Oracle VM VirtualBox is an industrial-strength open source virtualisation tool that makes it easy to create virtual machines (VMs), simulated computers that run on your PC but act as though they were separate systems. It's a powerful capability that has many different applications.
If you'd like a closer look at Windows 8 before you upgrade, for instance, then you could install Microsoft's latest in a VM, then access it in a window on your XP or Vista desktop.
Or maybe you've upgraded to Windows 8 and find a favourite old app doesn't work any more? Create a Windows XP VM and you might be able to run it again.
VirtualBox can also be a useful security tool: if you download and test apps in a VM, then any malware you might encounter will be isolated from your main system.
And it's the perfect choice if you want to try out another operating system with the minimum of hassle. Right now you can install Google Chrome OS, all the mainstream Linux variants (2.4 and 2.6), OpenBSD, OS/2, ReactOS, SkyOS, DOS, and just about every version of Windows there's ever been. (Of course you'll need to have the system discs to hand.)
VirtualBox 4 included an interface redesign, making it easier to view and manage your virtual machines. VM displays can now be scaled, so you can reduce a window size by half (for instance) and still see everything that's going on. The ability to limit a VM's CPU and IO time means the program will be less of a drain on your system's resources, and there are a host of other performance optimisations and bug fixes available.
What's new in VirtualBox 5?
- VMM: new APIC and I/O APIC implementations that result in significantly improved performance in certain situations (for example with networking, bug #15295)
- VMM: added support for Hyper-V paravirtualized debugging of Windows guests
- VMM: emulate even more MMIO and shadow pagetable exits without going back to user mode
- GUI: overall migration to Qt5 (bug #11775)
- GUI: passive API event listener improving the VM GUI performance and response time
- Audio: added HDA (High Definition Audio) support for newer Linux guests
- Audio: added on-demand timers which should improve the overall performance and reduce the CPU consumption
- Audio: more fine-grained volume control for the AC'97 emulation, which now also takes the master volume control into account
- better support for Python 3