Sun recently introduced version three of it’s VirtualBox software. Version three introduces support for 3D graphics acceleration, specifically, it supports Direct3D under Windows guests. This is important as it not only lets you run certain games in a VM environment, it also allows you to run some graphically intensive software. There is also enhanced support for a wider range of USB devices, such as iPods and phones. Sun has a nice write up here.
To test out how well the new version works, and to make my son happy, I created an XP SP3 VM. Let me tell you, I had totally forgotten just how awful installing XP really was. Back in the day, it seemed like a breeze. However, eight years and about one hundred updates later, it was a real chore. I’m not kidding about the number of updates, though many of them were wrapped up in SP3. And SP3? That thing too nearly an hour to download and install. The saving grace here was the boot up speed for XP in the VM: it took less than thirty seconds after SP3 was complete. Before that, I don’t think it took more than twenty each time. It was lightening fast. I don’t know how much of that was XP and how much of was the VM. At any rate, it was fast.
VirtualBox did not disappoint. Once I installed the VB extensions, XP restarted and, suddenly, there was a more than capable video subsystem running. I could run it full screen or windowed. Running it windowed allows it to, rather seamlessly, ‘integrate’ with the host operating system. In my case, that was Vista or Windows 7. You can move the mouse between the guest and host without hitting the ‘home’ key. This was nice and makes it close to the seamless ‘XP mode’ in Windows 7 Ultimate or Pro. I suspect that in the next release or two of VirtualBox, Sun will have done the same thing.
Installing some games, like Sim Theme Park or Sim Coaster, is still problematic. Neither wanted to run (Sim Theme Park never ran well under XP anyway, but Sim Coaster does) so there must still be something in the graphics sub system that those games just do not like. As an aside, I did get Sim Coaster to install and run, flawlessly, under Windows 7 but NOT under Vista. Another game that just does not like Vista is the original Rollercoaster Tycoon. However, it installed and ran in the XP VM. The only thing I had to do was set the compatibility mode to Windows 98. The game runs great, at nearly full speed and has full sound in the VirtualBox environment. I have a happy amusement park operator again.
One nice thing I have noticed is that the guest environment resizes much cleaner than in previous versions. If I maximize the window, the guest will fill the entire window. Previously, it just centered itself in the window. And the audio support SEEMS better. To be honest, I don’t recall how well it was before, but it just strikes me as much better. Could be my imagination, but I’m not going backwards to find out.
All in all, Sun has done a remarkable job with this product. It is, as always, free for personal use and enterprise licensing is available.