What is Oracle VirtualBox and what can you do with it?

What is Oracle VirtualBox and what can you do with it?

Computers have become so fast and capable that you can run several other virtual computers using internal resources. This idea is known as virtualization, and although it may seem strange, virtualization has many uses. In addition, it can save you a lot of money for tasks that would normally require multiple computers to perform.

To create these virtual machines, we use a program known as a hypervisor. One of the most recommended hypervisors is Oracle’s VirtualBox. So, what can you do with VirtualBox? And why use it over other hypervisors?

What is VirtualBox?

Virtualization of different operating systems with VirtualBox

VirtualBox is one of the most popular free and open source hypervisors that anyone can try today. VirtualBox is a type 2 hypervisor used to virtualize machines at high and reliable speeds (depending on the host machine’s hardware). Although it’s completely free, VirtualBox still offers features that many other hypervisors either don’t have or require a premium subscription to use.

Because it’s a popular open source software, you can find plenty of tutorials on how to use it, and it has significant community support. VirtualBox is also a cross-platform hypervisor, meaning it can be installed on Windows, macOS, and many Linux distros.

What does VirtualBox do?

VirtualBox is used in all kinds of tasks and applications that require one or more isolated machines for you to use. Here are some of the most common applications for VirtualBox.

1. Try out operating systems

VirtualBox Boot Up Manager
Image Credit: Linux Screenshots/Flickr

One of the most common uses for VirtualBox is to try out a new operating system. Let’s say you’re currently using Windows 10 and want to try out Windows 11. By installing Windows 11 VirtualBox, you can experience Windows 11 without installing it on your bare-metal hardware. This means that in case you don’t like the new operating system, you can simply turn off VirtualBox and continue operating your computer as usual.

VirtualBox can boot any type of operating system, be it Windows, macOS or one of the many distributions of Linux. As long as you have an ISO image for the operating system you want to try, you can run it on VirtualBox. For example, you can install macOS in VirtualBox.

2. Testing a website before deployment

Testing the site on different machines
Image credit: Jeremy Keith/Flickr

Before deploying a website, you must first test it in a sandbox environment where no one can see and tamper with it. VirtualBox is a great way to host your own web server in a secure environment without any additional equipment.

3. Learn cyber security

Learning cyber security

The best way to learn cybersecurity is to apply your skills to an actual machine. Virtualizing these machines is a cost-effective way to test your skills without having to pay for premium hacking labs offered by online cybersecurity schools.

With VirtualBox and a free machine image from VulnHub, you basically have a free testing ground to use your skills. And since hacking tends to be boring, VirtualBox makes it easy for students to take breaks by offering a Snapshot feature, so students can easily save their progress and continue when they feel ready to continue.

4. Develop software across platforms

Cross-platform development

Another popular use of VirtualBox is to test and develop software across platforms. Whether you’re developing an app for a specific platform or an app with cross-platform support, you’ll save time during testing by having VirtualBox emulate these different platforms.

Let’s say you’re using the Windows operating system and you’re porting an application for Linux. Instead of buying a test machine specifically for Linux or dual-booting Linux, you can simply open Linux on a virtual machine using VirtualBox. The ability to emulate different platforms is especially important if you are trying to test applications across platforms. Instead of switching attention to different devices, you can simply run multiple virtual machines and use hotkeys to switch through them.

5. Play old PC games

Old game manuals
Image credit: Robert/Flickr

Another reason to use VirtualBox is to play old games on your computers. Even though your modern PC may have the processing power to run old titles, that doesn’t always mean it can run on your PC. This issue mainly comes from compatibility issues since the game was originally developed for a specific platform and version.

With VirtualBox you can install an older operating system, which should solve the game’s compatibility issues. For example, a game intended for Windows XP cannot run in Windows 11. By setting up a Windows XP VM on VirtualBox, you can install the game on the virtual machine.

Why use VirtualBox over other hypervisors?

Hosted hypervisors like VirtualBox are becoming more and more popular as people learn about their possible uses. There are two types of hypervisors:

  • Bare-metal or Type 1 hypervisors are virtualization software installed on bare metal (ie, the host machine’s hardware). These hypervisors are used on dedicated machines that are often used to host servers for enterprise environments.
  • Hosted or Type 2 hypervisors are virtualization software installed on top of an operating system such as Windows, macOS and Linux. This makes them easy to operate and do not require additional dedicated hardware to run. Hosted hypervisors are often used for smaller deployments and personal use.

So unless you work in an enterprise environment, using a hosted hypervisor like VirtualBox should be sufficient for all your virtualization needs. However, there are other hosted hypervisors that compete with VirtualBox such as VMware Workstation. So why use VirtualBox? Although VMware Workstation has its advantages, here are some reasons why you might want to use VirtualBox instead:

  • Free and feature-rich: Although free, VirtualBox offers features such as snapshotting, software virtualization, and data encryption that are paid or premium features on other hypervisors such as VMware.
  • Open source: VirtualBox being an open source software means not only that it is free for anyone to use, but it also provides other benefits. An advantage of being open source software is that you can view and even edit the source code privately, allowing for high levels of customization as well as security.
  • Popular: Another big reason to use VirtualBox is that it is popular free software. Since it’s free and popular, it has a large community that will answer your questions and provides tons of online tutorials. Since VirtualBox is such a popular and capable hypervisor, many IT jobs use VirtualBox in their system. So knowing how to use VirtualBox will help you integrate into a new company more easily.

VirtualBox is an amazing virtualization tool that allows you to try out different operating systems, test websites, learn cybersecurity and develop cross-platform applications in a fast and convenient way. It offers all your typical hypervisor features plus extra premium features like snapshotting, software virtualization and data encryption – all for free! So, if you are looking for a free virtualization tool that provides premium features, VirtualBox is your best bet.

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