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By: Harald van Breederode

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Should I switch to VirtualBox?

Posted by Harald van Breederode on March 22, 2009

Over the last two weeks several students advised me to switch from VMware Server to VirtualBox mainly because of better performance. So far I wasn’t unsatisfied by the performance of VMware, but if there is something freely available that is better I would be stupid to not give it a try.

Being a trainer I learned that reading documentation isn’t going to hurt you thus I first downloaded the manual, and after converting the PDF file to a Word document for better accessibility, I read through it and I was quite happy about the features I read about. Thus my first impression was very positive.

So yesterday I decided to give it a try and downloaded the software. After making a backup of my laptop I installed it. This went without any accessibility issues because the usage of a standard Windows installer which is quite accessible. During the installation the network was brought down, which was announced by the installer, but it failed to come up afterwards. Therefore the required registration process failed also. After a reboot things turned back to normal and I managed to finish the registration process although buttons were announced as edit fields. This raised my doubts about the accessibility.

Next I tried to build a new virtual machine using the GUI interface and this is where I gave up because this thing is almost totally inaccessible! Just as in the registration wizard buttons are announced as edit fields and many other GUI elements are not read at all by my screen reader. Also the menus in the menu bar don’t read as they should and multi-page dialogs don’t seem to respond to control+tab. Lucky enough the de-installation process ran smooth without screwing things up ;-)

So the answer to my question “Should I switch to VirtualBox?” is NO! I can’t verify if the performance is indeed better, but I do know that the accessibility of VMware is way better (although not perfect) than VirtualBox and that is the #1 feature I need. I know that VirtualBox can be managed using a command line interface, but overall I consider this less optimal than my current VMware environment. I rather have something slower but accessible than something quicker but inaccessible.


15 Responses to “Should I switch to VirtualBox?”

  1. Tim Hall said


    I gave it a go and it worked fine, but at the time didn’t support shared disks. What’s more, the developers said they had no plans to support shared disks. As I do VMware RAC installations quite a lot, this is a major problem for me.

    It’s a good product and being available on Mac, Linux and Windows is a bonus, but it’s not all singing and all dancing… Yet… :)

    VMware need to release VMware Server on Mac, rather than Fusion which is not the same product. If they did this, one of the major selling points of VirtualBox would be neutralized.



    • Joop Gijsbers said

      @timhall Tim,

      I’m very happy with the use of Vmware Fusion on my MacBook. What’s the issue with fusion comparing with VMware server? Besides you have to pay for it.

      Joop Gijsbers

  2. Mark said


    I also gave it a try and I even use my old vm images inside Virtualbox.



  3. Tom said

    I have Ubuntu and VMWARE does not run well on it, so I gave VirtualBox a whirl and it worked fine!

  4. ebrian said

    Anyone have a chance to use Citrix’s free Xen Server for virtualization ?

  5. Eric Valk said


    If you read Harald’s post *carefully* then you would notice that he is not disqualifying VirtualBox as a viable
    virtualization product. In fact it may or may not be better than any other solution that you know or use.

    The point Harald is trying to make is that VirtualBox is NOT ACCESSIBLE for people that visually disabled, using
    their means of ‘reading’ screens and popups.


  6. B. Polarski said

    I am using OpenVZ and it takes only O.3% overhead. Very stable, frewware, can’t be that.

  7. James Teh said

    @Harald: What screen reader were you using? There’s certainly a long way to go in VirtualBox accessibility, but sufficient MSAA is exposed to make it useable at a stretch. You certainly shouldn’t be hearing buttons as edit fields; I’d think this is a bug in your screen reader. I use it with some degree of success with NVDA.

    Disclaimer: I’m one of the core NVDA developers.

    • Harald van Breederode said

      Hi James,

      Thanx for your comment. I am using JAWS (version 10) as my main screen reader. Although I have NVDA installed for emergency reasons I don’t use it on a daily basis. To be honest I didn’t even try to see how NVDA would react to VirtualBox. I’ll probably give it a try when time permits. I looked at VMware Server 2.x and it isn’t quite as accessible as version 1.x I am afraid that whenever I need to switch from XP to Windows 7 I also need to switch to the new VMware Server which brings me into trouble. So I guess it is better to sort thing out before switching to a new O/S.

  8. Alex said

    Hey, Just saw the post on Virtualbox and NVDA. I’ll download VB and write back if it works decently well.
    PS: I use NVDA for everything, because it has better support for 64-bit OS’s and it’s free, and I was drawn to it’s small size and portability. I tried VMware Workstation, but was having clock sync problems so I couldn’t use it.

  9. Alex said

    Well… I’m back. No luck with NVDA and VirtualBox. I could sort of access the registration window, but all I heard was “pane, pane, pane, pane, window, alt+c” and other useless stuff. Maybe Sun should start focusing on Windows accessibility, seeing as they started Orca for Linux. Hmmm. So short answer, stick with VMware.

  10. Ivan Kartik said

    Harald, there is solution for you. It’s called phpVirtualBox and you can find it here:
    Hope it helps.

    Of course, if your screen reader is capable to read outout from terminal, you can also use the “headless” mode, using VBoxManage and VBoxHeadless commands from shell.

  11. Harald van Breederode said

    Hi Ivan,

    Many thanx for this tip! I will certainly give the PHP interface a try once time permits me to do so ;-)

  12. Alex said


    Well, as of VBox 4, I’ve been able to use it with the latest versions of NVDA. Yeah, the GUI is more accessible now. It’s not the most accessible and quick thing in the world, but it DOES work. It does require a bit of experimenting, but once you get the hang of it, it’s possible to do almost everything with the interface with a bit of tinkering! I’m of course able to clone images using VBoxManage as before, so this is just awesome. I tried using VMware player3, but didn’t want to install on my machine (typical Windows). Once I was determined to learn VBox, i’ve not looked back! Plus performance is pretty darn good if I do say myself, but the sound does lag about a quarter of a second behind the keystrokes. Not a big deal and expected to happen on a virtualized system. I just hope they don’t mess with the interface too much.
    Hopefully with the QT accessibility support currently being worked on now, we should see VBox being accessible on Linux, which would mean very good things.

  13. Harald van Breederode said

    Hi Alex,

    Thanx for letting me know that it is more or less acccessible with NVDA. Hopefully it will be accessible with JAWS in the future as well. For now I will stick with VMware Server because it does all I need.

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