VirtualBox’s Seamless Mode: Combine Two Operating Systems Into One Desktop

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virtualboxlogo thumb   VirtualBoxs Seamless Mode: Combine Two Operating Systems Into One DesktopInstalling two operating systems at the same time isn’t just possible; it can also be downright slick. Whether you’re a Mac user looking to occasionally use a given Windows application or someone looking for a risk-free way to try out different Linux versions, VirtualBox is the go-to freeware platform for virtualization. This program allows you to run any operating system in a contained, emulated environment.

What most people don’t know, however, is that this same program allows you to seamlessly combine your native and guest operating systems, allowing you to work with windows from both systems side-by-side. Heck, you can even copy and past text between any two platforms. Combine OSX and Windows, or Windows and Ubuntu, or Ubuntu and Fedora: the possibilities are endless.

Installing Two Operating Systems With VirtualBox

If you’ve never used VirtualBox before, or any sort of virtualization software at all, some preliminary reading may be in order. If you want to create a virtual Windows environment, check out Jorge’s article on installing Windows 7 on a virtual machine in Virtualbox. These instructions are quite specific to Windows 7, but can be easily applied to any version of Windows. Alternatively, you could make a VirtualBox-ready clone of your existing Windows operating system, courtesy of an article by Varun.

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If testing various Linux distributions is more your thing, Jorge also has you covered: he wrote all about test driving Linux operating systems with VirtualBox. This is actually a great deal simpler than running Windows, as you can download pre-built packages.

Want a virtual OSX? I’m sorry to say that Apple’s licensing forbids this, though if OSX is your native platform you can easily install VirtualBox to test other operating systems.

It’s also possible, in theory, that some legally-questionable BitTorrent trackers have VirtualBox images you can use to boot OSX. But these are illegal, and VirtualBox’s seamless mode won’t work with these anyway. Don’t check them out, and don’t share links to them in the comments below.

Installing Guest Additions

So you’ve got your guest operating system of choice up and running, but notice that it’s anything but seamless at this point? It’s time to install the Guest Additions. These operating system tweaks make it possible to move your mouse from the guest OS to your native OS without missing a beat.

Installing these additions is simple: on the window of the VirtualBox instance containing you Guest OS click “Devices,” followed by “Install Guest Additions.” Then follow the on-screen instructions within your Guest OS to complete the installation.

virtualboxguest thumb   VirtualBoxs Seamless Mode: Combine Two Operating Systems Into One Desktop

For those running a guest Linux Operating System: if you downloaded a pre-built VirtualBox image, it’s likely you already have the Guest Additions installed. If you suspect this isn’t the case, however, the above method should work wonderfully for you as well.

Seamless Mode!

Now that you’ve got the Guest Additions up and running it’s time for the real fun: trying out seamless mode. Click “Machine,” then “Seamless Mode.”

virtualboxseamless thumb   VirtualBoxs Seamless Mode: Combine Two Operating Systems Into One Desktop

After you do this your host operating system and your virtual operating system should seem to combine. You’ll have a taskbar from each and programs from each will be visible over your native operating system’s desktop. If this hasn’t worked, try pressing “Seamless Mode” again – this will usually do the trick.

virtualboxsolitare thumb   VirtualBoxs Seamless Mode: Combine Two Operating Systems Into One Desktop

As you can see above, this is a great way to play Ubuntu and Window’s versions of solitaire at the same time. If you’re looking for more practical ideas, however there are a few. Using Ubuntu’s version of Firefox is a great way to ensure your native Windows system is completely secure. If you’re a Linux user, seamless mode is a great way to use your Windows-only applications whilst still feeling at home within Ubuntu.

Any application supported by your guest OS can be installed on a virtual machine, provided you’ve allowed for enough hard drive space to support them all.

virtualboxsoftwarecenter thumb   VirtualBoxs Seamless Mode: Combine Two Operating Systems Into One Desktop

Conclusion

Seamless mode is a slick, underexplored feature of VirtualBox. It’s fit into my workflow on a regular basis, and can work wonders for anyone who needs to run two systems at once for any reason.

What do you guys think? Is this a cool and useful feature, or merely a gimmick? Do you have any advice for using it and getting it all set up? Can you think of any specific use you’d have for this functionality? Let us know in the comments below!

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14 Comments - Write a Comment

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Mike Trudeau

I love the idea of trying out new or different things – like Linux – in a virtual environment … sadly, I’ve tried several times to set up VirtualBox on my trusty old XP desktop machine and it’s crashed every single time before the install finished … on the other hand, the latest VMWare Player installed without a hiccup, runs flawlessly and lets me do essentially all of the things that VirtuaBox promises … if anyone else has trouble with VirtualBox, take a look at VMPlayer as an alternative.

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Tony Valderrama

I’ve been using VirtualBox for some time with my students (I need to use some 32bit WinXP software on my 64bit Windows 7), but I never knew of the seemless mode.

This tip is going to same me a lot of time. Thanks!

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Bria Stirling

This is incredible. I use Ubuntu and have to schlep into Windows on rare occasions. This feature is something I’ll definitely enjoy. I just tried it out and it works great!

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rick@rickety

I use Ubuntu and have VirtualBox running with Windows 7. This is really slick and works as advertised in the article. I don’t use Windows very often but it is sure handy when I do need it.

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lefty.crupps

> But these [OSX booters] are illegal
That is questionable, both inside and outside of the USA.

Seemless mode is pretty great though :)

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PryingMantis

I’ve been using VirtualBox to run Windows apps in OS X for a year or so now, and love it. I started out with Parallels, but didn’t want to pay so much to upgrade. My Windows needs are few, but when you need it, you need it, and VirtualBox does the job.

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Vivek

I know about virtual box and almost a year ago i am using it. working on ubuntu appliactions so that i can make linux(ubuntu) more user friendly so that everyone can be benefited from it

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Tim

I’ve run virtual machines for a long time on both Windows and Linux hosts. When I discovered recently that I could copy and paste between host and guest using VirtualBox I was completely blown away.

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mullo

hi, this is really cool. I have Window 7 installed and couldn’t run many a programs. I wanted a solution so that i could possibily use those programs to run in the XP mode. thanks for the guide. can you list some virtual machines that comes for free?

Justin Pot

mullo,

If you’re looking for a free Windows XP machine, I’m afraid you’ll have to roll your own. The articles linked to above, in the “Installing Two Operating Systems With VirtualBox” section, should provide some context to that regard; if not go ahead and ask MakeUseOf Answers. They’ll hook you up.

If you want free Linux virtual machines, check this out:
http://sourceforge.net/projects/virtualboximage/files/

Reply

Justin Pot

mullo,

If you’re looking for a free Windows XP machine, I’m afraid you’ll have to roll your own. The articles linked to above, in the “Installing Two Operating Systems With VirtualBox” section, should provide some context to that regard; if not go ahead and ask MakeUseOf Answers. They’ll hook you up.

If you want free Linux virtual machines, check this out:
http://sourceforge.net/project

Reply

Tapan Chugh

Really COol

Reply

Sunil

I have Ubuntu as my host OS and I run other OSes like Oracle Linux, Windows server and openfiler appliance.. Seamless mode is so cool…I don’t miss the ssh client I used in windows because I can paste straight from web pages or pdf docs.

Reply

Sunil

I have Ubuntu as my host OS and I run other OSes like Oracle Linux, Windows server and openfiler appliance.. Seamless mode is so cool…I don’t miss the ssh client I used in windows because I can paste straight from web pages or pdf docs.

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