Lately I have been floored with the offering, and the speed at which virtualization software has grown. I can remember when the “VT” extension to the AMD and Intel CPUs were new, and people could only theorize about the possibilities. Since, it has moved from an academic subject, to a truly viable option to anyone.
Looking around, I found the following matrix (not the movie!) of options:
- VMWare Player – free but no VT performance (so kinda useless)
- VMWare Server – free, VT support, can create VMs, can run existing partition
- VirtualBox – free, VT support, can create VMs, can run existing partitions, offers “Seamless mode”*, no registration
- Parallels – not free, VT support, can create VMs, offers true coherence
First and foremost, throw out VMWare Player – it doesn’t make sense anymore. And if you are cheap like me, throw out Parallels since it costs clams. (However its level of OS integration is compelling). I tried both VMWare Server, and VirtualBox. VMWare Server was a more complex install, and it didn’t offer much integration out of the box. So I decided to give VirtualBox (1.5) a try.
The biggest surprise is how EASY it is to do all this. Hell, with a name like “virtualization” it sounded like I was going to have to do some heavy reading in the throne room. Instead, I got VirtualBox up and running my existing Windows partition in about 10 minutes. I created a new hardware profile in Windows, and reactivated my product since the a-holes at Microsoft were licking their lips thinking their activation algorithm had just detected a new machine on which Windows had been installed. Activation was the step that actually took the longest.
So, here is the obligatory screenshot, so you can believe me when I say it really happened:
Â A few limitation to address on VirtualBox:
- Â Seamless integration seems to hide the Windows background image, and all of the VirtualBox application controls from the screen. However, the applications are not really inside the host OS. They are missing from my task switcher, and from my window list. Also, obviously, I cann’t send these application to a different workspace, or apply the Ubuntu window decorations to them.
- The “Start menu” from Windows and the “Gnome menu” competes for the same space. Depending on if a host application, or a guest application has focus one menu will appear over the other.
- A Linux host with dual monitors would have to use the “big desktop” settings for ATI cards, and then expand the guest OS resolution to fix across both desktops to have dual monitor support.
Sounds like the next stop is Parallels, where the deeper level of host integration is said to fix these issues. I’ll report back on this topic when I play around with Parallels some more.