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Adventures in Linux and VirtualBox E-mail
Saturday, 13 February 2010 10:55

Over the last two weeks I've been playing with VirtualBox and various distributions of Linux.  First of all, VirtualBox is pretty amazing, but there are a couple of things one should know when starting out with it, things I found weren't clearly apparent (at least to me):

  • Although VirtualBox imports images in ORF format, all the images I found were in the VDI format, which is how VirtualBox creates and stores virtual hard drives.  The only extra step involved with using these is you have to create a new virtual machine manually and specify the VDI file you downloaded.  Two sites that have various operating systems in VDI images are Virtualboximages.com and Virtualbox.wordpress.com.
  • To run a 64-bit guest operating system inside either a 32-bit or 64-bit host OS, your hardware needs to have virtualization support.  AMD calls it AMD-V and Intel's is Intel-VT.  The Wikipedia article has a nice overview of x86 virtualization.
  • In mounting shared folders, keep in mind that the root level of the mounted folder will only have read-only access.  Sub-folders will have read-and-write access, if read-only is not specified in the VirtualBox settings for the virtual machine.

I wanted to make a summary table of my experience with the various Linux distributions I tried.  All of these, except Xubuntu, were installed in 32-bit version on an Intel processor without Intel-VT.  Xubuntu was installed in 64-bit version on a machine with AMD-V.  Host operating system on both machines was 64-bit Windows 7.


Mandriva Fedora Xubuntu Arch Linux Zenwalk openSUSE
Installation Easy with graphical interface Easy. Specify enough memory for the Fedora VM so it uses the graphical interface. Otherwise the installer will revert to the text installer. Easy Easy but not as easy as the others. Easy Easy
Working out-of-box with GUI
Excellent Excellent Excellent No GUI by default Excellent Excellent
GUI installation I installed Xfce using instructions on the Wiki and it was straightforward.
VirtualBox Guest Additions installation Easy Buggy. First time it went well. Second time they refused to install due to kernel-related issues. Third time they installed fine. Somewhat easy. Follow instructions on VirtualBox forums to update kernel and install required libraries. Easy Somewhat easy Easy
Guest Additions out-of-box functionality Great Great Great Buggy. Shared folders mounted fine but the OS froze when trying to access them. Buggy. Seamless integration didn't work even though installation went fine. Great
Speed Good Good Very good Great Great Slow. My guess is because it's running KDE.
Ease-of-use for first-time user Great Very good Very good Not good for a first-time user. Very good Great
Ease in installing and removing applications Great. Installed Adobe Flash Player and AIR without issues.  N/A Good. Linux apps installed fine. Could not successfully install Adobe AIR on a 64-bit installation. N/A N/A Great. Installed Adobe Flash Player and AIR without issues.


  1. Virtual machine did not shut down properly when shared folders were mounted in the /home/user folder.  The problem disappeared when mounting to another folder (I used /mnt).


  1. For no apparent reason the GUI failed to load.  I installed Fedora three times - twice from a VDI image and once from the official ISO.  In the first two installations I didn't have this problem.


  1. Mounting to /home/user folder works fine.
  2. User privileges are annoying.  For example, I have to start NetBeans from the command line as root in order to have write access to a mounted folder.
  3. Both my machines have a Synaptics touchpad.  Xubuntu does not recognize mouse gestures set in Windows, whereas all other distributions, which are on the second machine, do.
  4. I was able to install and run Lighttpd, MySQL, and PHP without issues.

Arch Linux

  1. When I have more time and patience, I think Arch Linux would be a good base for a fully customized Linux installation.  It's light and fast, and I really like Pacman, the built-in package manager.


Overall my favorites are Mandriva and openSUSE, and they're the ones I use most, along with Xubuntu on the second machine.