Oracle VirtualBox 7.0 is here – just watch out for the proprietary Extension Pack

Latest version of FOSS hypervisor boasts support for new 3D acceleration tech and encrypted virtual machines

VirtualBox 7.0 is the latest version of the FOSS hypervisor that Oracle acquired along with Sun Microsystems in 2009 – barely more than a year after Sun acquired VirtualBox's developer, Innotek.

The new version adds remote control of VMs hosted in the cloud and support for encrypted VMs too – although for now, that is only available from the command line. The GUI has been streamlined, with better integration of help and error messages and the ability to easily tweak settings such as the number of CPU cores during VM creation.

Some other changes in its integration with host OSes are less visible but should prove useful. On macOS, it no longer uses kernel extensions, relying entirely on the OS's built-in hypervisor tools – necessary as macOS 11 and later deprecated support for third-party kernel extensions. There's also a preview version for Apple Arm Silicon-based Macs. However, although version 7 will happily install on macOS 10.14, it won't run on it: 10.15 or newer is needed, so watch out if you still use Mojave.

For Windows users, VirtualBox's UEFI support now includes Secure Boot and emulation of TPM 1.2 and 2.0 chips, which will help with running Windows 11 in VMs. On Windows hosts, there's experimental support for running in session zero, meaning that VMs will be able to start without anyone logging in. On Windows, Virtualbox 7 uses DirectX 11, and on xNix it uses a new DXVK driver for hardware 3D acceleration.

The VirtualBox app itself is both small-f freeware and capital-F Free Software, and so are its optional Guest Additions, which enable host/guest integration. Many Linux distros include their own builds of the guest additions, but if you install them from VirtualBox itself, version 7 has preliminary support for automatically updating them in guests.

Of course, other hypervisors are available. Windows has Hyper-V, and if you use a more recent version of macOS than this vulture, there's UTM. Committed open sourcerors may prefer to stick to KVM and tools that use it, such as GNOME Boxes or VMM (although VirtualBox is arguably more flexible than the former and easier to use than the latter). There's also the freeware-but-not-FOSS VMware Player. VirtualBox's big advantage is that it looks and works the same on Windows, Linux or macOS, and VMs can be freely moved from one OS to another.

The part to beware of is Oracle's Extension Pack, which appeared with Virtualbox 4 and contains various features. Just that component is proprietary, and Oracle has a habit of chasing users for site licenses. As the minimum order is 100 units, that can get expensive fast. VirtualBox is completely functional without it, though, so avoid the Extension Pack and you're fine. ®

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