How to install Oracle VirtualBox

Fast, versatile, robust virtualization. And it’s free.

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Installation

I’ve written about virtual machine systems many times and there’s one that I’ve had more questions about than any other: Oracle’s VirtualBox. This is a fully featured virtual machine environment that’s fast, robust, and versatile. After I wrote how to install Debian Linux on VirtualBox a few readers asked for advice on how to install VirtualBox itself, so, here you go.

Oh, and if you want to know how robust VirtualBox is, wait until you get to the last two slides (but no jumping ahead). If you have any questions, thoughts, or suggestions, send me feedback via email or comment below and follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Downloading VirtualBox
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Downloading VirtualBox

First thing you need to do (obviously) is download VirtualBox from Oracle. VirtualBox is released under the GPL version 2 license and is available for Windows (x86/amd64), OS X (amd64), Linux, and Solaris (amd64). If you want to make sure the operating system you plan to use as the virtual machine “host” is compatible with VirtualBox check the list of supported host operating systems.

Downloading the VirtualBox Extension Pack
Credit: Oracle
Downloading the VirtualBox Extension Pack

You’re also going to want to get a copy of the Oracle VM VirtualBox Extension Pack, which adds guest support for USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 devices, VirtualBox RDP, webcam passthrough (so a guest VM can access the host’s webcam), PCI passthrough for Linux hosts (allows guests to directly use one or more physical PCI devices on a Linux host even if the host doesn't have drivers for those devices; currently considered “experimental”), PXE boot for Intel cards, and guest disk image encryption using AES-128 or AES-256 (when used, this service is transparent to the guest OS). The Extension Pack, which isn’t host OS-specific, is released under Oracle’s VirtualBox Personal Use and Evaluation License (PUEL).

Starting the Setup Wizard (Expecto Virtualization!)
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Starting the Setup Wizard (Expecto Virtualization!)

In this “how to” I’m installing VirtualBox under Windows 10 and here I’ve launched the installer, or “Setup Wizard” as Oracle calls it. To continue, you simply click on Next.

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Custom Setup

I’ve chosen the Custom Setup option and the first step is to select which features you want to install. Unless you’re absolutely sure you don’t want a feature, stick with the default and install all of them. If, for some weird reason, you think you don’t need, say, USB support and then later you find you do, fear not! You can simply reinstall VirtualBox and any virtual machines you’ve created will still work.

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Selecting Shortcut Options

This one’s also pretty straightforward and, while you might not want a desktop shortcut or a Quick Launch shortcut, you’re probably going to want to have the file associations registered so you can launch VMs by clicking on their files. Now, onwards …

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Temporarily Stopping Networking

Onwards, to a warning that isn’t really important as the installer is only going to temporarily stop the host’s networking services to install the network drivers that the virtual machines will use. VirtualBox provides three types of networking: Network Address Translation, to make the VMs effectively connect on a subnet; direct connection, so VMs are in the same network address space as other machines on the host’s network; and isolated, where the VMs can only connect with each other. NAT connections are useful if you want to control what network resources VMs can connect to, while directly connected VMs are the simplest. If you‘re going to test anything that might be dangerous, say, malware-infected VMs, then an isolated VM-only network is the obvious choice.

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Installation Begins

Now you can start the actual installation and you’ll be asked by Windows User Account Control to allow the software installation and, natch, you will …

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Installation Continues

The actual installation won’t take long; maybe long enough to unwrap a stick of gum, but probably not long enough to go get coffee … although if you do decide to grab some caffeine, your computer will (most likely) wait for you when it’s done.

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Installing the Extension Pack

You can now launch the Extension Pack installer. You’ll be asked to agree to the license then you’ll be asked by Windows User Account Control to allow the software installation. Again, this is a quick process and, once completed, you’ll be ready to virtualize.

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Running a Guest OS

And here we are … VirtualBox and the Extension Pack installed. I’ve also installed the Linux distro CorePlus from the Core Project and started it running. So, want to know what’s so cool about this installation? Look at the bottom of the CorePlus virtual machine window. You can see the VirtualBox status bar. Then, below that, is the Windows 10 taskbar and below that, yep, another VirtualBox status bar! Read on …

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Nested Virtualization

On my machine, Windows 10 is a virtual machine running under VirtualBox which is running under OS X “El Capitan”! So, we have a system as in the above diagram. That’s how robust VirtualBox is. Yes, I know other VM solutions can do this, but are they free?

I’ve become a big fan of Oracle VirtualBox particularly on OS X. Its low overhead and openness and, as I noted at the beginning, its robustness and versatility, make it a great platform for both test and production systems. Oracle VirtualBox gets a Gearhead rating of 5 out of 5.