Category Archives: Virtualization

VirtualBox Walkthrough – Easily Run Other Operating Systems Virtually

In the land of virtual machines, there are a few big names, such as VMware and VirtualPC. However, there is a slightly lesser-known contender worth examining – VirtualBox.

I have no intention of pitting the various virtualization tools head-to-head, or to label any one of them as the subjective best, but if all you’re looking for is a free and easy way to run virtual copies of operating systems, VirtualBox has you covered.

VirtualBox runs on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and OpenSolaris, and can support a massive number of guest operating systems. DOS? Check! OS/2? Yep! Vista? Of course.

Best of all, VirtualBox is completely free. You can choose to download either a compiled binary or the open-source edition.


I’m going to walk through the process of setting up a new virtual machine. The host OS is Mac OS X, using VirtualBox 2.0.4.

Once you install and launch VirtualBox, it’s time to create a new virtual machine. Click the New button in the top-left corner.

Next, choose a name for your virtual machine and select the appropriate guest OS type. In my case, I’m planning to install Damn Small Linux, which uses a Linux 2.4 kernel.

In the next step, select the amount of system RAM that you wish the guest OS to use. You can always adjust this later, and the amount to choose largely depends on the type of guest OS. I have 1.25 GB available in my Macbook, but Damn Small Linux only needs a little bit. I’ll be generous and give it 256 MB.

Now it’s time to create a virtual hard drive for the guest OS. After all, it has to install somewhere, and a virtual hard disk ensures that the new installation does not somehow trash your existing hard drive! Click the New button to launch the New Virtual Disk Wizard.

Create a name and choose a size for the new virtual drive. You have a choice here with regard to the size of the virtual disk:

  1. Dynamically expanding image
  2. Fixed-size image

If you choose option 1, the size that you specify for the disk is the maximum potential size. The disk will actually consume only as much space as is needed, and will grow larger automatically until it hits the maximum. The benefit here is in reduced file size on your real hard disk.

If you choose option 2, VirtualBox will go ahead and allocate the entire specified space for the disk. The benefit here is in slightly better performance of the virtual machine, at the expense of a larger file size now. It’s a trade off. If you can spare the disk space, I suggest choosing the fixed-size option.

Once you have chosen the type of disk image, go ahead and type a name for the disk. You can use the slider to manipulate the disk size.

Created your virtual disk yet? Great, let’s continue with the installation.

Alright, now that you have completed the wizard, VirtualBox will show you the details of your soon-to-be-running virtual machine. Before you get excited and hit the Start button, let’s take a look at a few more details.

Click the Settings button in the top-right corner. Here, we can adjust settings for the new virtual machine, including networking, USB, and access to the CD/DVD-ROM. Feel free to edit any parameters that you like. You can always adjust them later.

You will almost certainly have to adjust the CD/DVD-ROM settings. In my case, I have an ISO that I want to boot, so I’m going to choose that option and select the location of my Damn Small Linux ISO.

Another option you may want to explore is setting up Shared Folders. In essence, you can use these to allow file transfers between the host and guest operating systems.

Hint: Don’t put any spaces in the shared folder name. Also, you will need to install the VirtualBox Guest Additions on the guest OS before you can access shared folders. Guest Additions can be installed once the virtual OS is running.

Are you ready to get this guest OS running? Once you’ve adjusted all the settings that you like, hit the big, green Start button at the top. Your guest OS should launch and start the booting process.

Here, Damn Small Linux is starting to boot:

And here, Damn Small Linux is running in its full glory on my Macbook. Click to enlarge.

And just for kicks, here’s a screenshot of Ubuntu 8.10 running as a guest OS on my Macbook. Click to enlarge.

And this concludes our installation walkthrough. If your guest OS supports it, I strongly recommend installing the VirtualBox Guest Additions. Benefits include, better video support, mouse pointer integration, time syncronization, and access to shared folders. To install Guest Additions, take a look under the Devices menu.

One of my favorite features of VirtualBox is the ability to create multiple snapshots of the guest OS. This is useful for purposes of software testing or tweaking. Oops! Make a terrible mistake? Just revert to a previous snapsot and the guest OS will be restored to a previous state. Nice!

Happy virtualizing!

VirtualBox website –

VirtualBox downloads –

Returnil Personal Edition – FREE Virtual System Software

returnil-logo.pngI test a lot of software on my Windows machine. However, I usually feel a slight twinge of remorse whenever I install or uninstall an application, mainly because I know that I’m bloating the Windows registry. Yes, I know about registry cleaners, but still, it’s a hard feeling to shake.

Enter Returnil. What is it? Quite simply, it allows you to create a virtual system of your machine. With a click or two of the mouse, you can turn on system-wide protection that will “freeze” all of your files, settings, and programs into place. Any changes you make to the system will be reversed once you reboot.

Returnil Personal Edition is free for home users.


So, how do you use this software?

First of all, install it. It’s a small download (about 2 MB). During installation, you will have a choice as to whether or not you wish to create a virtual partition, the purpose of which is to save files permanently while system protection is ON. If you only have one hard disk (with one partition), I highly recommend that you enable this virtual partition. You may also set a “master” password during installation if you wish. Installation requires a reboot.

Here is the main interface:


Actually using Returnil is so simple that a drunken cockroach can do it. For the most part, you only have one option – turn ON system protection. The Returnil system icon is green while system protection is OFF.


The system tray icon turns red once you turn system protection ON.


Once the system protection is activated, you can do whatever you need to do. Install that crappy demo software program, surf the darker side of the interweb, or open potentially infected files. If you’ve ever wanted to test how your anti-malware programs would react to known viruses and spyware, perhaps now is the time to test! 🙂

Keep in mind that if you modify any data, the ONLY way to save it is to store it either on a separate partition or on the optional virtual partition. Of course, you could always store data on a USB drive or somewhere on the internet. Altered data left on your main partition will be erased once you reboot your computer.

Speaking of rebooting, this is the ONLY way to turn off system protection. Upon reboot, your system will look exactly like it did the moment you turned system protection ON. Any data you deleted will be restored, any programs you installed will be removed, and any malware you purposefully installed will be eliminated.

Returnil works by storing your settings in RAM. My system has 2 GB of RAM, and while that’s well above the required minimum (128 MB for XP, 512 for Vista), I never noticed any system slowdown, even after extensive system changes. I even fired up Guild Wars and played for a while with system protection ON. No problems. Of course, your mileage may vary, especially if have closer to the minimum amount of RAM.

Final Thoughts

Returnil is useful for a variety of purposes – my favorite of which is for testing a variety of programs without junking up the Windows registry. If I find a piece of software that I want to test, I simply turn ON system protection, install the software, and test to my heart’s content. Once I’m finished, I reboot to my previous system, and there is much rejoicing. 🙂

I’m aware that there are other free software options that accomplish a similar task (such as Sandboxie), and they certainly have merit. I like Returnil for two main reasons:

  1. It’s simple to use. If you have trouble, check their FAQ. Or ask a drunken cockroach.
  2. Since rebooting is the only way to disable system protection, there is no risk of “leakage” that can occur between the virtual environment and the real environment. Of course, the downside here is that programs that require a reboot in order to use them cannot be tested since the reboot would erase the program installation.

Returnil is compatible with Windows XP, Server 2003, and Vista 32-bit.

Happy virtualizing!

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