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VirtualBox: Making the Most of Any Operating System You Choose

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Hardware is a commodity; everyone knows that. In this article, technology specialist John “Tränk” Traenkenschuh demonstrates how a free tool like VirtualBox can allow you to run multiple Operating Systems (OS) on a lot of PCs — including his MacBook Pro.

Don't get me wrong; I like my Macs. At one time, my lab had more than a dozen old Macs, an Apple ][e (still have), an iPod or three, and a few dozen SCSI accessories. And I like my Mac OS X (for which I have install media going back to Classic 9) to this copy of Lion I use. As a passionate IT security professional, though, I must maintain familiarity with lots of technologies, especially operating systems. To keep track of the latest Linux and BSD developments, I dug deeply into virtualization tools years ago. These allow me to multiplex basic hardware into interlinked subnets, full of computers running various operating systems and technologies.

Whether you are an IT support professional, a gifted programmer, or someone wanting to do security research in a setting that won't spill a virus onto your home or Internet network, virtualization tools can help. In fact, if you like running an “odd” operating system and need to run special applications, free tools like VirtualBox can help you maximize your hardware investment.

(If you decide to install a different operating system, most of the principles discussed in this article apply to those as well.)

Installing and Upgrading VirtualBox

I like VirtualBox. It has enough features to be useful, yet provides a simple administrative interface. It's open source, which means it seems to have licensing terms that can accommodate most needs[md]well, my needs. You should review the terms for yourself.

I like VirtualBox most because it has versions for Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows. This allows me to create test machines that have the right mix of OS and technologies needed to create a model network (important when editing books, writing articles, or just keeping up with new IT releases.). This means the system image files and configurations I make on one system can be moved or copied to another hosting computer. Need more reasons to download this tool? The Oracle Tech Network offers pre-built virtual machines for us developers. Sweet!

The left-hand navigation pane provides a link to the Downloads page, once you rocket out to http://www.virtualbox.org/.

Once at the Download page, click the link for the relevant version to download it. What about upgrades and security patching? Each time you start the tool, it will check and alert for new version availability. Install the new version, and you're updated. If you want to check for updates manually, click the VirtualBox menu item and then select Check for Updates.

While you wait for the code to download, download the User Manual as well. It will provide step-by-step details for installing. We Mac owners must double-click the .mpkg file to start the installation process. The installer package is about 80MB, and the final installation can be more than 200MB.

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