VirtualBox 6.0 is the free open source virtualization application that may be all you need to run Windows or Linux applications on your Mac, especially if you're willing to get your hands dirty. Compared with subscription-based Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion, which is only once for use, Oracle's VirtualBox offers less automated conveniences, uses less elegant menus, and lacks deep integration features. That said, this free utility offsets these shortcomings with fast performance, access to a vast third-party library of prebuilt VirtualBox emulated systems, and all the flexibility that power users can desire.
Price and Platforms
Like VMware Fusion, Virtual Box is available in the Mac, Windows and Linux versions and supports virtually any Intel-based emulated system you may want, including the older ones like DOS and OS / 2. As mentioned earlier, it's free to use. A license for Parallels Desktop, by comparison, costs $ 79.99 per year. VMWare Fusion also costs $ 79.99 (for the cheaper Basic version), but you get a permanent license for the software.
Like other virtualization applications, VirtualBox allows you to run one or more guest systems from your VirtualBox Manager menu. You can run a guest machine in a window so that a full Windows desktop appears in a window on your Mac or you can run a full Windows screen on a Mac, almost as if your Mac were a true Windows machine . Alternatively, you can run a single Windows application in which VirtualBox calls Seamless mode. In this mode, the Windows desktop becomes invisible and this single Windows application lives in its own frame.
At least, this is how VirtualBox is designed to work and how it works with the older versions of Windows and the Linux versions that I've tried. At the time of this review, however, some features of VirtualBox were not working correctly with Windows 10 and the workarounds I found on the web did not solve the problems. The problems, which I describe later in this story, were more annoying than deadly, but until Oracle solves them, you should probably choose a commercial alternative if you want to run Windows 10 on your Mac.
VirtualBox set up and use
You can start with VirtualBox by downloading any of the numerous pre-built Linux and Unix guest systems from the OSBoxes site. If you want to run Windows in VirtualBox, the safest method is to install Windows from an installer disk image that you can download from Microsoft. Unlike Parallels or VMware, VirtualBox does not automatically install Windows if you have an activation code. Instead, you have to go through the same manual installation procedure you would do on an actual hardware system. If your Mac uses a retina display, you will be frustrated with the tiny size that VirtualBox displays by default while you are installing Windows. You can solve this problem by going to the View tab in the Settings dialog of your emulated system and increasing the scale factor to 200 percent – this is a typical example of VirtualBox methods, do it yourself. Parallels and VMware automatically adjust to Retina screens.
Parallels and VMware make it easy to install an emulated Mac system on your Mac, which you may want to have for testing or development. Users can install macOS from the Mac recovery partition or from an installer downloaded from the Mac App Store. You can run an emulated Mac in VirtualBox, but it is not easy and you will need to search the Web for detailed instructions.
Unlike Parallels and VMware, VirtualBox does not automatically install the guest system tools that allow you to drag and drop files between the Mac host and an emulated Windows or Linux guest. To install them, you need to click on the "Insert guest additions CD image" item in the Device menu – it's not exactly an intuitive option – and find out how to find the installer on the emulated CD on the guest system and which three different versions tools to install. Experienced users will find this easy, but unskilled users will be lost.
I'm impressed with the performance of VirtualBox. It took only 35 seconds to boot a Windows 10 emulated system, almost the same as Parallels Desktop, and almost twice as fast as VMware Fusion. I'm also impressed with the seamless operations of VirtualBox with a Windows 7 emulated system. I found it simple to instantly switch between the three VirtualBox views: full screen, window (which VirtualBox calls "Scaled Mode") and single application window mode (which VirtualBox calls "Seamless Mode"). The same display options on a Windows 10 emulated system generally did not work. For example, when I tried to switch Windows 10 to Seamless mode, it continued to display the Windows desktop, only without a frame. Parallels and VMware keep their software tools up-to-date for current Windows systems, but VirtualBox users are doomed to wait.
VMware and Parallels automatically provide two-way clipboard support for text and images and bidirectional support for dragging and dropping files between the Windows or Linux guest and the Mac host desktop. VirtualBox offers the same feature, but you must activate it manually. However, VirtualBox offers more precise control over two-way sharing than your commercial rivals. In all of these virtualization applications, you can disable clipboard sharing and drag-and-drop, but only VirtualBox allows you to configure clipboard features or drag and drop to operate only one way, from host to guest or vice versa -versa. versa. This can increase security if you are experiencing potentially harmful software on the guest, but want to import files or other items from the host system.
If you want to print from a guest system, the Mac host system needs to be configured to print to a networked printer, not to a printer connected via the USB cable. You may well need to look for help on the Web before you start printing. Briefly, use the VirtualBox settings dialog to switch from the NAT network method to Bridged (and also make sure the network is enabled). Then, within your guest Windows system, use the Settings application to search for a networked printer. You may need to install the Windows driver on the manufacturer's website if Windows does not have a driver already available.
Another potential problem is that VMware configures the network through a specific network interface on the Mac and does not automatically switch between interfaces if (for example) you connect an Ethernet cable to your MacBook when you do not have access to a fast Wi-Fi . Fi. If you do this, you will have to go to the VirtualBox settings window and change the network adapter configuration to match the network of your Mac. Parallels and VMware make the switch automatically and invisibly.
A similar crash has hindered shutdown of Windows guest systems. Like Parallels and VMware, VirtualBox has a first-line menu item that allows you to power off the guest machine easily and efficiently, as if you had clicked the Start menu and chose Shut Down in the power options. In VirtualBox, this menu item does nothing until you dig the Windows guest settings and set the option that tells Windows to shut down when the power button is pressed. As with so much more in the freeware VirtualBox, you do not have the conveniences that you do not pay.
An integration feature that VirtualBox does not have is the ability to open files on the Mac system with Windows applications or open files on the Windows system emulated with Mac applications. In Parallels or VMware, this means that you do not need to buy a Mac version of the software that you already have for Windows. Instead, you can tell your Mac to use the Windows application on your emulated machine to open any files on your Mac that you would need to edit in a Mac-based copy of the software.
Freedom of Virtualization
While often annoying to use, VirtualBox is an impressive application that shares enough features with its commercial rivals to make it worth considering – especially in security-conscious configurations that insist on open source software rather than proprietary applications. If you want to run the latest Windows 10 applications on a Mac, Parallels Desktop is your best choice and VMware Fusion is a good second choice. However, if you only need Windows or Linux from time to time and are willing to deal with minor drawbacks and limitations, VirtualBox can be an indispensable tool.