Virtuality, Part Deux

I had the chance to install VirtualBox and I must say, I’m pretty impressed.  To start, VirtualBox is only a 15 meg download.  That’s pretty small when compared to Virtual PC, and downright puny when compared to VMWare Workstation.  There seems to be a lot packed in there, however.  As with VMWare, VirtualBox has special extensions that can be installed into the guest OS for compatibility.

Installation was a snap, similar to that of VMWare, posing no real problem.  The first problem I encountered was after rebooting the guest and logging in.  Apparently, I ran out of memory on the host OS, so VirtualBox gracefully paused the guest OS and alerted me.  After closing some open programs, I was able to resume the guest OS with no problem.  These low memory errors remain the only real problem I have with VirtualBox at this point.

Networking in VirtualBox is a little different from that of VMWare, and took me a few tries before I figured it out.  By default, the system is installed with no virtual adapters, making NAT the only means by which the guest OS can speak to the world.  By installing a virtual interface on the host, through the use of Host Interface Networking (HIF), you can allow the guest OS direct access to the network.  After the interface is created, it is bridged, through the use of a Windows Network Bridge interface, with the interface you want the traffic to flow out of.  Adding and removing an interface in the bridge sometimes takes a minute or two.  I honestly have no idea what Windows is doing during this time, but until the interface is added/removed, networking ceases to function.  I have also noticed that if VirtualBox is running, regardless of the state of the guest OS, modifying the bridge will fail.

Installation of the guest extensions, which required GCC and the kernel headers on the guest OS to be installed, was relatively painless.  After making sure the necessary packages were installed in CentOS, VirtualBox compiled and installed the extensions.  This allowed me to extend my desktop resolution to 1024×768, as well as enabling auto-capture of the mouse pointer when it enters the virtual machine window.  According to the documentation, the extensions also add support for a synchronized clock, shared folders and clipboard, as well as automated Windows logins (assuming you are running a Windows guest OS).

VirtualBox is quite impressive, and I’ve started using it full time.  It’s not quite as polished as VMWare is, but it definitely wins price-wise.  I’m sure VMWare has many more features that I am not using, that may actually justify the price.  For now, I’ll stick with VirtualBox until something forces me to switch.

In related news, I’ve been informed by LonerVamp that VMWare Server, which is free, would also satisfy my needs.  I am a bit confused, though, that a server product would be released for free while a workstation product would not.  I was initially under the impression that the server product merely hosted the OS, allowing another VMWare product to remotely attach to it.  That doesn’t appear to be correct, however.  Can someone explain the major differences to me?  Why would I want to use Workstation as opposed to Server?

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