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Install a guest OS on your virtual machine

Go to Part 1: Create a virtual PC with VirtualBox

In part 1 we saw how VirtualBox could be used to create a virtual machine, in other words a PC emulator. This can be used to install another operating system on a Mac and to run it in a window on the desktop. You can install a variety of different versions of Linux or Windows, such as XP or Vista. It's very useful for trying out an alternative OS or for using utilities and applications that unfortunately are not available for the Mac (there aren't many, but there are some).

Apple Mac VirtualBoxIf you followed part 1 you will have downloaded and installed either the open source VirtualBox or Sun's tweaked version on your Mac (both are free), and you will have created a virtual machine in which to run the new operating system.

At the moment you have virtual PC, but one that doesn't have any operating system and that's about as useful as a chocolate teapot, so let's install Windows Vista on it. (Installing Linux or some other operating system is very similar.)

Run VirtualBox if it isn't already running, select the virtual machine you created and click the Start button. The First Run Wizard is displayed and it asks you where the operating system you want to install is located. Insert the Windows disc into the Mac's drive, select the CD/DVD option and continue.

The new virtual PC you created will now boot up and it will look for an operating system to load. There's nothing yet installed on the virtual disk, so it then looks at the CD/DVD-Rom drive. (It is essential that you have a full Windows disc and not an upgrade version - you can't install an upgrade because there's nothing on the virtual disc to upgrade!)

Apple Mac VirtualBoxFrom this point on, installing Windows (or whatever OS you prefer) in the virtual machine is exactly the same as it is when installing it on a real computer. You just follow the setup and configuration instructions as you normally would.

For example, it will ask where you want to install Windows and it will prompt you to select a disk drive. The virtual hard disk drive that you created with the New Virtual Machine Wizard is the only one available, so just go ahead and install it. Select the region, language, and time zone as usual, create a user account, optionally add a password, and so on.

At the end of the installation procedure you will have a brand new copy of Windows (linux or whatever), running in the VirtualBox window. You will need to configure it a bit because the default OS settings are probably not to your liking. For example, the default screen resolution is usually the lowest and if you right click the desktop and select Personalize, Display settings in Windows Vista you can choose a new resolution. It's obviously limited by the size of the Mac's desktop and you can't set a resolution that's bigger than your Mac screen!

Apple Mac VirtualBoxBefore you start using the new guest OS, you should install the VirtualBox Guest Additions. These enable you to access a shared folder - shared between the OS running on the virtual machine and OS X.

It enables you to pass files and programs from the guest OS to OS X. The additions also enable the clipboard to be shared and you can copy something to the clipboard in the virtual machine and paste it in an OS X application. The mouse smoothly moves between OS X and the guest OS in the virtual machine too, with no need to press hotkey combos as you normally do.

To install the additions, go to the Devices menu in the menu bar at the top of the screen and select Install Guest Additions. The VirtualBox Guest Additions are mounted as a CD-Rom image, so after selecting the option in VirtualBox, switch to the guest OS, such as Vista, and you'll find a virtual CD in the virtual CD-Rom drive (it sounds weird, but it works). Open it and run the installation program.

Using the guest OS

Mac OS X VirtualBoxUsing the guest OS, such as Windows Vista, in the virtual machine is just like running the real thing. Remember that some keys may be different, for example, you press Command+C to copy and Command+V to paste in OS X, but Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V in Windows. You may find some keys swapped, for example, " and @ on a UK MacBook running Windows.

If your Mac is connected to a network or the internet you will find that the guest OS will also have a network or internet connection. You can fire up Internet Explorer in Vista, for example, and browse the web, download software, and... catch viruses! Why not? It's just a standard Windows installation. For this reason you need to ensure that you have anti virus and anti spyware protection.

It's something you probably don't think about as a Mac user, but when you are running Windows on your Mac you have to have security software running at all times. You should also use Windows Update to ensure that you have the latest bug fixes and patches too.

Software is installed in the usual way. Many applications are delivered over the internet these days, but software supplied on CD/DVD can be installed too. You'll find options on the VirtualBox menu to mount a CD/DVD.

Mac OS X VirtualBoxThere is an interesting option on the menu called seamless mode and it combines the Windows desktop with the OS X desktop. You get the standard OS X desktop and you can open files and run Mac applications in the usual way, but you also get a Windows Taskbar and Start menu too. You can run any Windows applications installed on the virtual machine and they appear on the desktop next to the Mac apps. It's really clever and it's the sort of feature that makes you go 'wow!" The option's on the Machine menu when the virtual machine is running, or just press Command+L.

You'll want to set up shared folders so that you can exchange files with the guest OS in the virtual machine. Go to the Devices menu and you can access shared folders. There are some useful settings that can be customised too. Before you start the virtual machine, select it and click the Settings button. It enables you to add sound support, USB support and so on. The snapshots feature is useful and it's basically a backup. Take a snapshot and you can restore it if you ever mess up the guest OS. It'll put things back exactly as they were when the snapshot was taken - files, settings, everything.

Alternatives to VirtualBox

Parallels DesktopParallels Desktop enables you to run Windows and Linux applications on your Apple Mac just like VirtualBox only better. There is no need to reboot the system and you can just run them on the desktop alongside your regular Mac applications and get the best of both worlds. You get more features, more customisation options, and better performance with Parallels Desktop.

You can open Windows files with any Mac software and Mac files with any Windows software and set file associations to open a file-type with specific Mac or PC software. There is support for DirectX and OpenGL, which means that you can play Windows-only 3D games, including Half-Life, and Unreal Tournament, or use CAD programs such as AutoCAD 2008. You can access your Windows files and folders directly from your Mac desktop, without even launching Windows.

Parallels DesktopParallels Desktop Premium Edition is a suite of software consisting of Parallels Desktop for running Windows on your Apple Mac with all the previously mentioned fetures, plus Acronis Disk Director Suite, Acronis True Image Home, and Kaspersky Internet Security.

Acronis Disk Director Suite enables you to modify, move and merge partitions without losing your data. It enables you to recover lost or deleted partitions too. Acronis True Image Home enables you to back up the Windows Virtual Machine including your software and settings.

Of course, you need anti virus and anti spyware software to keep malware out of your Windows installation and Kaspersky Internet Security keeps you safe and sound. The price of this suite is sustantially less than the price of the products bought separately.

VMware has a range of virtualisation programs for various platforms and there's VMware Fusion for the Apple Mac. It enables you to run Windows applications on the OS X desktop next to your regular applications. You can even switch between OS X and Windows applications with Expose and minimise Windows applications to the Dock. You can play games, including 3-D games, and use your iSight camera in Windows. Snapshots enable you to turn back the clock if something should go wrong in Windows.

  • Get information about Boot Camp
  • Guest PC - a virtual PC in your Mac that you can install Windows on.
  • Q - an open source virtual PC that enables you to install Windows, Linux and other operating systems.
  • OpenOSX WinTel - a virtual PC that enables you to install Windows, Linux and other operating systems.

Go to Part 1: Create a virtual PC with VirtualBox