VirtualBox is a powerful and popular virtualization software that allows you to run operating systems and applications in virtual machines on your physical computer. With VirtualBox, you can experiment with different operating systems, run software designed for other platforms, and isolate programs without dual-booting or buying additional hardware.
What is VirtualBox?
VirtualBox is a cross-platform virtualization application originally created by Innotek GmbH and now developed by Oracle. It installs on top of your existing operating system and allows you to run additional operating systems within virtual machines.
Some key features of VirtualBox include:
- Open source software with a large community of developers and users
- Available for Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, and Solaris hosts
- Supports a wide range of guest operating systems including Windows, Linux, BSD, Solaris, and others
- Ability to install multiple operating systems and run them simultaneously in isolated virtual machines
- Powerful virtual networking capabilities including bridged, host-only, internal, and NAT networks
- Support for 3D graphics acceleration for games and GPU-intensive applications
- Shared folder feature to easily exchange files between host and guest OS
- Snapshots to save the state of a VM and restore to a previous point
- Remote machine display allowing you to run a VM on one computer and view/control it from another
With these features, VirtualBox provides extensive flexibility in how you configure and use virtual machines. You can fine-tune resources like CPU cores, RAM, graphics memory, and disk space for each VM based on your needs.
What Operating Systems Can I Run?
One of the great benefits of VirtualBox is its support for a wide range of operating systems across many platforms. Here are some of the main operating systems you can run in VirtualBox:
VirtualBox supports nearly all versions of Windows as guest operating systems, including:
- Windows 11
- Windows 10
- Windows 8.1
- Windows 8
- Windows 7
- Windows Vista
- Windows XP
- Windows Server editions
This allows you to run the latest Windows OS for testing or older versions for compatibility without dual-booting. You can run multiple Windows VMs isolated from each other.
Most Linux distributions work seamlessly in VirtualBox, giving you a huge range of open source operating systems to use. Some examples include:
- Arch Linux
- Kali Linux
- Red Hat Enterprise Linux
Linux VMs are lightweight and great for server software, development, and testing different distros.
VirtualBox can run various BSD operating systems:
Installing macOS on non-Apple hardware violates the end-user license agreement. However, people do run the Hackintosh version of macOS in VirtualBox. Performance may not be optimal, but it does provide a way to get a taste of macOS on your PC.
Oracle’s Solaris operating system is well supported in VirtualBox since Oracle owns both products. You can install versions of Solaris in VMs with VirtualBox.
Other Operating Systems
Beyond the major operating systems above, VirtualBox can run other OSes like:
- Chrome OS
- Oracle Linux
- Plan 9
There are also some more exotic operating systems like TempleOS that may work in VirtualBox.
What Software Can I Run?
In addition to running other complete operating systems, you can also use VirtualBox to run software designed for different platforms than your host OS.
For example, you could run the following software in VirtualBox VMs:
- Windows apps on Linux or Mac
- Linux server software on Windows
- Old DOS or 16-bit Windows games
- Utility programs for macOS on a Windows PC
- Android x86 allowing Android on other operating systems
This makes VirtualBox a handy tool for running all kinds of apps and tools on systems they weren’t necessarily designed for. You gain portability across platforms.
What Are the System Requirements?
VirtualBox can run on Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, and Solaris host operating systems. The full system requirements are:
- Windows 11, 10, 8.1, 8, 7, Vista, XP SP3
- Processor with hardware virtualization support required for AMD-V or Intel VT-x
- At least 1 GB RAM for host and guests OS recommended
- Around 100 MB disk space for VirtualBox itself
- macOS 10.13 High Sierra or newer
- Intel processor with VT-x feature
- At least 2 GB RAM
- Around 100 MB disk space
- Linux kernel 2.6 or higher
- Processor supporting AMD-V or Intel VT-x virtualization
- glibc 2.5 or later
- At least 1 GB RAM
- Qt 5.3 or higher
- Solaris 10 Update 3 or higher for x86/x64
- Solaris 11 Express or higher for SPARC
- Processor with virtualization support
- At least 1 GB RAM
Make sure your computer meets these requirements for running VirtualBox based on your host OS. Also allocate sufficient RAM, processor cores, and disk space for each guest OS VM.
