Suggestions for improvements to VirtualBox

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Suggestions for improvements to VirtualBox

Postby Dell Boy » 11. Apr 2021, 12:02

Hello community! I've now been using VirtualBox for probably 10 years off-and-on, but in the last 2 years or so much more frequently now that virtualization is a bigger part of my life and beyond simply playing around. VirtualBox is an excellent program and my favorite out of all the hypervisors that I've tested over the years. To show just how much I love it, I currently have 40 virtual machines setup on my main laptop and another 25 on my secondary one... everything from the era of MS-DOS right through to Windows 10. I've been making notes along the way and now feel qualified to make some suggestions. These are probably trivial suggestions but I feel that they would improve consistency and quality of life for the program. Please forgive me if any of these have already been addressed that I'm not aware of.

Issues/Improvements

Cloning Virtual Machines

* Have the option to maintain the original virtual hard disk names instead of adding the suffix '-disk001.vdi/.vmdk' or '-disk1.vdi/.vmdk', and so on (so for example, maintain 'Windows_95.vdi' and not convert it to 'Windows_95-disk001.vdi' or 'Windows_95-disk1.vmdk').

Dropped Files

* Fix the issue where if you sometimes drag-and-drop a file from the guest OS to the host OS, the file doesn't get copied to the target location (It only happened to me one time where I tried to drag-and-drop a 3.5Gb+ .zip file from the guest OS to the host OS, both of which were running Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, and the file didn't get copied to the target location. I tried it 2 or 3 times and it didn't work. I had to go to the temporary folder created in "C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Local\Temp\VirtualBox Dropped Files" and access the file from there, where it had got copied to with no issue. The version of VirtualBox at the time was v6.1.0.)
* I realize that I haven't narrowed the issue down more, but just thought I'd toss it in anyway for awareness if nothing else *)

* Remove the need to have copies of dropped files saved in a temporary location (For some reason currently all files copied to from the guest OS to the host OS have copies stored at the location "C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Local\Temp\VirtualBox Dropped Files").

Importing Appliances

* When you import an appliance, be asked if you want to import the virtual hard disk file as a .vmdk file instead of doing it by default (Which I find strange because it's not even a native VirtualBox format). Also have the option to import the virtual hard disk file as .vhd as well as .vdi, so that if the original VM was created with a .vhd file as its virtual hard disk then everything would remain intact as it was originally created (I don't get why you're forced to go with non-original file formats).

* More accurate estimation of time remaining when importing an appliance (When importing a VM of a fresh install of Windows 7, for example, the estimated time is up to around 5 minutes and the progress bar only gets to about 25% progress before briefly jumping to around 99% and then actually only taking a few seconds overall to complete).

* Show a dialogue box with status once the process of importing an appliance is completed (Instead of the progress window just disappearing and having to assume it imported with no errors).

* Have the option to maintain the original virtual hard disk names instead of adding the suffix '-disk001.vdi/.vmdk' or '-disk1.vdi/.vmdk', and so on (so for example, maintain 'Windows_95.vdi' and not convert it to 'Windows_95-disk001.vdi' or 'Windows_95-disk1.vmdk').

Exporting Appliances

* When you export an appliance, have the option of what virtual hard disk file type you export to instead of the default .vmdk (Which again it bizarrely does considering that's not even a native VirtualBox file format but a VMware one).

* More accurate estimation of time remaining when exporting an appliance (When exporting a VM of a fresh install of Windows 7, for example, the estimated time is up to around just over 1 hour and the progress bar only gets to about 5% progress before briefly jumping to around 50% and then actually only taking a few minutes overall to complete).

* Show a dialogue box with status once the process of exporting an appliance is completed (Instead of the progress window just disappearing and having to assume it exported with no errors).

Menus

* Have an option to sort VMs in A-Z order in VM list (You currently have to do it manually by dragging-and-dropping entries up or down).

* Have an option to group VMs by family in VM list (There's currently no option to group by DOS, Windows, Linux, etc).

Questions

* Just out of curiosity, why were the extended virtual hard drive menu options that were present in older versions of VirtualBox such as HDD, QED, and QCOW removed?

