If you're a Windows user and you've been messing around in the Linux world like I have, you've probably tried a number of virtualization solutions. The most popular of these being Virtual PC from Microsoft or one of VMWare's products.

But have you ever wished you could have the virtualization features of VMWare Server with the ease and simplicity of Virtual PC? It turns out now you can, and if you're still using either VMWare or Microsoft's offerings, you've been missing out.

There's another little known player in the virtualization market that you need to take notice of: VirtualBox from Sun.

VirtualBox is a dual proprietary and open-source product. This means that they provide an open source version with everything you need, but also provide a commercial version with some extras (so they can make a bit of money from the product). The commercial version also happens to be free for personal use, so there's nothing stopping you from using it either.

The first thing you'll notice when downloading and installing Virtual Box is that (like Virtual PC) it's pretty slim on the download at 60MB. It installs in a jiffy and you'll be up and running in no time. The next think you'll notice may not be important to you, but it is to me: it actually looks like a commercial Windows application and is very intuitive to use (especially if you've used either Virtual PC or VMWare before).

Unlike Virtual PC, VirtualBox is under active development. This translates into the fact that they support almost all popular operating systems out of the box, including official support for Windows 7 (which hasn't even been released yet). Ubuntu also installs without any glitches, unlike on Virtual PC which requires a bunch of hacks. I guess it helps that they're not pushing a particular operating system. VirtualBox supports 32bit and 64bit guest operating systems and comes with virtual machine additions that work seamlessly for Linux, Windows, Solaris and OS/2 guests. There's even 3D acceleration support for Linux guests in the latest release.

Everyone that uses virtualization is going to be concerned with performance, and I'm happy to report that VirtualBox kicks butt in that regard. My own tests have shown much snappier performance than what I've gotten used to, but if you don't want to take my word for it, have a look at Michal Strehovsky's blog. He's done a performance comparison utilizing a number of benchmarks, and VirtualBox comes out on top in every category.

I've kept the best for last though. VirtualBox loads and runs both VMWare .vmdk and Virtual PC .vhd images with no conversion required. Any reason you've had not to try it should have quickly evaporated with that news.

So to summarize, you're pretty much getting VMWare features with the convenience of Virtual PC. Throw in better performance than its competing free products and you have a winner in my book.

VirtualBox has completely won me over and I think it may just do the same for you. Go give it a try.


I am a software developer / architect currently interested in combining .NET technologies with open-source operating systems. 

I am a member of the open-source BlogEngine.NET development team and focus mainly on ensuring Mono compatibility for the project.

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