. You have a flexible and robust snapshot functionality, which is quite handy for testing multiple branches slash scenarios of your software setup. Do remember that you will have to handle snapshots separately if you intend to resize your virtual machine harddisks. Then, you can also change the paravirtualization interface – VirtualBox supports quite a few, in case your guest operating system requires special behavior. Tons of familiar tweaks, plus a powerful command line for the extra nerdy stuff.
There’s nothing too revolutionary about VirtualBox 6.X, and yet, it feels like a solid, packed release full of goodies. Indeed, with every new edition, this product always gains some extra cool features, making it even more useful and practical than before. Considering the fact you can have it for free in the home setup, plus the versatile user interface, and it’s definitely a go-to power tool for the advanced users and software testers.
You retain the old behavior and options, so there’s no stress or drama. You also gain some, and I believe Intel processor users will also soon benefit from nested hardware acceleration, which will make things even more interesting – looking at VirtualBox on the Slimbook, still not the case at the moment. All in all, the VirtualBox is the familiar workhorse with a few extra tricks. Quite recommended.