Review: VirtualBox 4.3 goes touchy-feely for Windows 8 virtualization

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder VirtualBox 4.3

    PCWorld Rating

    The best low-cost, low resource VM software now comes with touchscreen support.

Historically, VirtualBox has been rock-solid, lightweight virtualization software that was only slightly less capable than its rival, VMware. Starting about a year and a half ago, VirtualBox became a bit less than that, acquiring new features, but becoming less reliable. Fortunately, the latest versions seem to have come back around, and 4.3 adds an important capability: support for touchscreens.

VirtualBox 4 screenshot
VirtualBox 4 screenshotVirtualBox's management and launch dialog has improved over time and is quite easy to intuit at this point.

I'm not a huge fan of fingerprints all over my screen, but as a user of tablets and smartphones I know it's part of the computing universe, and lots of folks like it. And with Windows 8.x designed for touch, it needs to be there in virtual environments. It is in VirtualBox and it worked well in my testing.

Beyond the touch support, which is of course huge news, VirtualBox remains the quickest, least resource-hungry of the free virtual machine platforms. It basically stays out of the way when you're not running it, unlike others that spawn multiple services which are always present in the background.

VirtualBox 4.31 screenshot
Touchscreen support makes it much more appealing to use VirtualBox on Windows 8.

The other most user-recognizable improvements are support for IPv6 with VRDP, video capture support, and Webcam pass-thru. There's also SCSI CD-ROM emulation and a ton of bug fixes.

Alas, drag-and-drop still isn't available for Windows-based hosts (the PCs you run VirtualBox on). It's listed in the "devices" menu, as it has been for some time, but it's a tease...it's only being implemented on Linux and Solaris hosts. Under Windows, you can cut and paste data between applications, or use folders on the host that you specify as network resources from within VirtualBox's shared folders dialog.

VirtualBox 4 screenshot
Video capture is now possible within VirtualBox.

I'm complaining, but it's griping out of familiarity. If VirtualBox were brand-new, I'd be singing its praises and then some. It's a free way to run older programs that may not be compatible with Windows Vista/7/8, try out the latest that Linux has to offer, or provided secure workspaces for remote terminals.

I've used VirtualBox for years to test software rather than chance messing up my workstation's operating system. It's a great program.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    The best low-cost, low resource VM software now comes with touchscreen support.

    Pros

    • Fast compared to VMware
    • Free

    Cons

    • Drag-and-drop still doesn't work with Windows
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