Almost a month ago InnoTek, the co-developer of VirtualPC, released their Virtual Machine as Open Source. The software was formerly not targetted at desktop users, but that changed when it was released under the GPL. This review tries to shed some light on the question if VirtualBox can get some market share between Vmware and Qemu.
Versions and installation
VirtualBox is released as GPL, therefore you can expect that becomes part of every distribution eventually. However, Fedora does not provide any precompiled packages. The source code can be downloaded as a usual
tar.gz, but since some of the build tools are very odd and are also not provided for Fedora I took a precompiled runs-on-all-linux package. On Ubuntu/Debian you might be more lucky, looks like there everything you need is provided.
However, the precompiled packages provided by virtualbox.org are not the same as the OSS version: they have additional features like an RDP server or USB support, but you have to pay to get a non-private licence for these.
The installation of the binary was no problem. I just had to execute it, accept a licence, and afterwards add my user to a new group called “vboxusers”.
The interface is slick, clean and just plain easy to understand:
But you also get useful information about the virtual machine. And that’s not only true for the frontend, but for every dialog you’re faced with.
If you now add a virtual machine you are faced with a wizard asking typical questions (OS type, memory allocated, name, etc.). After that you can modify the settings for the virual machine. Again, you get a well thought dialog:
As you can see in the screenshot you get a tooltip in the bottom of the dialog. It informas you about every option you point at with your mouse as well as about any error currently existing within your configuration.
Other small but well made features make the whole GUI almost perfect. If you want to add a DVD iso image as a DVD in the drive of the guest system, you can open a DVD dialog which lists all DVD iso images you enter. After that you can pick the one you like. The same is true for block devices or disks.
If you start a virtual machine the interface is a typical one. The menues at the top are to manage your virtual machine and the devices connected to it.
A window bar informs you about everything what happens at the moment (network traffic, mounted DVDs, etc.) but also shows the current key to free your mouse from the virtual machine.
From my subjective experience VirtualBox does not need to hide behind Vmware in any way. The guest system is pretty fast and works without any problem. Also, if you want to have a better performance or a higher screen resolution you can add guest system tools to improve the situation, similar to the Vmware tools you get with the non-free Vmware version.
Besides my subjective feelings the performance of both Vmware and VirtualBox seems to be equal. German heise.de run a performance test compiling the kernel and grepping a 100 MB file. The kernel compile gives information about the hard disk I/O and of course about the CPU performance, while the grep was done to give an impression of the pure read performance of the hard disk.
|make||64:03 min||107:29 min||101:40 min|
|grep||6,7 s||20,2 s||18,1 s|
Source: article VirtualBox at heise.de, 2007-01-15
Also, my host system seems to work much better with VirtualBox than with Vmware. The system responds all the time while I sometimes with Vmware have some hickups where the system does not respond at all.
Overall, I must say that I’m deeply impressed. VirtualBox is an awesome product, well designed, stable, fast – and Free Software. It offers everything you want from a Virtual Machine, and you get it wrapped in a perfect GUI – everything else I’ve seen so far is miles behind.
Additionally, there are features I haven’t even tested yet: you can control VirtualBox on a non-GUI base to run it as a server. Also, you can take snapshots and they are shown right in the main tab of your virtual machine settings.
Again – all Free Software! Sure, there are some functions you gain only when you purchase a specific licence, but I don’t think that this will stay too long…
I can only hope that the needed kernel modules find their way into the mainline kernel and the rest into the usual repositories pretty soon so that VirtualBox can be installed on every Linux machine in a second. It would mean an even stronger boost to virtualization, and it would mean a strong boost to virtualized desktops. It could become quite normal to have avirtualized desktop as well.