How to set up a Virtual operating system on elementary OS


  1. Introduction
  2. Terminology used
  3. Downloading VirtualBox
  4. Installing VirtualBox
  5. How to set up a guest operating system
    • Step 1: Select the Operating System
    • Step 2: Create a virtual hard drive
    • Step 3:  Allocate memory for the guest operating system
    • Step 4: Return to the VirtualBox manager.
    • Step 5:  Installing your Virtual Operating System
    • Step 6: Set up  guest additions
  6. Some Tips


Everybody in the community and beyond is talking about the next elementary OS iteration named “Isis”. You want to try it but you have been warned it’s not ready for everyday use as it is a beta version, therefore unstable. Using VirtualBox is a safe way to try or use other operating systems, whether they’re stable or unstable.

Imagine a  “computer (guest) inside your computer (host): Well that is what can be achieved with VirtualBox, in fact, you can have many “guests” in one “host”, if your computer has the capacity. One of the biggest advantages is installing and using another operating system without changing the way your computer is already set up, or without having a 2nd computer.

Before following our guide, take a minute and visit the VirtualBox website.

Terminology used

1. Host operating system: The system on which you download and install VirtualBox.
2. Guest operating system: The operating system you are installing into a virtual machine.
3. Host key: The key used by VirtualBox to detect special commands. Default is [Right Ctrl].

Downloading VirtualBox

  1. Assuming you’re using elementary OS, you need the latest `.deb` from the Linux downloads page.
  2. elementary OS uses Ubuntu as a base, so choose the Ubuntu downloader: Luna is based on 12.04 LTS and  Isis on 14.04 LTS.
  3. After you download the package, you can check the integrity of the download using `md5sum` or `sha256sum` and compare against this page for md5s or this page for sha256.
For example:
 $ cd Downloads
 ~/Downloads $ md5sum virtualbox-4.3_4.3.12-93733~Ubuntu~raring_amd64.deb
 6dcc530715852dc98634fb449aafd446 virtualbox-4.3_4.3.12-93733~Ubuntu~raring_amd64.deb

This is indeed the correct md5sum, so we can now begin to install it.

Installing VirtualBox on your host computer

By either double clicking on the `.deb` file in your download folder or install from the terminal using…

sudo dpkg -i filename.deb

When installed, you can launch VirtualBox from the application menu (Slingshot Launcher).

How to set up a “guest” operating system

For this tutorial we will install elementary OS, however these instructions could be applied to any guest operating system (with a few selection variations).

Step 1: Select the Operating System

First, click on “new” on the VirtualBox manager. This will present the “Name and Operating System” screen. For this tutorial we chose Ubuntu (64 bit) because elementary is based on Ubuntu.  Other options include MS Windows, Arch, debian etc.


Step 2: Create a virtual hard drive

With the default set at 10GB, this is where you determine what disk space you want to dedicate for your guest operation system. (10GB is sufficient for most Linux distros)


Step 3:  Allocate memory for the guest operating system

You computer needs memory to run as host so allocating too much memory will cause problems for the host.  Allocating too little will cause issues for the guest operation system.  Allocating half your computers memory might be considered a good starting point.


Step 4: Return to the VirtualBox manager. 

You can see the the label of the guest environment you created in the “powered off” state and you are ready to install your operating system.


Step 5:  Installing your Virtual Operating System

Important Note: Avoid opening the settings before you start the virtual machine for the first time as it will not automatically ask you to insert the installation media!

Press Start then VirtualBox will realize you haven’t installed your operating system yet. The screen below will be displayed, prompting you to locate the installation media. Click on the folder icon and select the iso image you want to install. It is probably in your download folder if you have not relocated it. The screen below shows the elementary 64bit ISO we downloaded for this tutorial.


When the installation is complete, you will be asked to remove any installation media and press enter. Go ahead and just press enter.

Assuming everything goes correctly, you’ll now be in a bootable elementary virtual machine. But there’s still more to do!

First, do the usual software update: either open up Update Manager from Slingshot application launcher or paste the command into the terminal.

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade

It may ask you to restart

Step 6: Set up Guest Additions

Without Guest Additions, you will not be able to use your display’s native resolution when running your guest OS in full-screen mode (default shortcut: `host`+`f`). Guest Additions fixes that.

Once you’re rebooted and logged back in, go to the “Devices” menu on your virtual machine’s window and select “Insert Guest Additions CD image.”

Before installing them, install the `dkms` package:

 sudo apt-get install dkms

Now you’ll want to mount the Guest Additions image. The easiest way is to open up Files from Slingshot application launcher and select it under “Devices” at the side.

Then open a terminal and `cd` (change the directory) to where the image is mounted, for example:

cd /media/VBOXADDITIONS_4.3.12_93733$ sudo ./

Now reboot.

Congratulations! You should now have a fully working elementary virtual installation.

Some Tips

  1. Always remember what your host key is. While many key sequences are captured by the virtual machine, some aren’t. If you try to switch tty’s by hitting `Ctrl`+`Alt`+`F1`, that will get captured by the host OS and not the guest. In order to do the same on the guest, use `Host`+`F1`.
  2. I prefer to disable the Mini-tool Bar on the bottom. To do this, go to the virtual machine’s settings from VirtualBox Manager, then General > Advanced > Show in Full-screen/Seamless.
  3. You can enter/exit full-screen by using the (default) keybind `host`+`f`. Just remember you’re in a virtual machine!

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December 2022

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