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VirtualBox February 11, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in computers.

I’ve recently become a huge fan of VirtualBox. This is virtual machine software – it allows me to run one operating system (like Linux) inside another (like my Windows box). I’ve tried two others – Virtual PC from Microsoft and VMWare. The nice thing is these are all free. This type of software is pretty cool – it lets you run a machine within another machine. I use these all the time – mostly to run Linux because I need it for work.

Virtual PC was my old mainstay, however its Linux support is barely functional (it doesn’t support a very good graphics card and so default installs of Linux often fail). VMWare took over my USB devices on my laptop and wouldn’t give them back until I rebooted. 🙂 But VirtualBox seems to be quite good. And of the three it has the nicest user interface of the three in my opinion.

There is one problem with it, however. Its license. I’d not caught this until today (despite using it for several months). It is free for anyone to evaluate. And if you are using it at home for private development work then you are safe. If you are in an educational institution you are ok. This covers my use of VirtualBox for my research. But what if you are at a National Lab – like Fermilab or CERN? As far as I can tell, you have to pay. This is too bad as a substantial group of people who would want to use this in research are at these national labs. I guess they are stuck with VMWare or Parallels (do people pay for this? Or is it free?).

UPDATE: As Jeff points out in the comments, the licensing FAQ makes it clear that folks at CERN/Fermilab can use VitualBox without problems… the problem only comes in if centralized CERN mgmt tries to install it on everyone’s PC. Very nice!



1. Michael Procario - February 12, 2009

There is a similar problem with circuit design software. It is quite expensive. Universities get it very cheap, because the companies want students to learn it, but national labs have to pay full price.

2. gordonwatts - February 12, 2009

Yeah — I understand exactly why they do it — makes perfect bussiness sense. Unfortunately, these things are important enough for a national lab to purchase at this point – they have no more $$ than anyone else.

3. Fat Bloke - February 12, 2009


Personal Use means the guy who downloaded it can use it for private or commercial use.

What is does not allow is the IT guy downloading and deploying it across the business. To do that they should buy an Enterprise Subscription which is only $30 and includes 24/7 support.

Reasonable approach I think?


4. gordonwatts - February 12, 2009

That is a much nicer way of reading the license. I’d read it to be much more strict. According to that interpretation people could use it on their desktop at a lab or comercial institution without paying as long as it didn’t become something that was organized…

That is a very nice approach, indeed!

5. Jeff Putsch - February 12, 2009

The licensing FAQ clearly spells out the terms and they are as “Fat Bloke” describes them.

See http://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Licensing_FAQ question 6.


6. gordonwatts - February 12, 2009

Jeff — thanks — I totally missed that. Very nice! I’ll fix the post.

7. Ivan - February 13, 2009

Just to let you know, there are GPL alternatives such as Qemu, I’ve never tried it on windows, but on linux it runs pretty well. Though I’ve used it only for testing some live cds, it does it pretty well, never done an install with it. On the other hand I’ve also used VirtualBox, it’s good, I virtualize windows on my Linux machine with it, runs pretty good and in some cases it’s even faster than the actual windows install on HardDrive. Just in case you dont know, download the guest additions for VirtualBox, they are useful.

8. Gordon Watts - February 13, 2009

There is also an open source version of VirtualBox — you can download the source and build it yourself. GPL v2, I think. It lacks some of the remote management features, but is otherwise fully functional.

So — I have some serious trouble beliving the comment about Windows (or any OS) running faster under a VM than on the straight hardware unless you have a pretty serious config problem. With CPU you take about a 10% hit, but disk I/O you can take up to a 40% hit… no way some short cut from the VM additions can make up the difference. Perhaps if you had a virgin install in the VM and 100 installed programs on the harddisk – then I might buy that…

9. It’s the UI that counts (technical) « Life as a Physicist - April 24, 2009

[…] three main ones that are available to me (and free!) are Virtual PC, VMWare, and VirtualBox. I’ve talked about VirtualBox before. My opinion hasn’t changed about the […]

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