Thank you very much in advance and I look forward to contributing on these forums in future!
Last edited by Dell Boy on 11. Apr 2021, 13:43, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Suggestions for improvements to VirtualBox

Postby mpack » 11. Apr 2021, 13:28

Cloning Virtual Machines
* Have the option to maintain the original virtual hard disk names instead of adding the suffix '-disk001.vdi/.vmdk' or '-disk1.vdi/.vmdk', and so on (so for example, maintain 'Windows_95.vdi' and not convert it to 'Windows_95-disk001.vdi' or 'Windows_95-disk1.vmdk').

I don't recognize this one. AFAIK VirtualBox assigns the obvious names (i.e. the VM name) to disks created by the VM cloning function (i.e. right click | Clone...).

When you export an appliance, have the option of what virtual hard disk file type you export to

If VirtualBox exported anything other than VMDK to an OVA then it would not be compliant with the OVA standard - no other platforms would be able to process it. OVA is of course not how you should be doing VirtualBox to VirtualBox.

This is like asking for a choice of formats when exporting to ISO: if we did that then it wouldn't be an ISO.

* When you import an appliance, be asked if you want to import the virtual hard disk file as a .vmdk file instead of doing it by default. Also have the option to import the virtual hard disk file as .vhd as well as .vdi

On the first part - as far as I know this feature has existed for years: there's a checkbox to import as VDI. As to VHD - that is not the VirtualBox format, it is only partly supported (and is anyway a terrible format) there is no good reason to convert into that format.
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Re: Suggestions for improvements to VirtualBox

Postby Dell Boy » 11. Apr 2021, 16:05

OK so what is the correct process of migrating a VM created in VirtualBox to another machine with VirtualBox then? I've always imported/exported VirtualBox to VirtualBox with no issues. In fact many sources recommend this method.

Your comparison to an ISO file is irrelevant, as that's just a container. You can have any files you like inside an ISO file and its contents do not determine its file type.

Well maybe I'm kind of attached to VHD files as that's what I started out with and I like consistency. I've never had a problem with them and they're the most compatible format that I've seen across multiple platforms without the need for third-party conversion tools. As most people use Windows they're also the native standard for the OS, and most online sources only provide VHD files if OVA isn't an option.
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Re: Suggestions for improvements to VirtualBox

Postby scottgus1 » 11. Apr 2021, 16:23

Dell Boy wrote: what is the correct process of migrating a VM created in VirtualBox to another machine with VirtualBox

Copy the whole VM folder through regular file-copy to the other host PC, then register the VM using the main Virtualbox window's Machine menu Add command.

Dell Boy wrote:You can have any files you like inside an ISO file and its contents do not determine its file type.

Perhaps true, but only an ISO that looks like a CD or DVD image will work in a Virtualbox CD drive. Other 'ISO's won't work, as I have seen with some forum posters.

VHDs have a design flaw that will cause death of all the data within if the VHD is dynamically expanding and a host error happens at the same time. Fixed-size VHD also has the flaw but doesn't expand, so it does not cause data loss. Most of the time VHD is dynamic and is a risk, so we tend to counsel against them.
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Re: Suggestions for improvements to VirtualBox

Postby Dell Boy » 11. Apr 2021, 16:58

I have done that in the past but ran into errors when trying to mount the virtual disk drive. I thought the whole point of exporting and importing VMs was so that they were more manageable being compressed, self-contained archives akin to ZIP files making them much more portable for distribution. Is there a negative reason you shouldn't use import/export? Even Oracle supply Solaris in OVA files for download on their main site. I mean the resulting extracted VM is pretty much just a clone of the original apart from the aforementioned filename and file extension issues I address in my initial post. I don't see the benefit of manually copying 25Gb of loose virtual machine files that then have to be manually reconfigured on the other end, for example, when I can export/import a single 5Gb OVA file with all my settings intact.

I think I have read something about those VHD issues you talk about, but the operational envelope for potential failure never applied to me and I don't run anything mission critical through VMs anyway. As my use-case is low risk I prefer compatibility over risk of data loss. I use VMs mainly for curiosity, legacy compatibility, nostalgia, retro gaming, and software testing... so nothing where the master source data isn't stored elsewhere.
Last edited by Dell Boy on 11. Apr 2021, 17:41, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Suggestions for improvements to VirtualBox

Postby mpack » 11. Apr 2021, 17:21

Dell Boy wrote:Your comparison to an ISO file is irrelevant, as that's just a container.

