Open the box

The one thing that threw us off a little was that our Windows XP test machine was a laptop. We installed VirtualBox and clicked inside the window that, as expected, “captured” mouse and keyboard, so that all keystrokes passed to the guest operating system and the mouse couldn’t move outside of the window. VirtualBox provides a way to escape this by simply holding down a specific key, but, unfortunately, the key in question is by default , not awfully helpful when the laptop doesn’t actually have one… We were on the verge of plugging in an external keyboard (and hoping Windows would recognise it) when we discovered to our relief that holding down the Fn key at the same time as emulates . Of course, you can change the specific key that performs this release function in VirtualBox’s settings, along with many other parameters.

Open the box

The software comes bundled with Guest Additions for both Windows (NT and up, including Server 2003 and Vista, although we didn’t test those) and Linux, which enable stuff like disabling guest operating system capture of the mouse cursor (move it outside the guest window and you’re back in the host OS), and shared folders that can be seen by both host and guest operating systems. Overall, we were really impressed with VirtualBox, which does a great job of providing a virtual environment, and we can thoroughly recommend trying it if you need a virtualised environment on your desktop or laptop PC.

We were really hoping it would bring the same benefits to the Mac, and indeed there’s a beta version on the website, plus reports in the forums that it works pretty well. However, try as we might, we couldn’t get it to run on our test Mac. Now, granted we already had the commercial VMware Fusion (web ID: 125309) installed on this machine (which does the same job as VirtualBox but is paid-for), and it’s quite possible that this was causing some sort of conflict. Of course, we weren’t trying to run both at the same time, but it’s very likely that Fusion installs some kernel extension that obstructs VirtualBox.

Whatever the cause, the bottom line was that the VirtualBox installer warned us it had failed to install correctly the first time we tried it: we ran it a second time – as recommended in the ReadMe file – and this time it claimed success, but the virtual machine still couldn’t boot, producing an error message as soon as we started it. We deinstalled and reinstalled a couple of times but with no better results. We’ll keep an eye on this and let you know if a future beta version – or the final release – cures the problem. If it does, it would be a great solution for Intel Mac users who want to run Windows or Linux from within Mac OS X. Although VMware Fusion and Parallels provide that functionality, both are commercial offerings, and as you know we prefer to run open-source software where we can.

IDE wars

Two months ago, we wrote about our quest for the perfect IDE (integrated development environment). Ian’s company in the US is doing most of its development these days in Ruby, while almost all the development done by Wide Area in London is in PHP. The leading contender when we wrote that previous column was Aptana, which incorporates the RadRails environment to provide an extremely nice Ruby/Ruby on Rails development experience, although it isn’t too great on the PHP side of things. So Ian was interested when a reader recently pointed him towards a blog post that expounded the beauty of NetBeans for Rails development work – an environment we’d previously assumed was strictly Java-only. The post in question is at and it’s written by a chap called George Crook. (Caution: it contains, as they say on TV, strong language if you’re particularly prudish.) George eloquently explains what he likes about NetBeans and why he prefers it – quite vehemently – to RadRails. It’s a very long, extremely well-illustrated post, and well worth a read.

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