The default VirtualBox UI is clean and uncluttered, with most controls and functions easily accessible, and the “seamless windows” feature was remarkably easy to use. After the VirtualBox VM Additions were in place within the host OS, the new feature’s menu option became available in the VirtualBox console window. Turn it on and the console window disappears, replaced by an overlay of the VM’s Start Menu and Task Bar along the bottom of the host OS desktop. Launching an application from the Start Menu causes it to appear in a separate window -- one sporting the controls and scheme elements of the guest OS (for example, Windows XP buttons and scrollbars as opposed to the Aero, Aqua, or Gnome/KDE elements of the underlying host OS). In this sense, the integrated windowing is not exactly seamless, but it’s better than nothing. And for Windows/Linux users, it’s the only show in town.

Unfortunately, VirtualBox 1.5.2 continues to be plagued by many of the same usability issues I noted in version 1.3. For example, you still can’t drag-and-drop files between the host and guest OS. You have to use the Shared Folders mechanism, which also retains its complement of bugs from 1.3. On more than one occasion, I had the guest OS (Windows XP) crash while trying to access a folder on the host OS (Vista). Other times, Shared Folders didn’t work at all, something I discovered was a common complaint on the VirtualBox support forums. And of course, the aforementioned bridged networking setup is still much too complicated compared to that of VMware and Virtual PC.

On the plus side, innotek seems to have worked out some of VirtualBox’s performance kinks. Compared to version 1.3, the new version took roughly half the time to install Windows XP into a guest VM. Applications loaded faster within the VM and overall responsiveness was on par with VMware Workstation 6. The Snapshot feature, something I never got to work correctly in version 1.3, now seems to function properly. I was able to quickly roll back a VM to a previously saved state by simply selecting the Revert option during VM shutdown.

Overall, VirtualBox 1.5.2 is a solid update to a valiant effort by a tiny company (20 or so people) to compete with some very well-funded behemoths. The goals for VirtualBox continue to be ambitious, and as with the last iteration I tested, the realization of those goals remains just over the horizon. My advice to innotek: slow down the development pace and spend a few weeks on shoring up what’s already an impressive product, one worth a closer look by anyone seeking an alternative to the VMware hegemony.

OUR VERDICT

A solid update to a valiant effort by a tiny company to compete with some very well-funded behemoths. The goals for VirtualBox continue to be ambitious but the realisation of those goals remains just over the horizon.