VirtualBox 2.2 is a general-purpose full virtualiser for x86 computer hardware. Targeted at server, desktop and embedded use, its makers claim it is the only open source professional-quality virtualisation solution. That's right, it's free.
VirtualBox 2.2 for Windows is comparatively primitive, but has some interesting features. There are some show-stoppers that will prevent most from wanting to use it, however.
The first problem is that there's no drag-and-drop of files/folders between a host and guest virtual machines (VM). This forces copies between host and guest through command-line interfaces. Systems professionals may not mind, but the help desk switchboard will light up if civilians try to use VirtualBox 2.2.
USB support is horrendous. When it works, it works okay. Of the upsides, it's possible to run guest VMs in the background, and no matter what they are, they can be accessed via Remote Desktop Protocol. This worked for all the guests we tested. VirtualBox 2.2 also has 'seamless mode,' which allows the VM to be integrated more into the desktop operating system and hides the guest VM's background for application use.
In our tests VirtualBox 2.2 installed guests without special settings help that's specific to the guest operating system version, and recommends a comparatively low amount of memory (192MB for Windows XP and 384MB for Ubuntu). And although there's no dual-display support in guests, it's possible to run the VM full screen on an external monitor.
And although iSCSI support is not available in the GUI, it is available from the VBoxManage.exe command-line application. This worked well in tests, and we were able to use an iSCSI disk as a boot device and could install a guest VM on it. We could also create guest snapshots, and restore them to XP and Ubuntu.
VirtualBox 2.2: Running XP guests
XP ran normally, and we had no problems installing it. VirtualBox-installed drivers worked fine, although we had some problems with USB support. As an example, upon the first time connecting a USB device, VirtualBox 2.2 would install a Windows driver, then it would not capture this event and it would say 'not supported.' If we tried to connect the device again, the VM would freeze and we would have to kill all the VirtualBox processes and start again. This happened when the host was Windows Vista or XP.
Bluetooth, web camera and fingerprint reader weren't recognised at first, but after rebooting the host operating system (after first having tried to connect the Bluetooth to the VM), we were able to get the XP VM to see the Bluetooth module. It was necessary to download the Bluetooth and other drivers for our hardware to make them recognised; then we were able to use them. Unfortunately, when trying to connect to the camera, XP gave an error message about too much USB bandwidth usage and was unable to show a picture. We disconnected other devices and tried again, but it never worked.
Shared folders weren't easy to find. As an example, typing a share name directly (example: \\vboxsvr\sharename ) didn't work, but browsing to it did (which showed the same address when typing directly).
Under seamless mode, the guest Start menu is displayed just above the host Start menu, so it looks like there are two start menus. With Vista as a host, it's pretty easy to tell the difference, but when running XP within XP, it looks like two start menus on top of each other.
VirtualBox 2.2: Running Ubuntu guest
Like the XP and Vista installation, Ubuntu installed into VirtualBox 2.2 without any difficulties. The VirtualBox 2.2 tools (actually drivers) easily installed and compiled as a Linux script. Our Bluetooth pairing and file movement test passed. The USB devices were recognised, but our USB camera didn't work, similar to what happened in XP. Our small HP notebook's fingerprint reader device doesn't have drivers for Ubuntu, so it couldn't be detected or tested.
The Ubuntu Seamless mode worked similarly to how XP hosts Windows. Moving hosted windows around by dragging them proved choppy and somewhat difficult, also showing remnants of the Ubuntu desktop background. But otherwise it worked well. Sharing folders required us to use the Linux mount command, but instructions are given.
NEXT: our expert verdict >>