Den Ben’s Blog

October 21, 2008

Running a virtual Vista on OS X without Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion

Filed under: macbook, Propaganda — Tags: , , , , , , — benpittoors @ 21:13

Right! A one hour a day limit. Sure…

Ohw-kay… Setting a one hour a day limit seemed a bit optimistic at the time. But then again, I just didn’t find the time to blog about all the interesting things (uhuh) I did over the last few months. I know, I know, it’s pretty embarrassing; showing of my knowledge and all. But I’ll just smile about it, and act as if nothing happened.

On topic again (almost)

Among other things I neglected to do over the past few months (OK, OK, I’ll drop it in a moment… just bear with me on this. I promise there is a point) I also lost interest a bit in my macbook. Which is a shame, because it’s an awesome machine (mine is a 3,1 by the way). The reason for this, mostly, was because I do not have a .NET development environment on it. And since I also own a 4GB RAM Intel Core 2 Duo Vista PC I just didn’t find any reasons to invest in Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion. But luckily my music composing hobby recently led me back to the mac. And once again I immediately felt comfortable in Leopard. So I googled around a bit for other virtualization options on Mac OS X and I came across this page. You’ll find lots of links to virtualization software and (sometimes very) brief descriptions of what the software does and is capable of. I decided to give the best free listed alternative a go, which is VirtualBox. I’m very pleased with it so far and although I’m not going to write an extensive review about it I do feel I have some things to share… ohw, and these are my experiences with VirtualBox on Mac OS X (10.5.5) running Vista 32bit as a guest OS but VirtualBox is able to both run and run on Windows or Linux too.


Installing VirtualBox is as easy as any other software installation on OS X. You download a .dmg, it automatically gets mounted, you run the installation package, follow the installation wizard and the thing ends up in your applications folder. It also places a bunch of user files in your home folder/Library/VirtualBox location.

Creating a new Virtual Machine

There’s a wizard ;-) Most of the options will look very familiar if you have any experience with other virtualization software (Virtual PC, VMWare…). Apart from naming your new virtual machine you have to choose an OS Type first. The list is very long, ranging from DOS over the most common linux distributions to all possible Windows versions and even OS/2 Warp. I picked Windows Vista… since that was what I was about to install.

Then, it suggested a base memory size of 512MB. That seemed a bit low to me, so I upped it to 1024 (fyi, my macbook has 2GB of RAM)

After that, I needed to create a virtual hard disk. I chose a dynamically expanding one (less space in the beginning) giving it 30GB to go (which is the size it will report to the guest operating system). Unlike Parallels or VMWare Fusion you do not have the option to mount a bootcamp partition. Which is fine by me… I’m not planning to install a native Windows on my mac any time soon.

Before firing it up I mounted a Windows Vista evaluation copy installation iso. This couldn’t be done straight away. I had to add it to VirtualBox’s image library first. Not that it wasn’t easy to do so, but it seemed a bit odd to me not just being able to mount any iso image I browse for. On a side note: I mounted the iso over an smb network share and this wasn’t an issue at all. You also have the option to map your physical CD/DVD drive by the way.

Vista Installation

Upon starting up the virtual machine VirtualBox kindly notified me of the host key, which on Mac OS X is the left cmd key. The host key is used to release the keyboard and mouse capturing back to the host operating system.

The Vista installation took about half an hour. Then I noticed there was no network support. Apparently Vista didn’t recognize the standard emulated network drive. This I found in the VirtualBox manual, which of course I did not read up front ;-). The solution was very easy: I just had to install the VirtualBox guest additions (which are very similar to Virtual PC Additions). Apart from a custom network interface driver it also installed a bunch of other things enabling the guest operating system to resize its host window, automatically capture/release mouse input etc.. very nice! One remark however is that the resizing doesn’t really come smooth. It takes a while to resize the host window (visual delays) and the contents are scrambled during the resize process. But once you’ve sized the window to your desired resolution it feels snappy again.

Downloading and installing service pack 1 + all remaining windows updates took about an hour and a half extra.


While I haven’t really used the virtual machine extensively – I plan on doing so in the near future – I let Vista measure the performance for me. This resulted in a Windows Experience Index of 1.0! Not really that impressive now is it? Well, it all comes down to the base index of the emulated graphics interface. Breaking down the index into its several measures yields a more satisfying result:

  • Processor (Calculations per second): 4.3
  • Memory (RAM) (Memory operations per second): 4.5
  • Graphics (Desktop performance for Windows Aero): 1.0
  • Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance): 1.0
  • Primary Hard Disk (Disk data transfer rate): 5.9

Again, my macbook is macbook3,1 with a 2.2Ghz intel core 2 duo and 2GB RAM (667Mhz) so that about explains the 4.3 and 4.5. The emulated graphics are not exactly showcases but that is a classic issue for many virtualization engines (although I’ve read Parallels has added 3D acceleration support in its latest version). The disk index of 5.9 (which is the maximum possible value at the moment) is really impressive. I guess VirtualBox does a really good job at handling dynamically expanding hard drive images.


I like it! I’m still not convinced that it will keep me away from my physical Vista machine, but I do plan on starting to use this virtual one occasionally. The graphics performance might become an issue if I ever plan on using or even writing any WPF demo’s or the likes, and the memory limit of 1GB will most likely not do me any favors regarding database engine, OLAP – or web site performance but it is a very small step towards mac only hardware. Although that also implies me buying a bigger mac (imac, macbook pro, mac pro?) with alot more RAM in the distant – or near – future… which is a thought I can stand to live with ;-)



  1. …color ne stupid, but I can’t find the “Guest Additions” for OS X anywhere. I’ve got VirtualBox installed (and nicely running Ubuntu), but I can’t find the GA part which will allow me, among other things, to have a VB with a window >800×600. Any help greatly appreciated (google isn’t working tonight).

    Comment by chip hart — November 14, 2008 @ 07:12

  2. Chip: You need the guest additions for linux (ubuntu), and not for OS X since ubuntu is your guest (and OS X is your host). When you select “install guest additions” in the VirtualBox menu a virtual CD image containing the guest additions should automatically be mounted in ubuntu (if not just manually mount the CD). You will notice 2 ‘.run’ scripts in the root of the cd (/media/cdrom). One is for 32bit linux (x86), the other is for 64bit linux. Run the appropriate script for your environment using a bash shell with root permissions (bash sudo).

    Comment by benpittoors — November 14, 2008 @ 13:00

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