Windows 8.1 in VMware and VirtualBox

VirtualBox

Even Oracle's free VirtualBox virtualization software for home use has been updated to include Windows 8.1 support in the latest version, and the developers have contributed a matching profile. In our lab, again the installation of Windows 8.1 with the specifications was a smooth experience, including mouse and keyboard integration.

You can set up the guest extensions in VirtualBox by clicking Devices | Install Guest Additions. Technically, the same thing then happens as in VMware: The software mounts an ISO image with the drivers in the DVD drive. Clicking on VBoxWindowsAdditions starts the setup.

The size of the extensions – just 16MB for 64-bit Windows – already suggests that VirtualBox comes with far fewer drivers than VMware, and this is evident in many places where the software is far less capable than its competitor.

Like VMware, VirtualBox also offers a seamless mode for programs, which you enable either via View | Switch to seamless mode or by pressing Host+L. (The Host key by default is the right Ctrl key.) You can exit this mode again in the same way, but unlike VMware, VirtualBox lacks an application launcher. In our lab, the software switched, but without displaying the open programs on the Linux desktop as expected.

Full-screen mode (Host+F) gives the impression that the virtualized system is running natively on the computer. However, because the video driver only supports a maximum resolution of 1280x960 pixels, higher resolution screens have a black border around the virtual desktop. The remedy both in this case and if the seamless mode display is faulty is enabling 3D acceleration in the Display properties of the virtual machine. One special feature is the scaled mode (View | Switch to Scale Mode; Host+C) option. It lets you change the aspect of the desktop to suit your own needs by dragging the borders.

Inside Out

The next obstacle on the course is exchanging data between guest and host. Although I enabled the matching switch in the virtual appliance setup, VirtualBox steadfastly refused to exchange any kind of file or directory between the host and the guest via drag and drop or copy and paste. The only kind of data that leaves the guest is copied text snippets or URLs.

However, VirtualBox also allows mounting host system directories on the guest. The approach is identical to that of VMware: The desired folder is provided as a network share on the guest (Figure 6). Exchanging data was possible via this interface but comparatively cumbersome.

Figure 6: Just like VMware, VirtualBox mounts shared host folders as network shares on Windows.

Wrong Number?

Unlike VMware, VirtualBox does not show a pop-up pointing to the new device and asking you to click to confirm when you plug in a USB device. After plugging in the USB device on VirtualBox, you instead need to right-click on the USB icon in the bottom bar to display the context menu and then select the desired device.

Although the previous version still had significant problems with the integration of USB devices, the current release behaved well. Whether USB sticks or smartphones that use MTP (media transfer protocol), VirtualBox identified all devices correctly and also mounted them correctly in the filesystem. (MTP is used to transfer files via USB to a PC or printer; in contrast to its predecessor, PTP (picture transfer protocol), it requires device-specific drivers.)

Sound playback on the virtual machine was annoying because of constant clicking. Switching the audio infrastructure from PulseAudio to ALSA Audio Drive in the Audio section of the settings almost fixed this problem. Although the noise did not disappear completely, the clicks were much less frequent than before. The use of the ICH AC97 virtual sound card under Audio Controller removed this phenomenon entirely in the previous version, but because Windows 8.1 no longer supports this device, you have to live with some pops and crackles in the playback.

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