Getting started with GNOME Boxes virtualization

GNOME Boxes is an easy way to create virtual machines for development, experimenting, and learning tasks.
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I've been a fan of virtualization technology for many years, using many different products along the way. Virtualization has advantages for both the data center and the desktop: data centers use it to increase server hardware utilization, while desktop users use it for modeling, testing, and development work. One operating system running on top of a different one on the same hardware, all thanks to the concept of a virtual machine (VM).

I recently upgraded my laptop from Fedora 29 Workstation Edition Linux to version 30. I noticed GNOME Boxes, simply titled Boxes, in my application menu. The GNOME Project—whose members are the creators and maintainers of the GNOME Desktop Environment—describes GNOME Boxes as: "A simple GNOME application to view, access, and manage remote and virtual systems." Of course, I had to check this tool out.

This two part series article will cover two of the main features of Boxes. While writing this article, I used Boxes version 3.32.0.2-stable. Since the GNOME Boxes project refers to a VM as a "box," I'll use that terminology.

Let's get right to it and create a virtual machine using GNOME Boxes.

Create a box

When you launch Boxes, it opens to its main window:

GNOME Boxes' main window

Start using Boxes by clicking the New button at the top-left corner of the application. This opens a dialog titled Create a Box. The first time you run Boxes, you'll see the following screen. Click Continue.

Boxes create a GNOME box for the first time

If you've run Boxes before, the following window opens.

Creating a new box in GNOME Boxes

You see several options. You can download an operating system (OS), connect to a remote box, or select a file.

The OS list at the top of the screen above is the default. The list could be different if you have any OS ISO files in your Downloads directory. This is because Boxes detects ISO files and creates the OS list accordingly. For example, if I have the ISO file for FreeBSD 12 (FreeBSD-12.0-RELEASE-amd64-disc1.iso) in Downloads, it will be included on the list, as shown below.

Creating a new box with FreeBSD in GNOME Boxes

If you click Download an OS, you can choose an OS from a larger list with many options. The ISO file for the OS that you select will be saved to your Downloads directory.

Create a box with Fedora 30

I chose to create my first box with Fedora 30 Workstation Edition. The OS isn't yet available in Boxes' default OS list, so I saved the Fedora 30 Workstation Live CD ISO file to my Downloads directory. (If you would like to install Fedora 30 Workstation, jump to the end of this article for download instructions.)

[alan@workstation Downloads]$ ls -l
-rw-r--r-- 1 alan alan 1934753792 May  2 20:08 Fedora-Workstation-Live-x86_64-30-1.2.iso
-rw-r--r-- 1 alan alan  892467200 May  7 17:00 FreeBSD-12.0-RELEASE-amd64-disc1.iso

Now when Boxes launches, the OS list includes Fedora 30. Click Fedora-Workstation to begin.

Selecting the Fedora 30 OS image file in GNOME Boxes

The next screen, called Review, shows the Memory and Disk properties for the new box you created. 

Review a new box

Clicking Customize will allow you to adjust the Memory and Disk sizes.

Customizing Memory and Disk for a new box

To move on, click Create on the top-right of the window. The new box will be created and booted.

Booting a new box in GNOME Boxes

Once the Fedora Live CD boots, you can complete the installation as you usually would on bare metal.

Fedora 30 Running in GNOME Boxes

The final thing I did was to rename the box in the properties of the box.

My opinion

I'm impressed. GNOME Boxes is great for users who want to quickly deploy various operating systems and software for development, experimenting, and learning tasks with minimal effort. This is as GNOME intended.

GNOME Boxes is comparatively simple. A more advanced configuration of hardware, network devices, and CPU features would require a tool like virt-manager. Your usage needs will determine whether you might need that level of customization.

In Part 2, I'll cover the remote access capabilities of Boxes.

Download Fedora 30 Workstation

To download Fedora 30 Workstation, browse to the Fedora website. On this page, put the mouse cursor over WORKSTATION on the left-hand side, and click Download Now.

Download button for Fedora 30 Workstation

The next screen provides the link to download the Fedora 30 Workstation 64-bit ISO file, which is 1.9GB. I saved the file Fedora-Workstation-Live-x86_64-30-1.2.iso to my Downloads directory.

Web page to download Fedora 30 Workstation

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Alan Formy-Duval Opensource.com Correspondent
Alan has 20 years of IT experience, mostly in the Government and Financial sectors. He started as a Value Added Reseller before moving into Systems Engineering. Alan's background is in high-availability clustered apps. He wrote the 'Users and Groups' and 'Apache and the Web Stack' chapters in the Oracle Press/McGraw Hill 'Oracle Solaris 11 System Administration' book.

4 Comments

Great article, Alan. I've looked into the various ways to use Gnome-Boxes as a replacement for VirtualBox, etc. and the best solution for me, in order to get USB-3 device passthrough and LAN access for the occasional Windows program, is to setup the VM using "virt-manager' and selecting the 'qemu:///session" connector instead of using the default 'qemu:///system' connector. This allows the selection of all appropriate devices in the build of the VM and then the ease-of-use by GNOME Boxes for day-to-day access. I think it would be helpful if you covered this use case for new users of Linux and how they can still access their Windows apps while learning or migrating fully to Linux as their daily driver.

Thanks for the suggestion

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