Oracle updates free, open source VirtualBox hypervisor

Oracle VM VirtualBox 4.0 delivers increased scalability, performance, and usability improvements

Oracle has announced the general availability of version 4.0 of the Oracle VM VirtualBox free open source virtualization platform. The announcement comes only three weeks after the company debuted the 3.2.12 maintenance release, and it marks the first major release of the virtualization offering under the Oracle brand.

According to the company, Oracle VM VirtualBox 4.0 offers support for the latest in virtual hardware, increases capacity and throughput to handle greater workloads, improves usability and performance, and comes with new packaging.

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VirtualBox is Oracle's hosted virtualization platform, also known as a Type-2 hypervisor, which means the hypervisor is installed on top of an operating system, not on top of bare-metal equipment. VirtualBox offers support for a variety of host OSes, including Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, many popular flavors of Linux (including Oracle Linux), and Oracle Solaris platforms. It's even more impressive with its list of supported guest operating systems.

While still relatively new to the Oracle virtualization arsenal, VirtualBox has been a widely popular hypervisor for a few years now, as evidenced by its more than 26 million downloads. Since coming onto the scene back in 2007, VirtualBox has been challenging more established virtualization players like Parallels and VMware on the consumer side of the desktop virtualization market.

The product was initially developed by the German software vendor innotek, which was acquired by Sun Microsystems in February 2008. Sun added VirtualBox into its virtualization portfolio and eventually rebranded the product as Sun xVM VirtualBox. In April 2009, Sun was acquired by Oracle and the product was rebranded again as Oracle VM VirtualBox. Thankfully, this release from Oracle maintains both its open source status and its free price tag.

"Oracle VM VirtualBox 4.0 is the third major product release in just over a year, and adds to the many new product releases across the Oracle Virtualization product line, illustrating the investment and importance that Oracle places on providing a comprehensive desktop to datacenter virtualization solution," said Wim Coekaerts, senior vice president for Linux and virtualization engineering at Oracle.

Oracle VirtualBox 4.0 Manager

With VirtualBox 4.0, Oracle fixes a number of bugs while also adding a host of new features, which is evident in the latest changelog. Some of the key new features include:

  • A major revamp of the VirtualBox Manager with added features such as VM Preview, an orderable VM list, and optional attribute panes
  • Easy shortcut creation that enables users to launch VMs from their Desktop, Start Menu, or from scripts, without the need to start the VirtualBox Manager
  • New Asynchronous I/O model for networked (iSCSI) and local storage that delivers significant storage-related performance improvements, especially over 1GB LANs
  • Support for more than 2GB of RAM on 32-bit host systems
  • Extended support for the DMTF's Open Virtualization Format (OVF) descriptors and new support for Open Virtual Appliance (OVA) format descriptors
  • Options for resizing VM disk images
  • Virtual hardware support with a new, modern chipset that adds support for PCI Express, Intel High Definition Audio, and hardware offloading for virtual networking
  • Additional port-forwarding rules that allow the user to run server VMs on desktop machines using NAT networking

All of this functionality comes in the basic edition; the newly added extension pack also adds support for virtualized USB 2.0 peripherals, Intel PXE boot for the E1000 network adapter, and the VirtualBox Remote Desktop Protocol. So what is this new extension pack and how is it different from 3.2 and other releases?

Prior to version 4.0, there were two versions of VirtualBox available. Users could download Oracle VM VirtualBox OSE (open source edition) -- which included a download of the source tarball with a GPL license and required a compile to run. They could also download Oracle VM VirtualBox PUEL (personal use/eval license), which included a download of an installable binary containing a number of additional non-GPL license drivers built into the install. This version contained the OSE edition, the additional drivers, and the installer. With the latter version, customers could purchase an enterprise software license.

To ease the process and help with the release of future drivers, Oracle has separated items by creating its first "extension pack," which the company says will allow Oracle and the community of developers to more easily create new extensions to customize Oracle VM VirtualBox and add new features.

"This extension pack is still licensed the same way as in every prior version, via a PUEL license or with the ability to purchase a commercial license," said Coekaerts. "It is now also possible for other companies or users that want to add extensions to do so by creating a similar extension pack -- and there's no need to do a new release of the entire product to do so."

Extension packs make it a more flexible structure for installing VirtualBox and drivers, as well as allowing for more modular additions, Coekaerts stated. The source code of Oracle VM VirtualBox 4.0 is still being made available, but just as with 3.x, the source code is not available for the additional drivers, which are now found in the extension pack.

It seems logical to assume Oracle hopes a community will develop around these extension packs. Perhaps this could lead to the creation of an app store to promote and sell add-ons to help monetize development efforts of the platform, enabling Oracle to generate some revenue from the millions of users who have already downloaded the free virtualization hypervisor.

VirtualBox remains a great choice for users looking for a free yet powerful virtualization platform for their desktop or laptop computer. Oracle VM VirtualBox 4.0 is now available for download on Oracle's website. Also available is Oracle's first extension pack as well as a few Oracle VM VirtualBox pre-built appliances.

This article, "Oracle updates free, open source VirtualBox hypervisor," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in virtualization and cloud computing at InfoWorld.com.

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