VirtualBox 5.0 Beta 1 released

Oracle announced a new major release for its VirtualBox product on April 1, 2015--the first one in a very long time. Check out the new features of this monumental release.

Frankly, I'm excited about VirtualBox 5.x and not just because it's been five-ish years since the last major version upgrade, but because this particular version adds some fresh features that I've wanted for as long as I've used desktop virtualization. I downloaded and installed it two days ago and my favorite new feature isn't its paravirtualization support for Windows and Linux guests; it's the ability to separate the virtual machine (VM) from the GUI. Yeah, it's kind of wonderful when you think about it. Now you can run a VM without having the GUI open. The real beauty is that you can reattach it to the GUI later. Awesome.

Step-by-step instructions

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If you've followed my writings, you know that I love VirtualBox. VirtualBox is one of those rare pieces of software that works on Windows, Mac, and Linux--and it works equally well on all three. VirtualBox VMs are "drag-and-drop" portable between platforms and you can install almost any existing operating system into it for testing. VirtualBox is exactly what you want it to be: a stable application that performs its functions without issue. I can't recall ever having any problems with any version of it that I've ever used. And that's saying something because I've used practically every version since its initial release back in 2006/2007.

VirtualBox is a Type 2 hypervisor, which means that it runs on top of your existing host operating system as an application. You can't install it on "bare metal" as you do a Type 1 hypervisor.

Most of the 5.0 improvements are related to better performance and "desktop" system enhancements, such as drag and drop between guests and better USB device support.

The following is a recent list of changes:

  • Paravirtualization support for Windows and Linux guests to improve time-keeping accuracy and performance
  • Make more instruction set extensions available to the guest when running with hardware-assisted virtualization and nested paging. Among others this includes: SSE 4.1, SSE4.2, AES-NI, POPCNT, RDRAND and RDSEED
  • xHCI Controller to support USB 3 devices (requires the Extension Pack)
  • Drag and drop support (bidirectional) for Windows, Linux and Solaris guests
  • Disk image encryption (requires the Extension Pack)
  • GUI: Detach mode: Terminate the GUI but keep the VM running and re-attach to a running VM process (see here).
  • GUI: VM guest-content scaling support (including 3D acceleration)
  • GUI: New User Interface settings page for customizing status-bar, menu-bar and guest-content scaling
  • GUI: New Encryption settings tab for customizing encryption options for disk images
  • GUI: HiDPI support including application icons and optional unscaled HiDPI output on Mac OS X (including 3D acceleration)
  • GUI: Hotplugging support for SATA disks
  • New, modular audio architecture for providing a better abstraction of the host audio backends
  • USB hard disks
  • Support for the NDIS6 networking framework on Windows (default on Vista and later)

These improvements, fixes, and enhancements are nice, but I'm still waiting for someone to add better wireless NIC support into its hypervisor. It's frustrating not to be able to use a VM when using certain over-the-air utilities. It's frustrating when I'm unable to join a VM to my wireless network. I want the wireless NIC and the wired NIC(s) to work independently of each other and for both to work.
You can bridge from your wireless NIC to your VM, but this isn't what I'm talking about. I want real wireless NIC capability on the VM and I think I should be able to have that as long as the host's wireless NIC is enabled and working. Sorry, I digress.

It seems that every time Microsoft launches a new round of operating system updates, think Windows XP, 7, 8, and now, 10; hypervisor vendors launch a new version of their software to accommodate the new OS. I'm sure that VirtualBox 5.x will play nice with Windows 10. And, yes, I'm going to hold my breath until it's true. Or until I pass out. Whichever comes first.

It took hours for me to download VirtualBox 5.0 beta. Either there's a lot of other folks downloading it too or my 21.78Mbps download speed that I tested a la speedtest.net is a total lie.

It doesn't matter. I downloaded it. I installed it and it's pretty cool, although I wish Oracle had focused a bit more on the wireless thing.

What do you think? Have you tried VirtualBox 5.0 beta yet? Impressed? Depressed? Talk back and let me know what you think. After I've had more time with it, I'll give you a full post on my experiences.