You don’t need third-party virtualization tools like VirtualBox and VMware on Linux. KVM (Kernel-based virtual machine) is an open-source virtualization technology built into the Linux kernel. GNOME Boxes provides a pretty front-end that makes it easy to use.

We’ve previously recommended using the Virt-Manager tool to create KVM virtual machines. Boxes is a more user-friendly tool designed for average desktop users instead of system administrators.. Despite the name, you can run it on any desktop environment.

This Requires Intel VT-x or AMD-V

RELATED: How to Enable Intel VT-x in Your Computer's BIOS or UEFI Firmware

Technically, this application uses QEMU, which makes use of the KVM Kernel-based virtual machine support to provide hardware-accelerated virtualization.

KVM requires either the Intel VT-x or AMD-V hardware virtualization extensions be present. On computers with Intel CPUs, you may have to head to the BIOS or UEFI settings screen to enable Intel VT-x hardware virtualization extensions. If you don’t have the hardware virtualization features, KVM won’t work — you’ll need to use VirtualBox or VMware for this instead. Boxes will inform you if your system doesn’t have the KVM hardware extensions available when you try to create a virtual machine.

Install GNOME Boxes

RELATED: How to Install KVM and Create Virtual Machines on Ubuntu

GNOME Boxes should be available in nearly every Linux distribution’s software repositories, as it is a part of the GNOME desktop environment. Head to your Linux distribution’s package manager or software installer and search for Boxes to install it.

Boxes should pull in everything else it needs when you install it, so there should be no further configuration required.

Boxes doesn’t completely replace Virt-Manager, which still offers more advanced features. For example, it has more ability to tweak virtual machine settings as well as support for creating and restoring virtual machine snapshots. If you want more advanced features like those, install Virt-Manager instead.

Create and Boot Virtual Machines

To get started, launch the Boxes application from your menus or run the gnome-boxes command. The Boxes window is a bit barren at first — that’s because the main window will hold a list of the virtual machines you create. Click the “New” button to set up a new virtual machine.

GNOME Boxes will display an introduction, explaining it can create local virtual machines that run on your PCs or virtual machines on a remote server.

Click through the wizard, providing an ISO file to install the virtual machine from. You can download Linux ISOs to virtualize or even get Windows ISO files from Microsoft — assuming you have a legitimate Windows product key to use, of course.

Like other virtualization tools, Boxes will automatically detect the operating system on the ISO file you provide and provide reccomended default settings. You should be able to just click “Continue” and go through the wizard, automatically accepting the default settings and get a virtual machine configured well for your system.

The “Customize” button on the Review screen allows you to adjust a handful of simple settings, such as how much memory you want to allocate to the virtual machine. More advanced configuration will require Virt-Manager instead of Boxes.

You can now just click Create to create the virtual machine and boot it for the first time with the installation media. Install the operating system normally in the virtual machine. When you open Boxes again, you’ll see a list of your installed virtual machines, allowing you to quickly launch them.

Boxes isn’t for everyone. More advanced features that still make use of QEMU-KVM can be found in VIrt-Manager. Other features may require  VirtualBox or VMware, which are more polished and mature applications with many easy-to-use features built in, including hardware driver packages like VirtualBox Guest Additions and VMware Tools that help accelerate virtual machine graphics further and enable features like access to USB devices plugged into your physical PC from within the virtual machine.

RELATED: How to use QEMU to boot another OS

But, if you’re looking for basic virtualization features in a simple application — one that uses Linux’s native KVM features and other open-source applications — give Boxes (or its bigger brother, Virt-Manager) a try. It should only become more powerful, flexible, and speedy as the underlying open-source virtualization software continues to improve.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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