Sunday, August 10, 2008

VirtualBox Free VM from Sun

Virtual Box from Sun is available here:

So I'm a big fan of VMWare (I own VMWare 5.5) and I have been thinking about upgrading to VMWare 6.0. However, I just heard of a free competitor called VirtualBox from Sun that's supposed to be pretty good.

So last night, I played around with VirtualBox and set up an XP VM under Vista with it. It's not as slick as VMWare but for $free$ it's not bad. The seamless window integration is particularly nice.

Even though I only played with it for a couple hours, it lags behind my VMWare 5.5 in the following features:

  • VMWare has better snapshot / revision handling
  • VMWare has all-in-one-directory portable VM's (currently VirtualBox has a machine file in one dir, disk files in another dir, and entries in a global xml table in a third dir)
  • Much faster 3D acceleration (VMWare does fairly decent DX8.1 in 5.5 and below and DX9 in 6.0 and above)
  • Multicore support (VMWare supports two virtual cores for multithreading)
  • Networking support (NAT only / I couldn't get bridging to work so I couldn't get Windows File Sharing between host and guest with my Vista Host since the guest didn't map to the same subnet)
  • Audio issues (the SB16 emu didn't work at all / you have to use the ICH for audio in XP guest)
  • Configuration is more painful than it should be... the default setup values are all too low (i.e. memory at 192MB, Vid Mem at 4 MB when you need at least 10 for seamless windowing) You need to tweak all the values and you won't find out that a feature isn't available until it fails and you have to shutdown the VM and go back and tweak.
  • Built-in shared directory implementation is non-obvious (you'll have to actually follow a walkthrough or manual to use them on VirtualBox)

I'm sure it would lag even further behind VMWare 6.0 (or the beta 6.5). However, for casual non-3D use (i.e. safe browsing, backwards app compatibility) it's not bad. If you were doing a lot of revisioning and deployment, needed reliable audio or 3D, or need bridged networking, you're better off with VMWare.

Here's where VirtualBox better than VMWare:

  • Free (vs $189 full price / $99 upgrade)
  • Vista Host support (my VMWare 5.5 only does XP and I have to pay to get VM6.0 if I want to run under Vista)
  • Seamless window mode is very nice (makes VM windows appear similar to host windows but I think this is in VMWare 6.0 as well)
  • Supposedly better 64-bit OS support (host or guest)
  • Supposedly better performance for non-3D software (although they both feel about the same speed in the tests I've done)

My out-of-the-box experience is that VMWare is much easier to use and setup and easier to make portable VM's. VMWare is easier to maintain with it's advanced snapshot management as well. Most of the reasons why VirtualBox is better from my simple testing boils down to the fact that it's free but if it's good enough, why pay for an alternative ?

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