Thursday Sep 13, 2012

What's New in Oracle VM VirtualBox 4.2?

VirtualBox.pngA year is a long time in the IT industry. Since the last VirtualBox feature release, which was a little over a year ago, we've seen:

  • new releases of cool new operating systems, such as Windows 8, ChromeOS, and Mountain Lion;
  • we've seen a myriad of new Linux releases from big Enterprise class distributions like Oracle 6.3 and Solaris 11, to accessible desktop distros like Ubuntu 12.04 and Fedora 17;
  • and we've also seen the spec of a typical PC or laptop double in power.

All of these events have influenced our new VirtualBox version which we're releasing today. Here's how...

Powerful hosts 

One of the trends we've seen is that as the average host platform becomes more powerful, our users are consistently running more and more vm's. Some of our users have large libraries of vm's of various vintages, whilst others have groups of vm's that are run together as an assembly of the various tiers in a multi-tiered software solution, for example, a database tier, middleware tier, and front-ends. 

So we're pleased to unveil a more powerful VirtualBox Manager to address the needs of these users:

VirtualBox Manager

VM Groups

Groups allow you to organize your VM library in a sensible way, e.g.  by platform type, by project, by version, by whatever. To create groups you can drag one VM onto another or select one or more VM's and choose Machine...Group from the menu bar. You can expand and collapse groups to save screen real estate, and you can Enter and Leave a group (think iPad navigation here) by using the right and left arrow keys when groups are selected.

But groups are more than passive folders, because you can now also perform operations on groups, rather than all the individual VMs. So if you have a multi-tiered solution you can start the whole stack up with just one click.

Autostart

Many VirtualBox users run dedicated services in their VMs, for example, running a Wiki. With these types of VM workloads, you really want the VM start up when the host machine boots up. So with 4.2 we've introduced a cross-platform Auto-start mechanism to allow you to treat VMs as host services.

Headless VM Launching

With VM's such as web servers, wikis, and other types of server-class workloads, the Console of the VM is pretty much redundant. For some time now VirtualBox has offered a separate launch mechanism for these VM's, namely the command-line interface commands VBoxHeadless or VBoxManage startvm ... --type headless commands. But with 4.2 we also allow you launch headless VMs from the Manager.

Simply hold down Shift when launching the VM from the Manager.  It's that easy.

But how do you stop a headless VM? Well, with 4.2 we allow you to Close the VM from the Manager. (BTW best to use the ACPI Shutdown method which allows the guest VM to close down gracefully.)

Shutdown VM

Easy VM Creation

For our expert users, the  New VM Wizard was a little tiresome, so now there's a faster 2-click VM creation mode. Just Hide the description when creating a new VM.

Powerful VMs 

As the hosts have become more powerful, so are the guests that are running inside them. Here are some of the 4.2 features to accommodate them:

Virtual Network Interface Cards 

With 4.2, it's now possible to create VMs with up to 36 NICs, when using the ICH9 chipset emulation. But with great power comes great responsibility (didn't Obi-Wan say something similar?), and so we have also introduced bandwidth limiting to prevent a rogue VM stealing the whole pipe.

VLAN tagging

Some of our users leverage VLANs extensively so we've enhanced the E1000 NICs to support this. 

Processor Performance

If you are running a CPU which supports Nested Paging (aka EPT in the Intel world) such as most of the Core i5 and i7 CPUs, or are running an AMD Bulldozer or later, you should see some performance improvements from our work with these processors. And while we're talking Processors, we've added support for some of the more modern VIA CPUs too.

Powerful Automation

Because VirtualBox runs atop a fully blown operating system, it makes sense to leverage the capabilities of the host to run scripts that can drive the guest VMs. Guest Automation was introduced in a prior release but with 4.2 we've revamped the APIs to allow a richer and more powerful set of operations to be executed by the guest. Check out the IGuest APIs in the VirtualBox Programming Guide and Reference (SDK).

Powerful Platforms 

All the hardcore engineering that has gone into 4.2 has been done for a purpose and that is to deliver a fast and powerful engine that can run almost any x86 OS because of the integrity of the virtualization. So we're pleased to add support for these platforms:

  • Mac OS X "Mountain Lion" 
  • Windows 8
  • Windows Server 2012
  • Ubuntu 12.04 (“Precise Pangolin”)
  • Fedora 17
  • Oracle Linux 6.3 
  • Solaris 11

Here's the proof:

platforms

We don't have time to go into the myriad of smaller improvements such as support for burning audio CDs from a guest, bi-directional clipboard control,  drag-and-drop of files into Linux guests, etc. so we'll leave that as an exercise for the user as soon as you've downloaded from the Oracle or community site and taken a peek at the User Guide.

So all in all, a pretty solid release, one that we hope you'll enjoy discovering.

- FB 

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