What’s New in VirtualBox 3.1.x

By Craig Buckler
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VirtualBoxVirtualBox is Sun’s (soon to be Oracle’s) virtual machine emulator for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. It’s an excellent piece of software that I’ve raved about before.

Despite competition from Windows 7 and it’s XP Mode, I still use VirtualBox for testing browsers and software. The open source product beats Microsoft’s Virtual PC by a considerable margin and compares well with VMware.

VirtualBox 3.1 was released at the end of November and 3.1.2 appeared a couple of weeks later. There are a number of updates that are of interest to web developers.

1. Increased performance

VirtualBox has always been fast, but 3.1.x improves the speed even further. Although I’m fan of XP Mode, it can be just as quick to cold boot an XP VM and start IE. The OS and browser are far more responsive than Virtual PC too.

Hardware enthusiasts will be pleased to know that VirtualBox supports even more devices than before, can simulate up to four processors, and utilize 2D/3D acceleration.

2. Teleportation

Teleportation, or live migration, is facility which allows you to move a live and running VM from one host machine to another. The demonstrations are impressive and it’s undoubtedly clever, but I’m not sure I’d find a reason to use it. In theory, you could use your VM desktop at work, transport it to a smart phone, then transport it to your home PC. You’d retain the same OS and applications throughout.

I suspect the facility will be useful for enterprise systems administrators, but perhaps it’s viable for application demonstrations or user support.

3. Branched Snapshots

VirtualBox has supported virtual machine (VM) snapshots for a while. However, until version 3.1, it was only possible to revert back to a previous state — and that destroyed snapshots lower in the hierarchy. VirtualBox 3.1 introduced branched snapshots which allow you to create any number of VMs from a single root image.

Branched snapshots offer significant benefits to web developers and I’ll show you how to use them in my next post.

Do you use VirtualBox? How does it compare to other virtual machine solutions?

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  • Yup, I’ve been been a fan of using VBox for a few years now. I use it quite a bit on Linux for doing typical Windows testing stuff for IE6 and running Adobe or Windows software and have the latest version running.

    Generally on Windows XP I use Virtual PC for IE6 testing. I also use it for beta testing Windows software so I don’t have to worry about screwing up my OS if something goes awry. I do have VBox on my Windows machines too but usually use Virtual PC.

    Another good one is VMWare Player. I’ve got that running on a couple of machines and used it to get Google Chromium (Chrome OS) running to see what it was all about.

  • I recommend Virtual PC to people on the forums all the time simply because Microsoft makes the images available for free (XP or Vista with IE6, IE7 or IE8). To create such images yourself you need to have your own operating system discs and license, and not everyone has a spare.

    I personally use VirtualBox more often though. It is a really nice product, and performs well. There are some glitches with DirectDraw and Windows 7 (a very old graphics interface predating Direct3D), so I boot up Windows XP in VirtualBox to play some classic games, like StarCraft. With full screen mode it feels as responsive as the host OS.

  • commandnotapple


    I remember finding a video tutorial describing how to convert those Virtual PC images to VirtualBox images.

    Refining a couple of Google searches turned this up, though I HAVE NOT TRIED IT. I do not warrant how correct the information is.


    Also, the afore mentioned Virtual PC images can be found here:


  • mech7

    I have tried it and forget about it… it will complain there are too many changes in the hardware and you cannot login because it needs to validate.

    I not really see much people buying a special copy only to test in IE 6, with my Win 7 notebook.. CPU support for virtualisation is unfortunately lacking so I cannot use Virtual PC (The new one no 2007)

    So now im still kinda stuck at Virtual PC 2007… or I would need to install a illegal copy on Virtual box…

  • @mech7, VirtualBox is free…….there is no illegal copy and nor do you need to login or register anything. Just skip it.

  • @logic_earth He’s referring to moving copies of Windows from the free VPC images Microsoft makes to VirtualBox. Windows is the “not free” thing he’s talking about.

  • @Dan, Ah okay mis-reading on my part.

  • @Dan & @Logic,
    I haven’t tried it with VB but with MS Virtual PC 2007, I use several virtual copies of Windows XP on Windows XP using the same license as the host. So in this case I have one legitimate copy of Win XP as the host and then each virtual copy also uses the same license and they activate online as usual.

    Of course if I have a Linux machine that I want to host several versions of Windows (XP, Vista, 7, etc…) on, I’ll need to buy a license for each version but it seems that it might be possible to run several virtual copies of the same OS with one license.