VirtualBox 4.0

December saw the release of the latest major update to VirtualBox, Oracle's desktop virtualization tool. In its previous incarnation, it was voted as our readers' favorite virtualizer, so let's look at what 4.0 has to offer.

Upon launching the new VirtualBox, the first thing that becomes apparent is the new GUI layout. However, long-term VirtualBox users have little to fear as it remains a close relative of the original. The most obvious addition to the VM management part of the GUI is that there is now a thumbnail that gives a continuously updated view of a currently running GUI. It seems to have an update period of about once a second, so hopefully, it's not using up a lot of resources. Having said that, it's handy for people who just want to keep an eye on what's running.

Speaking of which, the VM windows themselves are now scalable. This means that you could have an OS running in, say, 1024x768 resolution but scaled to run in smaller window. Again, this is handy if you just want to keep an eye on things without sacrificing desktop space, and you can flip back to a full sized window with a key combination.

CLI junkie or GUI monkey? As with previous releases, VirtualBox 4.0 can be operated entirely via the GUI or from the command line, but the GUI continues to lag slightly behind in the case of some of the advanced features. For example, the new features of being able to set disk access bandwidth limits and the resizing of virtual hard disk images are only accessible via the command line. On the other hand, port forwarding now has a GUI dialogue. As some features are CLI only, it is important to have good documentation, and the good news is that the user manual has already been updated for the 4.0 features.

Under the hood, there have been some changes in the way that individual VMs store their settings. The settings file for each VM is now stored in the same directory as the HD image, and this, along with some other changes, makes transferring VMs between computers much easier. In addition, the file cleanup is more comprehensive when a machine is deleted.


Some may be disappointed with the volume of brand new features, given that this is a major version number change. What 4.0 offers over the most recent 3.x release is a new GUI and a few other improvements. A look through the release notes, makes it clear that there are a handful of smaller, although useful, new features in addition to the more noteworthy ones. I suspect that large minor version leap, from 3.2 to 3.5, would have given people a clearer idea of what the new release actually offers. However, this is a nitpick when we're talking about a such fine piece of free software as the OSE version of VirtualBox. Overall, it has some nice updates even though it lacks the earth shattering new innovations that people tend to expect from a full version number increment.


UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.


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Portable VM's?

mrmikee67's picture

So does this mean that you can actually put a VM on an ESATA drive and move from host to host without the hasle of import and export?

not freight?

Küfürbaz Haydo's picture

isn't it more freight for computer? someone who tried can tell me?

Still thinking about updating....

Anonymous's picture

As a developer I work on a Linux Ubuntu 10.04 64bit, the host of several (10) VBox machines (XP, Ubuntu, CentOS and Leopard).
At the moment I'm still working with VBox 3.2, but I'm seriously thinking about updating it...
I'll do some test on another Linux machine... But, maybe, I'll wait some more minor release .....


Anonymous's picture

Know nothing about the subject but the first line says "... update to VirtualBox, Oracle's desktop visualization tool ..." and next line says virtualiser - which one is it? Or are they the same?


Michael Reed's picture

well spotted

UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.

You have a two word reply and

Daevid Vincent's picture

You have a two word reply and a paragraph signature. Really?


Anonymous's picture

"well spotted".


Janis's picture

I currently use Vbox 4.0.0

What i noticed from the comments and not seen in article, is the fact that base VBox 4 ir released under GPL V2 licence (!) and only extension pack (containing, by Oracle: "Support for USB 2.0 devices, VirtualBox RDP and PXE boot for Intel cards") is released under PUEL. See download page.

so, there is USB2 etc, just in another place.

The only problem I currently try to solve is how to start headless 32bit linux guest, created by v3.x of VBox, on 32 bit linux host.

I rolled back to 3.x looking to move to QEMU

RB's picture

I notice you did not say what's been removed from 4.x verses 3.x.
I tried 4.0, I went back to 3.x due to 4.x no longer supporting USB ports. This now an extra support package you have to buy from Oracle.
Notice to Oracle: I am moving to QEMU-KVM, goodbye and good riddance.

I rolled back to 3.x looking to move to QEMU

RB's picture

I notice you did not say what's been removed from 4.x verses 3.x.
I tried 4.0, I went back to 3.x due to 4.x no longer supporting USB ports. This now an extra support package you have to buy from Oracle.
Notice to Oracle: I am moving to QEMU-KVM, goodbye and good riddance.

Such hostility. Uhm, firstly,

Daevid Vincent's picture

Such hostility. Uhm, firstly, this is an outstanding product and is free, so STFU since you're not paying a dime for it.

There was nothing removed, it was just split into another package so that it could be shared amongst the various Linux/Windows/OSX/Solaris builds. Do you REALLY believe they would remove support for USB devices? Seriously?

Secondly, maybe if you spent more time reading and less time complaining, you'd see this on the same page you got the binary from. Nothing needed to purchase from Oracle as you so erroneously claim:

Serious Bug: host memory low

Adminblogger's picture

VB 4.0 has a serious bug.

Running the 64bit version on linux with 4GB of ram and a VM with windows guest configured to use 2GB of RAM, virtualbox will constantly complain about "host memory low" and pause the VM although there is plenty of free RAM on the host machine.

This bug is serious and did not occur with version 3.x.

Host Mem Low issue resolved in VirtualBox 4.0.2

Der Adminblogger's picture

Answering myself i just found out today that recently released version 4.0.2 addresses the memory issue and a quick test confirmed that it's working.

Same problem here

Alessandro's picture

Hi, I'm facing the same issues on a 64Bit Windows host w/ VB4.0.0
We're downloading VB4.0.2, do you confirm you resolved with the new release?


Love the new version

Daevid Vincent's picture

I just upgraded my Windows XP version of VirtualBox to 4.0.2 to run my LAMP development VM and I think the new features and GUI looks great. I love that I can put a shortcut to the actual VM on my desktop -- no more having to load the GUI then the VM. I think the scaling feature is REALLY cool too. I can see that extremely useful for IT centers and when running multiple VMs. Also the cursor/mouse grab in a CLI only (LAMP) VM works for me now. Previously I always had to Right+CTRL to get/lose focus. I'm elated that Oracle keeps pushing out releases of VirtualBox with such frequency. I do wish they would make the .vdi files auto-compact and have better support for linux guest .vdi files in that respect too.

yeah totally, rolled back to

nolochemical's picture

yeah totally, rolled back to 3.2.x Never had vbox crash until v4.. Try adding a shared folder for an xp guest, K.O

Now updated *again* to fix

Anonymous_Coward's picture

Now updated *again* to fix major data loss (i.e. zap your VM) bugs.

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