A virtual machine lets you emulate a different operating system. You can try a different operating system without leaving the confines of the host, be that Windows, macOS, Linux, or otherwise. Also, a virtual machine has many uses, such as testing software, booting up old games, or malware analysis.
Most of the time, you install the test operating in the virtual machine. But you can also download pre-built virtual machine images to save yourself some time. So, here are three websites from where you can download virtual disk images for VirtualBox.
What Is a Virtual Disk Image?
A virtual disk image (VDI) is the image of a VirtualBox virtual hard disk. You can download a VDI, load it in VirtualBox (or another virtual machine tool), and load the pre-built operating system environment. For many users, it saves having to download and install an operating system in VirtualBox, as well as the configuration time.
VDIs, then, are an exact clone of the operating system build environment that anyone can download and use on another machine.
VDIs are the virtual disk image container for VirtualBox. However, VirtualBox virtual disk images are far from the only virtual machine disk image type. You may also encounter:
- VMDK: VMDK was the virtual disk image container of VMware but is now an open standard that almost all virtual machine applications can use.
- VHD: VHD is Microsoft’s virtual disk image container.
- HDD: No, it isn’t your hard disk drive. HDD is a disk image format created using Parallels, the macOS virtual machine application.
Okay, now let’s go on to the three VDI download sites and see what offer.
1. OS Boxes
OS Boxes is a handy site listing nearly 60 different virtual disk images. The VDIs include most popular Linux distros, and a few obscure ones, too. The VDIs on offer use relatively up-to-date versions of the Linux operating systems, which is one of OS Boxes’ best features.
Especially given many other VDI download options use extremely old versions for their VDI build.
Although other VDI download sites may offer a wider selection, OS Boxes current VDIs make it one of the best options.
The VirtualBoxes Image section hosts a list of nearly 50 VDIs you can download for free. Following on from the previous section, VirtualBoxes VDIs are old. For instance, the Arch Linux VDI uses a build from 2014, five years old at the time of writing.
However, VirtualBoxes does offer some pre-built VDIs that OS Boxes is yet to upload.
If there is a specific VDI you are interested in, and especially if you are looking for an older build (for security testing or otherwise), you might find it on VirtualBoxes.
Virtual Disk Images offers a different selection to the previous two VDI sites. Instead of pre-built Linux distros, Virtual Disk Images gives you a selection of Windows VDIs. They’re not just any Windows VDIs, either. For example, you can download Windows 98, Windows NT 4.0, and Windows ME to name but a few.
You won’t find a VDI for Windows 10 here. But you can take advantage of the pre-built Windows VDIs to take a trip back in time and experience Windows before the “modern” era.
How to Install a VDI in VirtualBox
Unsure what to do with your virtual disk image now you have it? Here’s a very quick tutorial on how to install the VDI in VirtualBox.
- In VirtualBox, select New.
- Enter a Name, then change the Type and Version to match the VDI you want to use.
- Select Use an existing virtual hard disk file, then browse to the location of the virtual disk image you want to use. Select Create.
- Right-click the newly created VDI in your VirtualBox Manager. Alter the VDI settings to suit your system.
- Double-click the VDI and boot into the pre-built operating system.
Check out Ben Stegner’s guide to VirtualBox for a heap more information on managing your VDIs.
ISO vs. VDI: Which Is Better?
Before you start downloading a bunch of VDIs to use with VirtualBox, consider using their ISO image alternatives.
For the most part, the VDIs use an outdated ISO for their VDI build. That isn’t strictly an issue. But you will have to spend extra time updating the VDI one it loads. Alternatively, you could install an ISO in VirtualBox.
You would still update the operating system before using it, but the chances are the ISO update will take a shorter time due. That’s because a download of the latest ISO includes the overwhelming majority of system updates.
Downloading and installing via an ISO file also gives you control over the operating system installation process, tweaking settings to suit your requirements.
Virtual Disk Image Downloads Galore
Virtual disk images do have some advantages over ISOs. You can download and install a range of operating systems very easily. It shouldn’t take long to boot into the system once downloaded, and you can always switch it out for another VDI if the environment or experience is not what you want or need.
The three VDI download sites offer the best selection of clean and completely free virtual disk images. I wouldn’t advise you to stray too far from the beaten path in search of alternative VDI download sites. The selection is extremely small. In some cases, the lesser-known sites may host malware or even malicious VDIs.
VDIs are also handy for cloning personal drives, too. Check out our guide to creating a virtual machine clone of your existing Windows hard drive.