VirtualBox is a cross-platform virtualization application. What does that mean? For one thing, it installs on your existing Intel or AMD-based computers, whether they are running Windows, Mac, Linux or Solaris operating systems. Secondly, it extends the capabilities of your existing computer so that it can run multiple operating systems (inside multiple virtual machines) at the same time. So, for example, you can run Windows and Linux on your Mac, run Windows Server 2008 on your Linux server, run Linux on your Windows PC, and so on, all alongside your existing applications. You can install and run as many virtual machines as you like -- the only practical limits are disk space and memory.
VirtualBox is deceptively simple yet also very powerful. It can run everywhere from small embedded systems or desktop class machines all the way up to datacenter deployments and even Cloud environments.
Some of the features of VirtualBox are:
* Portability. VirtualBox runs on a large number of 32-bit and 64-bit host operating systems (again, see the section called Supported host operating systems for details).
VirtualBox is a so-called "hosted" hypervisor (sometimes referred to as a "type 2" hypervisor). Whereas a "bare-metal" or "type 1" hypervisor would run directly on the hardware, VirtualBox requires an existing operating system to be installed. It can thus run alongside existing applications on that host.
To a very large degree, VirtualBox is functionally identical on all of the host platforms, and the same file and image formats are used. This allows you to run virtual machines created on one host on another host with a different host operating system; for example, you can create a virtual machine on Windows and then run it under Linux.
In addition, virtual machines can easily be imported and exported using the Open Virtualization Format, an industry standard created for this purpose. You can even import OVFs that were created with a different virtualization software.
* No hardware virtualization required. For many scenarios, VirtualBox does not require the processor features built into newer hardware like Intel VT-x or AMD-V. As opposed to many other virtualization solutions, you can therefore use VirtualBox even on older hardware where these features are not present. The technical details are explained in the section called Hardware vs. software virtualization.
* Guest Additions: shared folders, seamless windows, 3D virtualization. The VirtualBox Guest Additions are software packages which can be installed inside of supported guest systems to improve their performance and to provide additional integration and communication with the host system. After installing the Guest Additions, a virtual machine will support automatic adjustment of video resolutions, seamless windows, accelerated 3D graphics and more. The Guest Additions are described in detail in Chapter 4, Guest Additions.