VirtualBox 4 now available, with host of new features, updated GUI

December 23, 2010 – 14:17 by in News Print Share No Comment

Oracle has released version 4.0 of its free virtualisation software package, VirtualBox. Available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X, VirtualBox allows the end user to run virtual computers in a program window for testing and compatibility purposes.

VirtualBox 4.0 features a host of major changes and improvements: the program itself has been reorganised into a base package and extension packs, the user interface has been majorly revamped and there’s better support for portable virtual machines and launching virtual computers directly from the desktop. It’s also easier to wipe all traces of virtual machines without leaving any unwanted traces.

VirtualBox 4.0 now comes as a base package, which consists of all the open-source components together. This allows for the development of extension packs: at present, only one is in existence, which takes all the previous functionality that was proprietary – namely support for USB 2.0, VirtualBox Remote Desktop Protocol and PXE boot for Intel cards – and wraps it up in a separate download, which is free for personal use only. Extensions are installed through VirtualBox itself – choose File > Preferences > Extensions to do so.

VirtualBox 4.0 also changes where it stores each virtual machine’s files. Previously machine settings and virtual hard disks were stored in separate folders; now they can be found in the same folder under “VirtualBox VMs” in the current user’s home directory (C:\Users\{Username} in Vista and Windows 7, for example). This makes it easier to keep track of virtual machines, plus port them across to different computers.

A new user interface
The GUI has also been extensively redesigned and is now referred to as the VirtualBox Manager. The user interface now sports a guest preview window, and you can now sort your virtual machines into any order you choose. VirtualBox 4.0 also supports .vbox desktop shortcuts, allowing you to open virtual machines directly without having to launch the VirtualBox Manager first – just right-click the machine’s entry in the VirtualBox Manager to create this.

There is now a “scale” display mode, allowing you to resize the display window of a virtual machine without changing its resolution (instead, the current display is scaled to fit the size of the available window).

Improved virtual hardware
It’s now possible to support more than 2GB RAM on any 32-bit virtual host, and several new virtual hardware devices have been created, most notably the Intel ICH9 chipset for better compatibility with more modern OSes, including Mac OS X Server, and Intel HD Audio, which improves audio support for 64-bit versions of Windows.

When it comes to exporting and importing virtual machines, OVF support has been significantly enhanced to improve performance and support the import of formats other than VMDK. And more generally, the virtual machine’s CPU time and IO bandwidth can be restricted in order to prevent it from impacting too much on the host computer’s performance.

Other improvements include wider support for other virtual disk formats (including Parallels, VHD and iSCSI), plus the ability to resize both VDI and VHD images.

VirtualBox 4.0 is available now for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux: the base package is open source, while extension packs will depend on the individual licence applied to each.

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