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running Windows inside VirtualBox

Posted 06-04-2012 at 04:13 AM by neonsignal
Updated 06-04-2012 at 05:59 PM by neonsignal

The VirtualBox project provides full x86 virtualization, and was developed by innotek and Sun (now Oracle). The licence is GPL, although there are some optional proprietary extensions, which include USB drivers and RDP support. On newer processors (with AMD-V or VT-x processor), there are other libre alternatives such as KVM.

To install VirtualBox is just a matter of installing the package:
apt-get install virtualbox-ose
Because the software is still changing substantially, it is worth considering a more recent backported version.

In the past one also had to install the driver modules separately, but these are now handled by the virtualbox-ose-dkms package. However, this will require access to the linux headers for the current kernel, in order to automatically build the modules (for example by installing linux-headers-2.6-686).

Also in the past, the vboxdrv and vboxnetflt modules had to be manually added to /etc/modules, but their execution is now controlled by /etc/default/virtualbox-ose, by the flag LOAD_VBOXDRV_MODULE.

Now VirtualBox can be started. Create a new machine configuration using the wizard (which will also create a virtual disk). Once created, a virtual CD/DVD can be added in the storage settings, so that Windows can then be installed from an iso file.

Then the virtual machine is started, and Windows installation proceeds as it would for a physical machine.

There are certain desirable additions, such as mouse pointer integration (allowing the mouse to move seamlessly between the virtual machine window and other windows), better video support, and so on. These are called guest additions, and must be installed inside the client operating system. This installation is accessible from the devices menu when the guest is running.

There are network settings to allow the guest to access the host operating system network. Using a bridged adapter allows the guest operating system to appear as if it is a physical machine on the local network.

The virtual machine can also be started from the command line:
VBoxManage startvm machine-name
Once a virtual machine is set up to one's satisfaction, the virtual drive can be cloned. Be aware that a typical consumer Windows licence would allow you to run only a single copy at a time. Typically the image would be in ~/.VirtualBox/VDI/:
VBoxManage clonevdi source-image.vdi destination-image.vdi
Note that the Windows 95/98/ME series do not perform very well in a virtualization context, as they never sleep the processor. This means that they will consume substantial processing power on the host machine, regardless of what is running in the client. The Windows NT/2000/XP series are more efficient in a virtualization context, and for applications that are not device intensive (eg graphics or network) the performance is near that of a physical machine.
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