How-To: Support Everyone’s OS with VirtualBox

Using a Mac is a treat for many, and after years of living on Window machines, I appreciate the little things OS X provides. There’s no point preaching to the choir here about how OS X is better…most of us already feel that way. But what I’ve realized while working in IT, is that I have to be adaptable since not everybody can run OS X. Perhaps they are scared of the change or have an application that doesn’t have an Mac counterpart. Whatever the reason, not everyone will jump on the bandwagon. This is especially true in a more corporate environment.

So as an IT support technician, I have to be flexible. As much as I hate spending hours removing spyware from users machines using tools like AdAware, HijackThis & Malwarebytes; this is my trade and I need to be proficient in every aspect of it. This is why I need to live in both the Apple (s aapl) and Microsoft (s msft) world at once. There are many options out there such as VMWare Fusion or Parallels, but Oracle’s VirtualBox offering is different in that it’s free.

Free is always good, especially if you only need to access Windows once in a while. VirtualBox can run all flavors of Windows, Linux, Solaris, OS/2 & BSD. If you need to support some random piece of software that only runs in Windows 3.1, VirtualBox will do it.

For my example below, I will run through installing Windows 7 in VirtualBox.

  1. Download VirtualBox from Oracle’s site.
  2. Run throughout the Install.
  3. Launch VirtualBox for the first time and it will ask if you want to register. It is not required.
  4. Once the Virtual Machine list comes up, we need to make a new VM.
  5. This will start the New Virtual Machine wizard. Enter your machine’s name and select the OS you will be installing.
  6. Set the amount of RAM you want to be available to your VM. I chose 1GB since this will be Windows 7 and I have 4GB to spare.
  7. We also have to create a new Virtual Hard Disk for the install to run off of.
  8. Choose whether it’ll be a dynamic or static disk. Dynamic is the default since it saves space until it’s needed.
  9. Choose your size, save location and your new virtual disk is done.
  10. Now we can launch our VM and start our OS install.
  11. The First Run Wizard will start and we need to insert our Windows 7 media so it can be installed.
  12. The Windows 7 setup process begins. To switch your mouse out of the VM and back to OS X, hit Control + Command.
  13. The Virtual Hard Disk we created earlier is available for Windows to install to.
  14. Go grab a bite to eat or a few drinks while you let Windows install. When it’s done, all should be well.
  15. Now we need to install the VirtualBox Guest Additions. Click on Devices in the VirtualBox menu bar and select Install Guest Additions…
  16. The install will finish and then let the VM reboot at the end. You no longer need to type Control + Command to switch mouse controls. You can also resize the VM window and the desktop resolution will adapt.

Having VM’s available to you in the support environment is a godsend. I still use Snow Leopard on my iMac, but I have the ability to launch a VM with whatever OS the troubled co-worker is using. People seem to think you must know everything about Microsoft Office since you’re IT. I am constantly reminding people, this is not the case. But I can launch Outlook on my end and walk them through the process.

If there is a Windows app that your job requires you to run then it’s time to use Seamless Mode. This allows you to have a Windows Start Bar on the bottom of your screen and Window applications will float on top of OS X.

We also have used VMware Fusion in the past. But so far, VirtualBox does everything Fusion does in our environment. If you haven’t dabbled in VMs before, give VirtualBox a try.