VirtualBox is an ongoing open source project sponsored by Sun after it acquired the German company Innotek last February. The 2.1 release is the third upgrade in 2008.
It's being downloaded at a rate of 25,000 times a day, making it the third most popular open source software offered by Sun. Only the daily downloads of MySQL and Java exceed those for VirtualBox, said Andy Hall, senior product manager, in an interview. Part of its appeal is its ability to run either 32- or 64-bit versions of each operating system, giving developers a chance to create code on their preferred computer, then test it for its target environment on the same machine. "They can have a complete development environment wherever they go," Hall noted.
Release 2.1 includes accelerated 3-D graphics through support of Open Graphics Library. With the OpenGL API, a virtual machine can run Google Earth applications or computer-aided manufacturing software for automotive or robotics engineers, which requires high-performance graphics processing. Virtual machines have lagged in the area of high-performance graphics, supplying a more uneven motion in their display than a nonvirtualized PC, Hall said.
Sun has added its own network speedup capabilities for x86 remote users on VirtualBox, providing better audio and video performance for virtual machine users and faster interactive application performance. Microsoft's generic Remote Desktop Protocol is known to have limitations on end-user presentations; Sun is one of the parties that can improve its performance.
VirtualBox 2.1 has built-in support for iSCSI storage systems, such as the Storage 7000 open storage appliance. With built-in support, VM administrators don't have to set up a storage file system for the virtual machine image or set of files. VirtualBox "can talk over the iSCSI protocol" to store the VM to disk, until needed for reactivation at a later date.
VirtualBox 2.1 can now recognize both VMware's VMDK-based files and Microsoft Hyper-V VHD-based files, allowing information generated by their virtual machines to be reactivated and run in a VirtualBox VM.
Yesterday's release also allows a VirtualBox VM to exploit the latest virtualization hooks in Intel's Nahalem or Core 7 microarchitecture. As AMD and Intel build more explicit virtualization hooks into their hardware, VM hypervisors are able to go more directly to hardware for the processing power they need, Hall said.