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Sun VirtualBox – Free, Powerful Virtualization
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by Rob Williams on December 11, 2009 in Software

Where virtualization is concerned, “free” certainly doesn’t equate with “cheap”. Sun’s VirtualBox is a perfect example of that. For non-commercial use, it’s a cost-free hypervisor that’s feature-robust, offers great performance and stability, and supports a wide-variety of guest operating systems. Read on as we take an in-depth look at all that it offers.

Tested OSes Cont. & 3D Support

For Ubuntu 9.10, the installation couldn’t have been easier. This particular version of Linux installs incredibly fast, and I was at the initial desktop in about 15 minutes from the time I loaded up VirtualBox. As the screenshot on the previous page showed, I had no issues installing the Guest Additions, which was a huge plus. Back in the VirtualBox 2.x days, I found these Additions complicated to install, but that certainly wasn’t the case here.

The performance experienced with Ubuntu could only be described as fantastic. The OS as a whole was always responsive, and as a result, it was a total joy to use. There were no graphical issues, so moving windows around the screen always felt just as snappy as it would in a native install. Also, everything worked, from my USB thumb drive to the networking to the audio and so forth. I couldn’t find anything I’d consider “broke”, so this ranks high on my “give it a try” list.


Ubuntu 9.10 64-Bit

Like Ubuntu 9.10, OpenSolaris 2009.06 installed without a single issue. That also goes for the Guest Additions, which installs similarly as they do in all supported Linux distributions. The performance, as expected, was very snappy, and using the OS as a whole was quite enjoyable, just as it would be if it were installed as the primary OS on the PC. For whatever reason, OpenSolaris takes the longest to boot of all the OSes I tested, but once to the desktop, it was smooth sailing.

Similar to Windows 7, the audio didn’t work in OpenSolaris either. Fortunately, also like Windows 7, fixing the problem took little effort. To do so, you just need to go download the appropriate version of OSS here. When it’s downloaded, you can install it like a regular package (eg: ‘pfexec pkgadd -d oss-solaris-v4.2-2002-i386.pkg’), log out and back in, and the audio should work. It seems a bit odd that this audio issue plagued us in two different OSes, but at least each were easily fixable.


OpenSolaris 2009.06

For the most part, in all of the tested OSes, I had no real issue from a usage or performance perspective, so there’s not that much more to say. But what about more specific features, like 3D? I figure that most of our readers would be interested in using some form of 3D in a virtualized machine, so I tested the capabilities in three of our OSes, Windows XP, Windows 7 and Ubuntu 9.10.

I’m not sure the reason, but whenever I need to test out 3D anywhere, my first thought is to go download Google Earth, and this time was no exception. It seems like a simple application, but if you have lackluster 3D support, the program lags a lot, so it’s still a great way to test the 3D on your machine. To add another element, I ran the cross-platform 3D shooter “Nexuiz” on each of our three OS choices as well. This is an OpenGL game, which enables it to work on Windows 7.

It’s hard to portray through screenshots, but as I expected, the best overall performance was seen with Windows XP. Even Nexuiz, though not ideal, was very playable. I ran around the level and killed my lone opponent three or four times to test it out, and I couldn’t believe the how smooth it was at points. Given this is a cross-platform game, it only makes sense to run the game in your native OS than through a VM, but it is an interesting test nonetheless.

Google Earth & Nexuiz in Windows XP

Windows 7 didn’t offer us the best experience, and that was to be expected. Google Earth was manageable, but Nexuiz was so laggy, it was simply unplayable. It was even laggy at the menu, if that tells you anything. For 3D, XP still reigns supreme where Windows is concerned.

Google Earth & Nexuiz in Windows 7

Similar to XP, 3D under Ubuntu gave us fairly good performance, with things like Google Earth proving no problem at all. The performance wasn’t quite as smooth as in Windows XP, but in an application like this, it was just fine. Nexuiz was another story, with missing textures. I’m not sure of the reason behind it, but it does highlight the fact that 3D support will vary greatly between operating systems. At first, I thought this issue could have been due to Compiz, but it remained even after disabling it, so I’m left to believe it’s simply a graphics issue.

Google Earth & Nexuiz in Ubuntu 9.10

Wait… did I say Compiz? Indeed I did. Here it is in action:

Compiz in Ubuntu 9.10

Because of past experiences with VirtualBox, I didn’t expect much in the way of 3D, but the most recent version really surprised me. Before, I would have laughed at the thought of running Compiz, but here, I couldn’t believe how well it ran. Wobbly windows, advanced desktop switchers (like the one above), reflective windows and so forth all worked really, really well.


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