If you want to dip your toes into the business of running virtual machines, VirtualBox 4.0 offers a free, extensible cross-platform package.
Previous versions of Oracle’s (formerly Sun’s) VirtualBox virtualisation software have come in two flavours: the Open Source Edition and the commercial version that included certain extra features. The architecture has been revised so that the GPL'ed base package can be augmented with ‘extension packs’ that needn’t necessarily be open source. This doesn’t make a huge difference from a user’s perspective, but it should make development and maintenance a little easier.
The first - and currently only - extension pack (offered under the VirtualBox Personal Use and Evaluation License, or PUEL) provides support for USB 2.0, RDP, and PXE. The virtual SATA controller that was in the PUEL version of VirtualBox 3 has been moved to the base version. Other changes to the virtual hardware include the Intel ICH9 chipset and Intel HD Audio support.
VirtualBox 4 can import virtual machines in the OVA (Open Virtualization Format Archive) format, but there’s no guarantee it will be able to run the VM. For example, VirtualBox could open but not run an OVA exported from VMware Fusion. The main idea of an OVA is to collect all the files pertaining to a VM into a single file for ease of movement.
Other shortcomings were that the contents of a VM’s window wasn’t refreshed while it was not the frontmost (dragging another window across it erased the screen image), and the preview screen image in VirtualBox Manager wasn’t updated correctly - once we had logged into a Ubuntu VM, the preview only showed the wallpaper (see screen capture). The former may have been specific to the video card or driver on our test PC, but the latter also occurred when running VirtualBox 4 under Mac OS X. On the positive side, we were able to use a thumb drive with a VM under version 4, something that eluded us when testing version 3.x.
If you’re looking for cross-platform virtualisation software, VirtualBox works and its closed source components are licensed under generous terms, allowing usage without payment in many circumstances.Available from Oracle, free for many forms of use
.APC rating: 7/10