Oracle VM VirtualBox 4.2 narrows gap with VMware, Parallels

New features focus on management, network improvements, and support for wider list of host and guest operating systems

Oracle is in a constant battle over market share and visibility for its virtualization products against the likes of VMware, the 800-pound gorilla. Despite the competition, Oracle's VM VirtualBox hypervisor is chugging along after being assimilated into the Oracle collective more than two years ago.

Many people feared that Oracle would kill off VirtualBox after it acquired Sun Microsystems, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it's been a little over a year since the last major release was announced, and Oracle is once again pushing the virtual ball forward with a major release of Oracle VM VirtualBox 4.2.

[ VMware turns attention to small businesses with vSphere 5.1 Essentials Plus | Mac virtualization face-off: VMware Fusion 5 vs. Parallels Desktop 8 | Track the latest trends in virtualization in InfoWorld's Virtualization Report newsletter. ]

While perhaps not as polished or as easy to use and configure as competitive desktop virtualization products from Parallels and VMware, the latest release of Oracle VM VirtualBox 4.2 is getting much closer to that elite group. Throw in the fact that it's open source software and comes with a palatable price tag (free), the platform becomes that much more interesting, with a cult following of its own.

"As the only free, open source virtualization software that supports Windows, Mac, Linux, and Oracle Solaris platforms, users can install Oracle VM VirtualBox 4.2 on their preferred host platform and run a huge variety of guest operating systems in virtual machines," said Wim Coekaerts, Oracle senior vice president of Linux and Virtualization Engineering.

With the latest release of VirtualBox 4.2, Oracle increases the product's list of compatible operating systems. It now supports Google ChromeOS, Apple's Mac OS X 10.8 (aka "Mountain Lion"), and the recently announced Microsoft Windows Server 2012, as well as Fedora 17, Solaris 11, Ubuntu 12.04, and Oracle's own Linux 6.3.

It's also added support for the upcoming Microsoft Windows 8 operating system. According to the release notes, developers have done a lot of work to make Windows 8 guest operating systems run more smoothly; in particular, they've put in many 3D graphic related fixes. They also fixed a potential host crash problem caused by high guest memory pressure commonly seen with Windows 8 guests.

As host platforms have become more powerful, so too have the guests running inside of them. To accommodate this, VirtualBox 4.2 has added a number of fixes and new capabilities for advanced processors and modern networking.

When installed on top of a CPU that supports Nested Paging and context switching -- including most Intel Core i5 and i7 CPUs or AMD Bulldozer -- VirtualBox 4.2 should bring improved virtual machine performance. While previous releases of VirtualBox had no support for VIA Technologies hardware, this latest release works with some of the more modern VIA CPUs, including the Nano X2.

The hypervisor also includes updates for networking, which provides a huge boost for users using the system in a modern network. For example, prior to this release, the virtual chip set could handle only eight virtual NICs per virtual machine. It now supports up to 36 virtual NICs configured per VM when used in conjunction with an emulated version of Intel's ICH9 I/O controller hub.

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