The Bottom Line
Oracle VM VirtualBox 3.2.0 contains many improvements over earlier versions. Oracle has taken Sun's virtual offering and updated it to work with the latest Intel processors, created a faster video subsystem, and sped up basic performance. While it lacks many features Mac users expect in a VM product, especially when compared with Parallels and Fusion, it does offer two compelling features: It's free, and it supports installing Snow Leopard as a guest OS.
- Free for personal use; $50 for business use.
- Native support for Intel Core i5 and Core i7 processors.
- Faster I/O subsystem for better performing virtual disks.
- Allows Snow Leopard to be used as a guest OS.
- Host and VM integrations limited.
- Memory usage higher than competing VM systems.
- Difficult to import existing guest OSes from other VM environments.
- No support for use of Boot Camp partitions.
- Requires Intel-based Macs.
- Works with Leopard or Snow Leopard as Host OS.
- Supports wide range of guests OSes.
- Can work with most USB peripherals.
- Keyboard and mouse capture are fully automated with OS X as host.
Guide Review - Oracle VM VirtualBox 3.2 Review: VirtualBox Adds Supports for OS X as Client
VirtualBox 3.2.0 is the first release of Sun's VirtualBox application under the Oracle name. When Oracle purchased Sun, it acquired Sun's virtualization group, which led many of us to wonder what would happen to the free and well-regarded virtualization product, VirtualBox. Well, the answer seems to be that it will remain free. Oracle also added new capabilities to the application.
New Features of VirtualBox 3.2
VirtualBox 3.2.0 offers a number of new features, including the first virtualization environment for the Mac optimized for use with Intel Core i5 and Core i7 processors. VirtualBox 3.2.x also offers faster networking, a new I/O storage subsystem that provides faster access to virtual devices, like the virtual hard drive, and a spiffy improvement in the video performance, an area were VirtualBox has always been behind the other virtualization contenders.
Snow Leopard As a Guest OS
One of the big changes in VirtualBox 3.2 is support for running Snow Leopard as a client OS. You can run Snow Leopard as a virtual machine, right on top of your native OS X installation. This lets you try out applications and various OS X capabilities without worrying about disturbing your main installation of OS X. Other virtual machine environments, such as Parallels and Fusion, allow you to run OS X Server as a client, but prevent you from using the consumer version of OS X as a client OS in the virtual environment.
VirtualBox 3.2's support for OS X is listed as experimental. I was able to run Snow Leopard as a client, but couldn't install any earlier version of OS X. There's also the question of whether running Snow Leopard as a virtual machine violates the EULA for Apple's Snow Leopard. I'll leave that for the legal scholars to unravel, and simply confirm that Snow Leopard installed and ran without issues as a virtual machine under VirtualBox 3.2.0.
Of course VirtualBox supports many other guest OSes as well, including all of the Windows environments since Windows 3.1, UNIX, Linux, Solaris, and even IBM's OS/2.
Using VirtualBox 3.2
VirtualBox 3.2 is easy to set up and use. If you've worked with any of the other virtual machine applications for the Mac, VirtualBox won't throw any surprises at you. If you're new to working with virtual machines, VirtualBox has simple assistants that can walk you though creating your first VM.
Integrating the virtual machines you create with your native host OS is a simple matter of assigning shared folders. Once you assign shared folders, you can access files or folders from either environment by placing them in the shared folders. What's missing is basic drag-and-drop. You can't simply drag a file from your Mac to the VM desktop; you must use the shared folder system.
Overall, VirtualBox 3.2 has a lot going for it. It provides all of the basic features you're likely to need. It lacks some of the niceties and features seen in Parallels and Fusion, but it's free and they're not.