People use VirtualBox for many different reasons. Here are some of the top ways to utilize VirtualBox virtual machines:
Test New Operating Systems
Download an OS like Ubuntu Linux or Windows 11 and test drive it in a VM before deciding whether to switch or dual-boot.
Run Programs from Other Platforms
VirtualBox allows running software not supported on your main operating system like Windows apps on Linux.
Web Development and Testing
Web developers can test sites and apps on multiple browsers and OSes using different VirtualBox VMs.
Set up virtual networking to simulate real production environments for technologies like Apache, Docker, Kubernetes, etc.
Test networking tools, practice penetration testing, and experiment with network configurations safely in VMs.
IT professionals can sharpen skills for Linux, Windows Server, Cisco, and other platforms with VMs for hands-on practice.
Old Program Compatibility
Run old DOS, 16-bit Windows, or XP programs that won’t work on newer versions of Windows.
Malware Analysis and Research
Analyze malware by executing it inside an isolated VM and seeing its behavior.
Getting Started with VirtualBox
Using VirtualBox to run VMs is easy to learn. Here are some tips to get up and running:
- Download and install VirtualBox for your host OS from https://www.virtualbox.org
- Create a new VM specifying name, OS type, base memory size, hard drive, etc.
- Select the VM and click Start in the VirtualBox Manager to launch it
- Install the guest OS by mounting its ISO image as a virtual CD/DVD drive
- Install VirtualBox Guest Additions to enable features like shared folders and graphics
- Customize resources for the VM like processor cores, video memory, and network adapters
With these steps, you’ll have a new guest OS installed and ready to use! As you work with VirtualBox more, you can clone VMs, create shared folders, set up virtual networking, and take snapshots to get the most out of it.
Benefits of Using VirtualBox
There are many great reasons to use VirtualBox for virtualization instead of alternatives:
- Open source software that is free for personal and commercial use
- Excellent platform support for Linux, Windows, macOS plus great guest OS support
- User-friendly interface to manage VMs and change settings
- Extensive documentation and community support
- Powerful features like snapshots, shared folders, virtual networking
- 3D graphics support and VirtualBox Guest Additions for enhanced capabilities
- CLI access available for automation and devops
- Integration with other tools like Vagrant
For easy-to-use, open source virtualization, VirtualBox is a top choice.
Limitations of VirtualBox
Despite its many benefits, VirtualBox has some limitations to keep in mind:
- Performance overhead from virtualization may be slower than native OS
- No live migration of running VMs between host computers
- Not as many enterprise-level features as VMware and Hyper-V
- Limited support for PCI passthrough of devices
- No built-in dashboard for centralized monitoring and management
For some advanced use cases like cluster computing, other solutions could be better suited than VirtualBox.
Alternatives to VirtualBox
Some other popular virtual machine software includes:
|VMware Workstation||Powerful commercial VM platform for Windows and Linux|
|VMware Fusion||Commercial hypervisor for macOS|
|Hyper-V||Microsoft’s native virtualization tool for Windows|
|Parallels||Virtualization for Mac to run Windows, Linux, and more|
|KVM||Kernel-based virtual machine for Linux|
Each has its own pros and cons to weigh for your specific needs. Many see VirtualBox as the best free and open source option.
VirtualBox offers an excellent way to run operating systems and software in virtual machines for free. You can test drive different platforms, run incompatible programs, isolate risky software, and easily restore snapshots.
With extensive host and guest OS support, powerful virtualization features, and a large community, VirtualBox provides immense value. It simplifies running diverse environments that expand your computing capabilities.