Exploring VirtualBox: In-Depth Review by TUAW Labs

Utilizing alternative operating systems on Macs has been commonplace, especially since the transition to Intel processors, which has led to a surge in virtual machine solutions like Parallels Desktop for Mac, VMWare Fusion, and Codeweavers CrossOver Mac. These tools allow for the simultaneous operation of Mac OS X and other operating systems.

For clients transitioning from PCs who possess a licensed version of Microsoft Windows, I often recommend Sun’s Open Source xVM VirtualBox. It’s not only effective but also free of charge.

If you’re curious about setting up virtual machines and are a newcomer, join me as I configure a Windows Vista virtual machine on an older 2GHz Intel Core Duo 20″ iMac.

This article continues below.

To start, you’ll need to download xVM VirtualBox. Visit virtualbox.org, learn about the Open Source project, and then download your copy of xVM VirtualBox for Mac OS X from the download page.

After downloading, install the application on your Mac. Launch VirtualBox and click the New button in the upper left corner of the application window to start the New Virtual Machine Wizard.

Click Next, then name your Virtual Machine—I’m naming mine “Vista.” Choose the OS Type from the dropdown menu, which offers 34 operating systems including DOS, OS/2 Warp, Netware, and Sun’s own Open Solaris. Click Next again.

Now, decide how much RAM to allocate to your virtual machine. Most modern operating systems perform better with more RAM, so I’m allocating 1 GB to Vista. Adjust the slider to your desired RAM amount or type it in MB, then click Next.

Next, select a hard disk image for the virtual machine’s boot disk.

If you’re setting up a new virtual machine, click the New button to launch a new wizard.

This launches the Create New Virtual Disk wizard. Click Next.

VirtualBox allows you to create either dynamically expanding images, which grow as your virtual machine needs more space, or static images, which maintain their initial size. I’m opting for a dynamically expanding image. Click Next, then provide a name and initial size for the disk image.

I’m keeping the name Vista for my image and setting an initial size of 20 GB. I’ve chosen to store this on my 1 TB external hard drive. After confirming my settings, I click Finish to create the virtual disk image.

Returning to the Create New Virtual Machine wizard with my new virtual disk image selected, I validate my settings and click Finish to commence loading my new virtual machine.

As shown in the screenshot above, the virtual machine is initially powered off, and the CD/DVD-ROM drive is disabled. I adjust the settings of my virtual machine to change the initial boot order to CD/DVD-ROM (to load Vista from the installation DVD), then Hard Disk. I also mount my Mac’s SuperDrive so the virtual machine can recognize it.

With these settings adjusted, it’s time to power up the virtual machine for the first time by clicking the Start button.

Oops! One more screen to check (see screenshot above). VirtualBox informs me that control of my Mac keyboard will be handed over to the virtual machine while it’s running, and I’ll need to press the left Command key to regain control. After acknowledging this message, Vista begins to load.

Initially, a plain black screen appears, but soon a configuration screen comes up. I select the language, time and currency formats, and keyboard or input method, then click the Next button. When prompted on the next screen, I click the Install Now button.

As shown in the screenshot above, you must have a properly licensed version of most operating systems to install them. Vista asks for the 25-character Product Key to activate the OS. I enter it, click Next, accept the license terms for Vista, and choose a custom install since it’s a new installation. I select my virtual drive image as the installation target and click Next.

The installation begins! The SuperDrive whirls intensely at this point, and the Vista installer shows progress is being made.

Eventually, the installation completes, and I’m prompted to create a username, enter a password, choose a desktop background, and name the computer.

Vista then prompts me to set up security tools, select a time zone, and set the current time.


Jennifer is a dedicated writer for TUAW, bringing a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm to the world of Apple news. With a deep love for all things Apple, Jennifer covers everything from the latest iPhone and iPad releases to the newest features in macOS and watchOS. Her insightful articles and engaging style make complex tech topics accessible to everyone. Jennifer’s expertise and genuine interest in Apple products shine through in every piece she writes, making her a valued member of the TUAW team.