Using a Hypervisor on Mac

I consolidated and upgraded my Mac environment. Part of this is that I wanted to have a free-standing “virtual environment” for this Mac. Meaning, I want to be able to run Windows desktop, servers, Ubuntu, etc. on this Mac. I naturally started with VirtualBox (https://www.virtualbox.org/), because it’s free.

On a VirtualBox VM, I installed the Windows 10 Preview and was shocked to see how not-great it was. Both locally on the MacBook and remotely via Remote Desktop (over a wired gigabit connection), the screen was somewhat choppy, and would be unresponsive – and the screen had problems refreshing occasionally. So, it worked – but it was definitely not great.

OK, so what are my options? I’m a bit new to this, so I did some basic searches and this is what I found for free/inexpensive hypervisors:

  1. VirtualBox
  2. VMWare
  3. XenProject
  4. Parallels

I’ll review each, below.

VirtualBox
As mentioned – it technically works, but the hosted machines – if you are using them interactively, are not very smooth. They are choppy and tend to stammer. More on this below though, there are settings that make a difference.

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There are several things to try, so for now, I just decided to explore the options first…

VMWare
I believe you can use the VMWare Player to create new VM’s. I’ve seen it for hosting existing ones, so I’m not sure. It doesn’t matter though because this is dead-on-arrival, it’s only offered on Windows and Linux:

image

So, moving on…

XenProject
I found this site: http://www.xenproject.org/ which claims to be an open source hypervisor. Great! It took some digging on the site, but I had two questions:

  • What operating systems can it run on?
  • What operating systems can I host with it?

As it turns out, the answers are: Linux and Linux. In fact, this is one of those: “you have to pull down the source and compile it yourself” kind of projects too. NEXT!!!

Parallels
Everyone keeps mentioning this Parallels program – but this does cost money ($79) – http://www.parallels.com/cross-platform-solutions/

They offer a try/buy, so I downloaded it and tried it. I was already impressed from the first screen. I can easily create Windows and Linux VM’s right from the get-go! It’s VERY user-friendly:

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So, I started with an Ubuntu installation:

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and sure enough, that works fine – and the VM is very responsive:

image

Next, I pulled down my own Windows 10 Preview .iso, and stepped through the configuration. I set the CPU’s and RAM:

image

Set the video card memory:

image

and then set it to share the network card with the host machine (I chose “Ethernet” from the “Bridged Network:” section):

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it gives me a summary like this and then I can install:

image

and sure enough, it installs:

image

and this is the main screen for Parallels, from where you can start/stop machines, configure them – or via the menu, create new virtual machines.

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What is the downside of Parallels?
The main thing that REALLY irks me is how it DEEPLY touches the OS that it installs. Both the Linux and Windows installations had a username already setup, and a folder on the desktop for parallels. In fact, I didn’t “walk through” the installer for either – it just installed it, and landed me at a login prompt. Not cool! So, these aren’t “pure” installations of these operating systems, it seems like Parallels modifies them significantly, which I don’t like at all.

I would strongly, strongly, strongly prefer that Parallels gets it’s greasy hands off my install and let me have a CLEAN install instead of trying to help! For the Linux one, I can understand it because I chose it from a menu item – but for the Windows 10 one, I pointed to the clean .iso file that I got from MSDN, and it got right up into the OS.

After researching this and trying again, I think this was due to this one setting of “Express installation” offered in the wizard:

image

When this is checked, that’s what Parallels really gets it’s hand into the OS. If you UNCHECK that checkbox, then, you can do a regular installation of the OS. This made the Windows install like normal – which is much better.

The next major annoyance is that when you have a window open in your Parallels VM, it shows up in, and clutters-up the dock on the Mac. See below, I have an instance of Ubuntu running. Within that instance I have: some terminal windows, Firefox, and the Ubuntu Software Center. Now note in the Mac dock that those show up there, adding unnecessary clutter:

image

If I were using these VM’s as an “end-user”, I get why this might be useful – but in my case, I just want a headless hypervisor to run my VM’s!

Back to VirtualBox:
Considering that Parallels is a very pretty app – but might not be a good fit for what I am trying to do, I decided to go back and see if I can troubleshoot the VirtualBox issues. First, for the blotchy video:

image

I enabled 2D Video Acceleration – which allowed me to then give 256MB of RAM to video processing. When I enabled 3D Acceleration, Windows hung on boot-up just before the login screen, so I disabled. This seemed to fix the redraw issues, and some of the video “stammering”. I also enabled “PAE/NX” which I don’t think is needed, but:

image

That the VM pretty usable without any obvious problems – although I’ve just been using it superficially. We’ll have to see how it performs under load with several things open at once.

Bottom line:
On the VirtualBox Windows 10 VM, I installed the latest VS2015 with all of the updates. The install took a LONG time (overnight), but as far as everyday usability – it seems quite usable.

So for me, before I spend the $80 on Parallels – I think I am going to see how far VirtualBox takes me. So far, it seems quite reasonable. If you have any opinions or have found a good combination that works, please leave a comment below!

Posted in Apple Stuff, Computers and Internet, General, Infrastructure, Linux, Organization will set you free, Professional Development, Uncategorized, Windows
8 comments on “Using a Hypervisor on Mac
  1. […] ANYhow, so there was a sale on NewEgg for Parallels 9 which was $15, after using a coupon code (thanks, Bernardo!). In fact, it’s back to $30 at the moment, which isn’t half-bad. So, I picked up a copy for my Mac – so that I could run virtual machines a little better than with Virtual Box. […]

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  2. Malcolm says:

    You were looking for VMWare Fusion.

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  3. Walter Adams says:

    Have you tried Veertu? I’m a Parallels user looking for a good alternative. Tired of the Intuit-style feature sunsets and misleading warnings that the product won’t work with the latest Mac OS (which it does).

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  4. Bill Babbitt says:

    I have an older MacBook Pro (Early 2010) that anything OS-X 10.7 or later won’t load on. I already use Parallels to run Windows XP (for my money, the only good version of this crapy OS). Do you know of a hypervisor that will host on Mac OS-X 10.6.8 and load later OS-X 10.xx versions in virtual mode?

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    • Robert Seder says:

      Bill, I’ve run into that too. I’ve found that even Docker can’t run on “older” Mac’s. More and more, these virtualization technologies are requiring these new virtualization features which are only available in the newer CPU’s. So in short, no. There is pretty much: Parallels, VirtualBox, and VMWare from what I found. So, if those don’t work, it might be time to upgrade. Sorry I couldn’t help, but good luck! -Rob

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      • Bill Babbitt says:

        Thanks, Rob. Apparently, that is Apple’s intent. I wonder just how hard it would be to write drivers to convert the newer OSes to the older hardware. The MacBook Pro was arguably the most popular laptop computer in the early days. It still has acceptable speed and utilitarianism. Its only drawback is that most newer applications require the newer version of OS. Seems to me there might be a niche market in virtualization software that would load the newer OS versions over older ones.

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