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Importing Virtual Disk Images



GottaBeMobile reader, Taxman, sent a few questions about virtualization.  He writes, “Can you tell me more about how virtual box compares to the commercial products (VMWare and Parallels) on a Mac?  Does it work the same?”

VirtualBox offers basically the same features, although it may appear to be a little rougher around the edges.  With Mac OS 10.5, the ability to use USB devices in VirtualBox had some issues.  I still struggle to use USB devices on my MacBook when running XP or Linux in VirtualBox.  I use VirtualBox on my MacBook, and my blogging is done on XP through VirtualBox.  I usually write my post in OS X, load up VirtualBox, and paste it over into XP.  Here are a few differences you might notice when using VirtualBox instead of the commercially available virtualization packages:

  • You’ll most likely have easier access to support with commercial products like VMWare or Parallels.  Since you’re purchasing a commercial product, the company that produces said product will offer support to help you solve your problems.  With VirtualBox you’ll likely rely more on Google searches, forum comments, and community support.  At least this has been my experience.
  • VirtualBox may appear a little rough around the edges, and it might be a little less user friendly.  If you aren’t much of a power user, then do a little research before using VirtualBox.  If you want a little taste without downloading and installing anything, check out these screen shots of VirtualBox in action.  VirtualBox is pretty straightforward but does have a few control panels that would confuse my grandma.
  • VirtualBox might be a little more buggy than the VMWare or Parallels options.  Because it’s an open source project, you’re bound to run into a few problems.  Keep in mind that Windows XP was never intended to run on a Mac– even if it’s an Intel Mac.  You’ll probably encounter some problems along the way with any virtualization program.  The good thing is that most of those problems have already been encountered and there is a solution posted.

The Taxman also asks, “Can I convert an existing disk image from one to the other?”

The short answer is yes.  VirtualBox can import other VDI files for use with VirtualBox.  There are some repositories online of VDI files that you can simply download and import into VirtualBox for use. is a source of Linux VDI operating systems that can be imported easily into VirtualBox.  Google may also help you find similar sites.  It is also possible to import VirtualBox’s VDI files into VMWare, but it isn’t quick and easy.  Dossy’s Blog has a good post about migrating from VirtualBox to VMWare Server.  Importing a virtual OS from VirtualBox to VMWare or Paralells can be a little more difficult.  A good starting place to learn a bit more is search YouTube for VirtualBox related videos, and see if others have tackled this task.

And the Taxman asks, “Will Virtual box read my boot camp partition?”

VirtualBox won’t read your boot camp partition because that is a real, physical, literal partition.  The boot camp utility takes a chunk of your hard drive and sets it apart for Windows.  With virtualization, there is no actual partition.  There is no need for a physical partition with virtualization.  Instead, a VDI file is created and lives on the host operating system.  In your case that’s OS X.  There are ways to migrate current Windows XP installations into VirtualBox, but it can be a task more difficult than copying a few files.

At this point in the game, it’s probably just easier to stick with one virtualization option.  Click here to learn a more about various virtualization options.  And I have a question for you, Taxman.  Why do you like to audit me every year?

What are your virtualization solutions?  Pay your taxes and hit up the comments to help Taxman.

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