Our Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion shootout took a deep dive into the two most successful commercial virtualization products for the Mac, but many of you had questions about VirtualBox, the free and open source desktop virtualization software currently offered by Oracle. Both Parallels and VMware offer plenty of features for home and business users, but is VirtualBox an acceptable alternative for the cash-strapped?
The focus of this article, as it was in our VMware and Parallels comparison, will be on running Windows 7 and Windows 8 guests on an OS X host, but VirtualBox's cross-platform nature means that many of the observations made in this article will also apply to VirtualBox running on Windows and Linux hosts. One of the only differences is that OS X virtual machines, which are still labeled as an experimental feature in the current version of the software, are officially supported only within OS X hosts, both because of Apple's licensing stipulations and because OS X won't run on all of the CPUs that Windows and Linux can use.
For this article, I have attempted to evaluate VirtualBox both on its own merits and based on the criteria we laid out in our Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion shootout. I used a 2011 iMac with OS X 10.8.2 installed, and tested 64-bit versions of both Windows 7 and Windows 8 running in VirtualBox 4.2.1.