How to virtualize Vista on Mac OS X

Step 1 – Prepare Your System

In this tutorial we’re going to virtualize Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 on OS X 10.5.6 using Sun xVM VirtualBox 2.1.0. This tutorial should also work with other versions of Windows Vista. To prepare for this tutorial you should have the necessary resources available:

  • Sun xVM VirtualBox 2.1.0 for Intel Mac (available here)
  • Windows Vista installation DVD

This tutorial was tested on an Apple Macbook Pro with an Intel Core 2 Duo CPU with 2GB RAM running Mac OS X 10.5.6.

[#PAGE-BREAK#Step 2 – Install VirtualBox#]

Before we start a quick note about our choice of virtualization platforms. There are other options available for Mac OS X such as Parallels and VMWare Fusion.

While either of these options is more than acceptable we chose VirtualBox because we wanted to base the tutorial on a platform which was free whereas the others are excellent but proprietary.

During testing we were very impressed with VirtualBox and are using it as the platform for all our virtualization tutorials.

To install VirtualBox download the VirtualBox DMG package. Open the downloaded file to mount the disk image (or it may automatically open from some browsers) and then double-click the VirtualBox.mpkg to launch the installer.

Click Continue

On the License Agreement page click Continue and then Agree

Select the hard drive you want to install to and click Continue and then Install. Once installed launch VirtualBox from your Applications folder.

[#PAGE-BREAK#Step 3 – Create New Vista VM#]

Click the New icon to start the New Virtual Machine Wizard

  • Click Next
  • Type in “Windows Vista” as the name and select “Microsoft Windows” from the “OS Type” dropdown menu and “Windows Vista” from the “Version” list. Click Next

  • Assign as much memory as you like beyond the base memory recommendation. In this case 512MB is the recommended amount. Click Next

  • On the “Virtual Hard Disk” screen click “New” to launch the Create New Virtual Disk Wizard and click Next.
  • Choose whichever disk type you prefer. The advantage of a fixed-size image is that as all the space is reserved up front there’s an ongoing disk performance benefit as the image doesn’t need to keep expanding as you use it. The downside is that all the space is used at once and it takes longer to create. Click Next
  • Name the image file accordingly and assign some space (at least 20GB for the Vista boot disk). Click Next and then Finish. The newly-created Windows-Vista.vdi is now attached to the VM as the primary disk. Click Next and then Finish and the VM is created

[#PAGE-BREAK#Step 4 – Install Vista#]

To install Vista from the media you’ll need to attach the physical optical drive to the VM so that the VM can read from the DVD.

To do this highlight the Vista VM within VirtualBox and in the right-hand window click on “CD/DVD-ROM”.

Another window opens up – tick the checkbox next to “Mount CD/DVD-ROM” and make sure that “Host CD/DVD Drive” is selected then click OK.

Make sure that the Vista DVD is in the drive and start the VM by clicking on the Start button. The VM will read from the optical drive and load the Vista DVD.

Highlight the Windows Vista VM then click Start. The system will start up and in the absence of an operating system will boot from the DVD.

To interact with a VM you have to click into the window which contains the running instance. Doing this will “capture” the keyboard and mouse. You won’t be able to interact with the Mac desktop but you will be able to interact with the VM. To escape back to the Mac desktop click the Host key. For VirtualBox on OS X the Host key is mapped to the Left Command button.

This is the default behaviour on all VirtualBox VMs but you can enable seamless integration by installing guest addition tools which we’ll do once Vista has been installed.

When the Windows graphical interface loads choose your language time and currency format and keyboard layout and click Next.

Click “Install Now”. Enter the product key or leave the field blank – this will install Vista in trial mode.

If applicable choose the version of Vista you wish to install tick “I have selected the edition of Windows that I purchased” and click Next.

Accept the Microsoft license terms and click Next.

Choose a Custom installation. On the “Where do you want to install Windows?” screen select the virtual disk and click Next.

Vista will now install.

Once the installation is completed Vista will reboot. Type in your username and password details and click Next.

Then type in a computer name and click Next. Choose the appropriate automatic update settings for your environment then set the correct clock and time zone information and click Next.

And that’s it – Vista is installed.

[#PAGE-BREAK#Step 5 – Install Guest Additions#]

Most virtualization solutions offer a software package which can be installed on guest machines which provides better access to the host hardware and other resources like shared folders clipboard file copying and so on.

Once the Windows Vista VM has been installed and has rebooted log into the desktop. Then press the host key to release the cursor then select the Devices menu and then “Install Guest Additions”. This mounts the additions image into the VM.

The additions media will autorun – launch the setup and click past the UAC prompt. Click Next the accept the License Agreement and click Next again. Accept the default install location and click Install.

Setup will continue and the package will install a number of drivers which offer better integration with the host’s resources and improved guest performance. These drivers are not signed by Microsoft so you’ll get a warning popup message during installation. Click “Install” on all the popups then reboot to complete the install.

When the system restarts you’ll be able to move the cursor between guest and host without having to use the host key and there will be an icon in the system tray indicating that the additions are active. Installing the additions also gives you extra functionality between guest and host which we’ll look at in the next step.

[#PAGE-BREAK#Step 6 – More VirtualBox Options#]

By default and presumably to maximise compatibility during installation there are a number of guest options which are disabled but which you’ll probably find it useful to enable once the system is operational. To access these options highlight the VM in VirtualBox and then click on “General” in the right-hand window.

Under General there are two particular tabs of interest – Basic and Advanced. Under Basic you can adjust both the system and graphics memory. The graphics memory is expandable up to the available system graphics memorya nd you can also toggle on or off support for 3D acceleration for the guest VM.

Under Advanced you can add or remove options from the boot order and adjust the order itself. You can also enable support for CPU virtualization which will improve system performance.

You can also enable Audio support add more network adaptors connect to the host system’s serial and USB ports share folder between the host filesystem and the guest and enable remote desktop access to the guest via VirtualBox’s RDP server.

If you’re familiar with other virtualization packages then VirtualBox will be very intuitive. If not spent some time playing with the other options such as system snapshots to save a virtual guest at a point in time (very useful for writing tutorials!) moving into and out of fullscreen by using the host+F key combo.

Also check out our other tutorials for virtualizing on different platforms.