No, it isn't. It is an image of a data CD and therefore governed by the ISO 9660 standard for optical data drives. The filesystem inside cannot be modified on a whim, which is precisely my point.
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Re: Suggestions for improvements to VirtualBox

Postby Dell Boy » 11. Apr 2021, 17:37

Indeed an ISO file is read-only but it's not limited to being an image of a data CD. You can create an ISO file from a folder and it can be multiple gigabytes in size if you choose so. The only caveat being that some virtual optical disc drive programs won't recognise it, but any program worth a damn will and besides, that's not what we're here to discuss. Anyway, you're splitting hairs over a non-issue. I came here to add suggestions, not be torn apart over a couple of minor things. So far you've added nothing constructive to this post at all. I wish I hadn't bothered.
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Re: Suggestions for improvements to VirtualBox

Postby mpack » 11. Apr 2021, 17:52

Dell Boy wrote:it's not limited to being an image of a data CD.

I used CD as shorthand for all optical media variants, e.g. CD (all variants), DVD, Blu-Ray et al, otherwise the statement is perfectly accurate. Instead of arguing with me about the meaning of ISO, a discussion that certainly has no value for me either, I suggest that you consult Wikipedia.

I'm not sure what "constructive" would look like in your view. Was I not supposed to point out that most of your suggestions were based on misunderstandings? And btw I note that you have not responded to several of the points I raised - for some reason you fixated yourself on the ISO analogy.

I will avoid getting into the argument that you seem to want. Let it be understood that if your comments continue to trend towards personal abuse then I'll lock and possibly delete the topic.
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Re: Suggestions for improvements to VirtualBox

Postby Dell Boy » 11. Apr 2021, 19:26

Well it seems like I should be consulting other sources anyway as so far much of what I've been told contradicts almost every other source I've seen, especially surrounding the use of importing and exporting appliances.
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Re: Suggestions for improvements to VirtualBox

Postby scottgus1 » 11. Apr 2021, 23:49

Dell Boy, you can get lots of good advice here, but we all need to start learning somewhere. I had to, also. Reading the forum will get you some solid info, because we do this stuff all the time. Blogs on the internet, maybe, but there isn't that peer review that the forum gurus provide, and some of the info out there is wrong. (Just look through Stack Exchange's recommendations to manually edit .vbox files, with no warning as to how that can go cluster-cuss super-quick.)

Dell Boy wrote:Is there a negative reason you shouldn't use import/export?

Depends on the reason for moving/copying the VM. Export is good for a VM that might be used in any hypervisor: VMware, Hyper-V, Qemu, Virtualbox, you don't know what else. Compressing is also good for internet distribution.

However, export changes all the UUIDS, so software needs to be reactivated and grub loaders may fail, etc. Additionally, the exported VM must change the disk format to vmdk to be OVF-compatible. All these changes prevent a fc-file-compare between source and copy, so there's no way to confirm the backup. For me, that confirmation is amazingly key, and I don't need to release my VMs to others, so export is not a tool I use. It is good for its purposes but not recommended for backup or distribution of VMs with activated software.

scottgus1 wrote:Copy the whole VM folder

Dell Boy wrote:I have done that in the past but ran into errors when trying to mount the virtual disk drive.

I've done it tons of times with no troubles. Next time you try it and have trouble, post on the forum and we'll try to help.

Dell Boy wrote:You can create an ISO file from a folder and it can be multiple gigabytes in size if you choose so.

Yes, that's possible. I had a >100-GB ISO used for read-only storage of old job files at the office on the Virtualbox host running the office DC/file/print server. Loaded like a CD, just really big.

BTW, the whole point of Mpack's reference to ISO's is that folks can't change a public format, which is what choosing to export non-vmdk would do. It would be foul of the OVF standard, which is what import/export depends on. No one is disputing what an ISO is or could be. It's an illustration that you may have got the wrong end of. FWIW I got the wrong end of your response to Mpack, it happens.

VHD serves its purposes too. It's one of the tools that can be used. I use fixed-size VHD for when I want to mount the disk file in my Windows host as well as a VM. But not dynamic, per the design flaw. Each to his own, there, but now we all know what could happen.

I would recommend trying to continue with the forum, and keep asking questions. There's lots to learn here. Also remember that none of us knows everything, and I too am still learning. It is wise to be humble.
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