VMware Workstation Out; Sun's VirtualBox In

My on-going process to investigate a good, stable personal virtualization strategy that will let me consolidate all the computers I use on a single hardware platform has taken me to VirtualBox. Taking a queue from my Twitter clan (four votes for VirtualBox, one for Ubuntu and KVM, and no votes for VMware Server), I installed VirtualBox and I am running my VMs in there. I had a few minor bumps along the road, but spent all of five minutes reading the documentation. At first blush, I am hopeful.

Mike Fratto

April 7, 2010

3 Min Read
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My on-going process to investigate a good, stable personal virtualization strategy that will let me consolidate all the computers I use on a single hardware platform has taken me to VirtualBox. Taking a queue from my Twitter clan (four votes for VirtualBox, one for Ubuntu and KVM, and no votes for VMware Server), I installed VirtualBox and I am running my VMs in there. I had a few minor bumps along the road, but spent all of five minutes reading the documentation. At first blush, I am hopeful.

To quickly recap (the original post is here), I bought a new laptop and rather than spend the time re-installing everything on a new machine (finding lost licenses and software, etc), I simply did a P2V using VMware's Converter and was off to the races with VMware's Workstation 7, for which VMware provided a complimentary license. The question is whether there is something else that I can use and recommend for those who don't want to pony up the $189 license fee for VMware Workstation

Workstation provides a good quality of experience, but I had a recurring problem with Blue Screens of Death that I can correlate with Workstation use since the BSoD only occurred while I was working in the Workstation VM. I can't say definitively that Workstation caused the BSoD, but they were happening pretty regularly, at least once a week. Sometimes more often. Otherwise, things were fine. The drag and drop between the desktop and VM was smooth and clipboard sharing was easy. The only issue I ran into was my Logitec Trackball middle button wasn't recognized as valid.

VirtualBox has some very nice features, the first of which is that it will use VMware virtual disks and virtual machine configurations as is. I uninstalled Workstation, did the obligatory reboot and installed VirtualBox. Next, I created my new VM and mapped my existing vmdk file. Sweet. Once I booted the OS, it was a bit sluggish and the Windows XP VM was working through errors and asking to install new hardware. I suspected the that the existing VMware tools software was causing some issues, and I found that I couldn't remove them after the fact. I ended up shutting down the VM (which causes the vmdk file to be written to), uninstalling VirtualBox, re-installing Workstation, booting the VM (which it did correctly, surprise, surprise), removing VMware tools and then doing the dance in reverse. Lesson learned: prep the VM before you swap hypervisors.

I then installed Sun's Guest Additions, which provides video, mouse and network drivers as well as sharing and other useful features. So far, VIrtualBox seems to use less CPU on average (completely anecdotal comment, by the way). There is also some wonkiness with the mouse where I can't ALT-TAB to Microsoft Word. This is only happening with Word; other applications I can ALT-TAB into, so I will investigate that. With working VMs, I am also looking at making my storage more versatile. I'd like to be able to access files from anywhere. Activities like e-mail and web browsing are simple. Synchronizing files is a bit more difficult. For example, I am trying Dropbox to sync files I am working on, but it can't synchronize locked files like open documents. The other big test is to see if I can launch a VM stored on my iSCSI NAS which I was unable to do with Workstion.

About the Author(s)

Mike Fratto

Former Network Computing Editor

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