Gnome Boxes: An Easy Way To Set Up Virtual Machines in Linux

Danny Stieben 24-02-2014

VirtualBox and VMWare, which can run multiple operating systems Run Multiple Operating Systems At Once With VMware Player We’ve lavished attention on VirtualBox here at MakeUseOf, and for good reason. However, VirtualBox isn’t your only option for creating and using free virtual machines. VMware Player, VMware’s free product, is every bit as good... Read More on top of your current OS, aren’t the only two virtualization options available for Linux users. If you’re a Gnome Shell user (as in, you use the main interface of the Gnome 3 desktop GNOME 3 Beta - Welcome To Your New Linux Desktop Read More ), you can use something called Gnome Boxes for all your virtualization needs.


About Gnome Boxes


Gnome Boxes is a simple virtualization tool that prefers ease and convenience over numerous customization options. For the technically inclined, Gnome Boxes implements QEMU, which is a completely open source machine emulator and virtualization tool that claims to achieve near native performance when used as a virtualizer.

Gnome Boxes should be available on all distributions that ship with Gnome Shell. If you’re running a recent release of Gnome Shell and happen to not have Gnome Boxes already installed, you can do so by installing the gnome-boxes package via your distro’s package manager.

Getting Started

If you have an ISO image file of the operating system you’re wanting to run or install, using Gnome Boxes is easy. Just open the application, then click on “New” in the top left corner. You can then choose the ISO file you’d like to boot from — it even lists ISO files that it finds in your Downloads folder. You can also choose a different directory or even enter in a URL so that Gnome Boxes can download the ISO file itself.



Before finishing off the wizard, you can customize how much RAM and disk space by clicking on the “Customize” button. Here, you can move around sliders to give or less of each. You may also notice a few categories along the left side of the window. These are Login, System, and Devices, where you’re currently in System. Choosing Login or Devices will only give you a little bit of information and nothing to configure – I expect this to change over the course of time.

How It Performs

Operating systems run under Gnome Boxes perform well for a single virtual machine – you can expect approximately the same responsive performance as you would with VirtualBox. It even does pretty well with Windows as a guest system (everything past the first two paragraphs in that article become irrelevant to Gnome Boxes). Performance does tend to decrease whenever you turn on multiple virtual machines, even if you have more than enough resources. This is something VirtualBox excells at – it tends to do far better when you have three or more virtual machines going.

While performance in terms of responsiveness is impressive with single virtual machines, you won’t get very many other benefits. For example, VirtualBox gives you the option to install a set of tools and drivers on the guest system that make it integrate well. Once they are installed, the guest system can resize according to the window size, as well as function in Seamless Mode.

None of that exists with Gnome Boxes. The only way you could see an improvement is if you run a Linux system as the guest system that has QEMU tools installed. It appears that, by default, Fedora is the only major distribution that includes them. This at least allows the guest system to resize to the window size of Gnome Boxes, but not much else. Other guest systems will remain at their maximum defaults for basic graphics drivers (usually 800×600 or 1024×768).


Multitasking is also a bit more complicated with Gnome Boxes. You can only have one window open, with one virtual machine actively selected. You can have multiple virtual machines running at the same time (so long as it doesn’t start freezing up), but you’ll have to go out of one and into the other in the same manner as you would for text message threads on a smartphone.


While it seems like Gnome Boxes can’t do much in comparison to VirtualBox and VMWare, I do think it’s a tool worth using. Like I mentioned above, you get ease of use in exchange for fewer features and options – which is great if you’re generally testing a new Linux distribution or if you need a simple guest system for whatever reasons. It’s also fantastic for people who have never used a virtual machine before. All it asks the user to do is select the desired ISO file; everything else can be handled by Gnome Boxes.

For more complex setups and needs, it may still be worthwhile to grab VirtualBox and tweak with it. Thankfully, we have a guide all about using VirtualBox How to Use VirtualBox: User's Guide With VirtualBox you can easily install and test multiple operating systems. We'll show you how to set up Windows 10 and Ubuntu Linux as a virtual machine. Read More .

What do you use for your virtualization needs? Is it important to you to use an open source virtualization technology? Let us know in the comments!


Related topics: GNOME Shell, VirtualBox, Virtualization.

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  1. Liz Nonyabiz
    June 22, 2018 at 4:38 pm

    Where are these elusive ISO's?
    I've looked & looked...
    I've read how easy this is to use but I find VirtualBox much simpler.
    Maybe if I could find out how to load an OS in Gnome Boxes...

  2. Oliver Leitner
    May 4, 2015 at 9:14 am

    Gnomeboxes runs on qemu, correct?

    well, qemu can run on "bare metal" through this kernel thing called kvm, which improves performance quite alot.

    there is and has been for years a project called spice, spice enables you to have a good performance with 3d and 2d plus a seamless mode within the vm guest, its much like virtualbox's guest tools, comes with most linux distributions on board, i.e. apt-get install spice-guest-agent...

    for windows spice theres guest tools available right at the projects website:

    for qemu guest tools you might wanna check this one:

    and for an overview in the functionality of kvm:

    for even better windows guest performance, you might want to use virtio tools:

    and last but not least with kvm you can do pci, pcie, usb... passthrough, so you can share real hardware with your guest, its a bit tricky in points, but it gives you a huge speedup if youre doing gaming in there... just google it, many examples

  3. commandfailure
    December 12, 2014 at 9:11 am

    I'm using libvirt+spice and you can install spice drivers to resize your desktop and also other amazing features, like forward sound, ports, usb device to virtual machine, passthrough device and connect as-real to virtual machine..of course all from virt-manager on gnome3 over debian jessie..

  4. Wantoo Sevin
    March 20, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    Oh my god, I'd not heard of this! Gnome Boxes looks liked just what I have been looking for! Virtualbox is overkill for my purposes, and virt Manager is OK but this looks REALLY simple.

    Thank you!!

    And also, +1 Ed - the linux articles are fantastic. Keep 'em coming!

  5. Pilota
    March 2, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    I enjoy your articles, keep on going.
    I also tried out this gnome boxes but it does not work. Installation looks fine, but when i try to open an iso file it gives me an error "connection failed".

    So I tried Virtualbox, which works fine, but very slow. What is the performance of gnome boxes compared to Virtualbox ?



    • Aryan
      April 1, 2015 at 4:55 pm

      yes neither me. It says SELinux security warning something....

  6. Rishi Raj
    February 26, 2014 at 5:15 am

    very interesting. i'll check it out for sure. keep on posting on linux topics. thanks.

    • Danny S
      February 28, 2014 at 7:23 pm

      Thanks Rishi! :)

  7. Ed
    February 25, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    Keep the Linux articles coming.
    Really appreciate them.

    • Danny S
      February 28, 2014 at 7:23 pm

      I'm glad you enjoy them, Ed! :)