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OPINION: Putting VirtualBox to the test

Mark Gibbs | June 22, 2011
Getting old games to work—lessons learnt.

A few weeks ago I wrote about trying to get an old computer game, "Star Wars Episode I: Racer" published by Lucas Arts back in the 1990's, running in a virtual machine under VMware Fusion on my iMac.

Come to find out that VMware doesn't support the requirements for running this game, to wit, Windows 98SE with DirectX 6.1 and 3D acceleration. So I tried to get Racer to run under Oracle's VirtualBox.

Originally developed by Sun before the company was acquired by Oracle, VirtualBox is now a free, open source (GNU General Public License, version 2), x86 and x86-64 virtualization system.

VirtualBox is available for Windows, Linux, OS X and Solaris and supports a large number of "guest" operating systems, including Windows (NT 4.0, 2000, XP, Server 2003, Vista, Windows 7), DOS/Windows 3.x, Linux (2.4 and 2.6), Solaris and OpenSolaris, OS/2, and OpenBSD (you can find a more extensive list on the VirtualBox Web site).

Installing VirtualBox -- 4.0.8 is the current version -- was straightforward and getting Windows 98 SE Professional set up in a VM was just as easy. I then installed Racer and . . . thud. No joy.

The DirectX diagnostic tool, DXDIAG, reported that Direct 3D worked fine (and the spinning cube appeared) but despite VirtualBox claiming 3D video acceleration was enabled, DXIAG said it wasn't and thus my hopes of running "Racer" were cruelly dashed to the virtual ground. It looks like the only way I'll be able to play Racer is to find an old standalone machine that will run Windows XP.

So, what about VirtualBox itself? What can I say but wow! Way cool.

I've run a number of OSs under VirtualBox, including various flavors of Linux and Windows, and the performance and stability appear to be excellent.

I'm just setting up to test VirtualBox's "teleporting", the equivalent of VMware's VMotion.

Teleporting allows you to move a running virtual machine from one physical computer to another. The difference between teleporting and VMotion is that, to use VMotion you have to be running VMware's "bare metal" hypervisor (in other words, one of the company's VSphere enterprise virtualization products). With VirtualBox, the standard version will allow you to transfer running VMs and you can move them between any of the supported "host" platforms.

VirtualBox is arguably more complicated than VMware Fusion or VMware Workstation, but it is just as powerful and it's free! Oracle's VirtualBox gets a rating of 5 out of 5.

In my fooling around with testing of VirtualBox under OS X I tried running a newish operating system called Syllable.

Syllable was intended to be simple and easy to use, though one look at the release notes for 0.6.6 will tell you they have quite a way to go.

The bottom line on Syllable is, don't bother. Despite this project (based in the U.K.) apparently having a significant following (oddly enough, mainly in Scandinavia), I couldn't get it running properly on either VirtualBox or VMware Fusion despite the live CD actually having startup options for all of the major virtualization platforms.

Syllable gets a rating of 0 out of 5.

Finally this week, I have a freebie Windows tool for you to check out: Slimcleaner which is described by its publisher, Slimware Utilities, as "A Crowd-Sourced, Cloud-Based, Social Network for PC Maintenance" tool.

Targeted at techie consumers, Slimcleaner will clean up the cruft that gets left on Windows (browser caches, log files, memory dump files, prefetch data, and so on) with amazing speed.

Slimcleaner will also show what startup and service items are running and which applications are installed and present community opinion on what is useful and what causes problems. Slimcleaner also provides access to multiple antivirus scanners running in the cloud to check the desirability and safety of installed software. The only missing feature is a registry optimizer and cleaner.

Slimware's community rating system is interesting and does address the common problem of identifying stuff you find on Windows systems and then spend ages trying to figure out what to do with it. Slimcleaner gets a rating of 4 out of 5.


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