VirtualBox v. 5.0 beta 1 spins up for desktop virty lab chuckles

First major update to Oracle's desktop hypervisor since 2010 adds paravirtualisation

The improved management screen for VirtualBox 4.2

Snoracle has decided the time is right to upgrade its VirtualBox desktop hypervisor.

VirtualBox is a favourite among home lab types, developers and virtualisation fanbois because it is very good at running guest operating systems and has a significant price advantage over rivals like VMware Workstation and Parallels Desktop because it is free. Don't let that low, low price fool you: VirtualBox is production-ready and gets plenty of love from Oracle, so much so that it runs the product under a licence that keeps it open source but allows only Big Red staff to change the code base.

Version 5.0 is billed as a “new major release”, thanks to the following list of features:

  • Paravirtualization support for Windows and Linux guests to improve time-keeping accuracy and performance
  • Make more instruction set extensions available to the guest when running with hardware-assisted virtualization and nested paging. Among others this includes: SSE 4.1, SSE4.2, AES-NI, POPCNT, RDRAND and RDSEED
  • xHCI Controller to support USB 3 devices (requires the Extension Pack)
  • Drag and drop support (bidirectional) for Windows, Linux and Solaris guests
  • Disk image encryption (requires the Extension Pack)
  • GUI: Detach mode: Terminate the GUI but keep the VM running and re-attach to a running VM process.
  • GUI: VM guest-content scaling support (including 3D acceleration)
  • GUI: New User Interface settings page for customizing status-bar, menu-bar and guest-content scaling
  • GUI: New Encryption settings tab for customizing encryption options for disk images
  • GUI: HiDPI support including application icons and optional unscaled HiDPI output on Mac OS X (including 3D acceleration)
  • GUI: Hotplugging support for SATA disks
  • New, modular audio architecture for providing a better abstraction of the host audio backends
  • USB hard disks
  • Support for the NDIS6 networking framework on Windows (default on Vista and later)

Adding paravirtualization will be welcomed by many, because it improves GuestOS performance. Combined with the new “detach mode”, which allows the creation and operation of headless VMs, VirtualBox looks like it will tool up to handle lots of VMs on the desktop. Which should be handy for testing purposes. Oracle's certainly keen on the tool for testing: it offers a library of ready-to-run VMs of its own key products for developers.

The beta's yours for the taking here, but Oracle warns you should “NOT use this VirtualBox Beta release on production machines” as the code “should be considered a bleeding-edge release meant for early evaluation and testing purposes.” Oracle's not kidding: feedback on the beta has found plenty of bugs.

The new release is billed as Beta 1, but there's word on how long the beta program is expected to run, or if other release candidates can be expected. The volume of bugs reported in the last link above suggests at least one more release candidate will be necessary.

VirtualBox's last major release came in 2010. Updates have flowed since – the current version is 4.3.26 – but the product has perhaps fallen behind VMware's annual release cadence.

Oracle execs have told The Reg's virtualisation desk that Big Red probably needs to do better with naming its virtualisation products, because it's packing in plenty of new features without quite giving them the launches that signify worthy-of-attention upgrades. That seems to be changing for VirtualBox. And Oracle VM? It's due at least a refresh this year and Oracle's making plenty of noise about how its approach to hardware makes data centres hum. With VMware picking up the bulk of the profits from virtualisation, Oracle might decide it's time for an offensive on that front, too. ®

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