In the last few months, VirtualBox has become my favorite desktop visualization application. Aside from being cross platform and open source, it has opened up many creative solutions to problems that I could not tackle any other way.
- Want to try out a new program, but don’t want to “contaminate” your clean computer?
- Interested in trying your hand in some Linux distributions, but intimidated by formatting your machine?
- What if you want to make a fully encrypted operating system that nobody else can access?
- Maybe you run a Mac, but absolutely need to use a Windows based program.
All of these problems and more can be solved using VirtualBox. Virtualization can be a deep and complicated topic, but thankfully VirtualBox makes it relatively simple. In this tutorial, I am going to show you how to use VirtualBox to install the latest copy of Ubuntu, a free open-source operating system, but you can follow a similar procedure if you decide to use a different OS
I’ve decided to supplement the instructions here with another video tutorial. It covers every step below, all in just over ten minutes. Give it a watch if you want to learn more about VirtualBox or get stuck somewhere along the way.
What Is VirtualBox?
For those not familiar with virtualization, lets take a few steps back. VirtualBox allows you to runpractically any operating system right inside your current OS. You don’t have to repartition your hard drive or set up dual-booting. When I install operating systems on physical machines, I typically do my best to maintain them, running regular updates, and keeping them free of spam, viruses, etc.But on a virtual machine, I don’t care nearly as much — the entire operating system isdisposable and easily replaceable if anything goes wrong. Lets cover some basic terminology before we continue.
- Host – The operating system that you are currently running. My primary work machine is an iMac. When I run VirtualBox, my host operating system is Mac OS X Lion.
- Guest – Whatever operating system that runs inside VirtualBox. You can have multiple guests running simultaneously inside a single host. For example, I can have a Windows XP guest running right alongside a Ubuntu guest, but there will only ever be one host.
- VDI – Virtual Disk Image. The entire guest operating system is contained in this single file. VirtualBox maintains a couple of other files for the preferences of that virtual machine, but all the actual data is contained here. This has some powerful implications that I will discuss in a later post.
- VM – Virtual Machine. A more generic name for VirtualBox instance.