VirtualBox is an operating system virtualization program that allows you, the end user, to do an incredible number of things that you couldn’t otherwise do in any other way than in a live environment. But not everyone has more than one machine laying around with an OS installed on it, and not everyone wants to have to dual or multi boot in order to use each of these OS’s.
That’s where VirtualBox comes in handy. You can test an operating system, or run more than one OS simultaneously without needing multiple PC’s. But what does it take to get started with Virtualbox? Well, I’m about to show you. (be sure you already have Virtualbox 3.x installed before starting this tutorial)
Setting up a Virtual Machine
To get started setting up a Virtual Machine, begin by opening VirtualBox. On the left side you’ll see a large white column with four buttons over it. Click on “New”. This will bring up a new windows. Click “Next”. In this window you’ll want to enter a name for the Virtual Machine. Typically this is the name of the OS you’ll be using, however it doesn’t necessarily have to be.
For example, if you’re simply testing Linux distributions, just name it “Linux Testing” or something that makes sense to you so you know what it is. Essentially the name is just there to make sure you know which is which if you have more than one Virtual Machine.
Now, in the section below that text box, select the operating system and version you’ll be using. For example, with Windows you’d choose “Microsoft Windows” and “Windows XP” respectively. Virtualbox 3.x can support Windows, Linux, Solaris, BSD and IBM OS/2 (yes, OS2. Kinda surprising, isn’t it? hehe) natively, and there’s an “other” category for other OS’s that don’t fall into one of those six categories.
Those typically are things like Dos, Novel Netware, L4, QNX, or some other off the wall OS that will run on x86 hardware, but isn’t a mainstream OS. Next, choose the base memory that your virtual machine will use. Typically this should be no more than 50% of your total available physical memory. So if you only have 1gb of ram, don’t select more than 512mb of memory for your Virtual Machine, or bad things may happen.
Now, click next, and either choose an existing hard drive, or create a new one. Note, these are virtual hard drives. They’ll appear as files on your main system drive, but won’t affect it in any way, other than to take up space. If you haven’t created a virtual hard drive yet, click “Create new hard disk” and then click next.
A new window should appear. Click next. Now you will be asked if you want dynamically expanding storage, or fixed. Dynamically expanding storage is essentially a disk image that grows as you need more space. Typically this is the best way to setup a virtual drive, as you only use as much space as you absolutely need. It will continue to grow over time as you need more space, up to the maximum limit, but not beyond.
The second type of drive is fixed size storage. This will automatically allocated the entire amount of space required for your virtual drive right at the beginning, even if you are only using a small portion of it within the Virtual Machine. Now, once you’ve chosen this, select a location to store the virtual drive, and a disk size.
Now in regards to disk size, regardless which type you choose (dynamic or fixed), you will need to make sure that you select a drive size no more than 50% of your total available disk space. So for example, if your physical hard drive is 80gb, your virtual drive should be no more than 40gb.
Once you’re done with that, click finish and it will take you back to the previous window. Simply click next, and finish, and you’re done.
The next step now is to configure the Virtual Machine. Start by clicking on your new Virtual Machine in the left column, then click settings. In here you can change anything you like about your Virtual Machine. There aren’t many tweaks that I would recommend in here, however there are a few. One of those is to adjust your video memory.
To do that, click on “display” in the left column. On the right side panel, look at the total memory listed there (it won’t let you go any higher than 100% of your video memory), and then either move the slider over until it’s at 50% of your total memory, or you can manually specify the value in the the box at the far end.
Never, ever, ever go over 50% of your total physical video memory for the same reasons you should never go over 50% of your total physical ram. Bad things happen if you do. What you essentially do is you starve your host system for memory and that can quickly come back to haunt you.
Below the memory slider is a neat new addition to Virtual Box. It allows you to have full 3D support within your virtual machine. It’s still experimental, but it works. To use it, just check the little box there, and then click ok. There are other things in there you can play with and tweak if you like, but if not, then you’re done.
Install the OS
This last part is the shortest, and easiest part of the entire process of setting up your Virtual Machine. Namely, installing the OS. Overall, there are two ways in which you can do this. The first is directly with a CD or DVD of the OS.
To do that, insert the install disk into your cd or dvd drive, and then, with the Virtual Machine selected, click on “CD/DVD-ROM” in the right side panel. This will take you back into the settings dialog. Checkmark “Mount CD/DVD Drive”, then select your drive from the list, if you have more than one, and then click ok. If you only have only one, just click OK.
Inversely, if you are installing from a disk iso, you can simply select “ISO Image File” here, then click the folder icon next to it. This will open the Virtual Media Manager. To add your iso file, click “Add”, then browse to the file and click Open. You’ll now see your iso file in the list. Just select it, and then click “select”.
This will return you to the previous window. Click ok. Now click start and follow the prompts to install your OS. Once it has completely finished with the disk, you can remove it by simply selecting “Devices -> Unmount CD/DVD-ROM” from the Virtual Machine window.
Well, that’s all it. You’ve completed your setup and you are now ready to begin playing with your new Virtual Machine!