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Sun Releases VirtualBox 2.1

Dr. Dobb's contributing editor Eric Bruno recently had the opportunity to speak with Andy Hall, Sun's Product Architect for VirtualBox, about the release VirtualBox 2.1, Sun's general-purpose virtualizer for x86 hardware. Here's what he had to say:

In my opinion, VirtualBox is an excellent example of a successful open source project. If you're a VirtualBox user, you already know that Sun releases new versions early and often, as any good open source vendor should. In general, Sun releases a new major version of VirtualBox about every three to four months, with a minor released almost every month.

VirtualBox has become a technology popular with both external and internal (within Sun) OEM projects. The previous version (2.0) introduced support for 64-bit guest OS installations, improvements to the networking subsystem, APIs that provide visibility to the internals of VirtualBox, and support for Python bindings. Some of these enhancements improved VirtualBox for use in OEM solutions.

VirtualBox reached two milestones this week:

  • The release of version 2.12
  • The achievement of over 8 million downloads, and 2.5 million end-user registrations.

In fact, VirtualBox is currently seeing about 25,000 downloads per day, which places it in 3rd place within Sun for software downloads. OpenSolaris is currently number one, and MySQL is number two in downloads. Overall, there has been around a 125% increase in quarter-to-quarter downloads, so the growth is there.

VirtualBox has a number of the enhancements and new features that can be broken down into the categories of "faster," "easier," and "interoperability."

  • Faster
    • New OpenGL 3D acceleration support. In previous versions, the guest OS sees only the virtual hardware, not the physical hardware. Therefore it could not use the power of the host's GPU hardware acceleration. With the new version, this is no longer the case; the guest OS intercepts the video commands and passes them along to the host machine. This includes OpenGL primitives, which are passed along as primitives to the host hardware. The end result is high-performance video hardware access, and acceleration from within the guest OS.
    • Support for Intel Core2Duo VTX hardware acceleration. This allows VirtualBox and the guest OS to take advantage of chip-level support built into the latest processors for virtualization.
    • Support for Intel Core i7 (Nehalem) chipset. This is Intel's leading-edge chip development, where more and more support for virtualization is being built-in.
  • Easier
    • Network Setup improvements. The VirtualBox team looked at the competition, and found network setup was easier than with previous versions of VirtualBox. This was an area of focus and great improvement in this release.
    • Added support for 64-bit guests on 32-bit host platforms. This helps for developers who prefer to run the 32-bit version of, say, Ubuntu on the raw hardware for GUI features, but who also need to run a 64-bit server Linux for enterprise software support. This allows them to stick with their favorite distribution locally, while running server-level OS guests for development, testing, or other reasons.
  • Interoperability
    • Support for Sun's new range of storage appliances, also known as Amber Road and Fishworks. This includes built-in support for iSCSI. Now, any open-storagre appliance can be dropped onto network, and with VirtualBox 2.1, you can access this storage from any guest OS running on the network.
    • Integration with VMWare's MDK and Microsoft's images. This lets you easily move a competitor's virtual images to run under VirtualBox.

Andy told me that the VirtualBox team within Sun is made up of only 25 enginers, located mainly in Germany and Russia. Overall, since the acquisition, Sun's worldwide exposure for VirtualBox has been a big positive. VirtualBox has benefited from Sun's global development model, and relationships throughout the world. In fact, alignment with Sun's open-source software model and world-wide coverage is what made the acquisition attractive. You can expect to see VirtualBox grow not only in features, enhancements, and support, but also in global adoption as a premier virtual hosting environment.

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