GNOME Boxes is a well-designed way to set up and manage virtualized guest systems from your Linux host system. It can also be used to connect and manage remote connections to screen-sharing or virtualized systems on remote machines. For my needs, I’m running Windows 10 in Boxes with good results, and so can you.
You’ll need a few things ready before you begin:
- GNOME Boxes 3.16 or later installed. Version 3.18 resolves some compatibility issues with Windows 10.
- An Intel Virtualization Technology (VT-x) capable or similar virtualization capable processor. Only the very cheapest processors don’t have this, but you may need to enable it in BIOS first.
- At least 4 GB of system memory.
- A Windows 10 ISO installation media available for download from Microsoft
- A valid Windows Product Key for OEM installations. You can skip this during the install, but you will need to provide one within 30-days of installation.
All current Linux distributions offer the gnome-boxes package as part of their package repository. It can be installed separately and the GNOME desktop includes Boxes by default, but your Linux distribution may have removed it in favor of other options. Boxes is very user-friendly and offer good performance built on standard Linux technologies, so please do consider switching to Boxes if you’ve used other virtualization options until now.
Installing Windows 10 in GNOME Boxes
- Launch GNOME Boxes and click the “New” button in the top left corner.
- Select the ISO for the operating system you want to install. If you’ve downloaded the Windows installation media (or any other ISO file) to your Home folder’s Download folder, it will be listed right there in Boxes.
- On the next screen, assign the Windows guest system at least 3 GB of memory, and 20 GB of disk space. The guest will run more comfortably with 6 GB of memory and 34 GB of disk space.
- Click the Create button the regular Windows installer will boot up.
- After choosing language and region, you’ll be asked to enter a Windows 10 product key. You’ve some options for how to proceed from here:
- Reuse a spare Windows 7 or 8 product key, if you’ve a boxed copy lying around that you’re not using anymore. Home, Pro, Premium, and Ultimate editions are eligible for a free update to Windows 10.
- Purchase a Windows 10 Pro product key as a download.
- Proceed with the installation without entering a product key by clicking “I don’t have a product key.” You can evaluate whether Windows 10 works well enough for you in GNOME Boxes and buy a product key later. You must login with a Microsoft Account if you don’t enter a product key now.
- Choose “Custom” you get the “Which type of installation do you want?” screen, but just click Next to proceed with the default options. You can just ignore the partitioning screen.
Let the installation run its course. When the installation is complete, you’ll be presented with the normal first-time start-up wizard for setting up a user account. You can watch a video of the complete installation process if you want to see GNOME Boxes in action.
Once you’ve got Windows 10 up and running you’ll need to do a few more things to get Windows 10 and GNOME to be fully integrated.
To enable screen resizing and clipboard sharing, you need to download and install the Windows guest tools for Spice. The download link is quite far down on the download page, and be wary of all the other downloads offered. You want the one called “Windows guest tools” under the “Guest” headline. Run the installer and you’re all set up. There is no need to reboot the system unless your mouse cursor “jitters” after installing it.
After installing the guest tools, you can resize GNOME Boxes window or take it full screen and the guest system will adjust to the new screen dimensions automatically. Things you copy onto the clipboard will now also be shared between the two machines, so you can exchange links and other text data between the guest and host system (or even between two guest systems – something that never works reliably with VirtualBox!) You can disable clipboard sharing if you desire stronger system isolation by disabling the option in Boxes menu: Properties: General: Share Clipboard.
Self-configuring audio output for Windows 10 and 8 in GNOME Boxes is pending on bug #761031. To get audio working you can use one of these two options:
Option 1: Modify libvirt qemu files. Open Boxes, perform a full shut down of the virtual machine, and note the auto-assigned name given to the virtual machine. Open up the Terminal and type EDITOR=gedit virsh edit YOURBOXNAME. If you’ve modified the name after installing, you can find the file in ~/.config/libvirt/qemu/, but don’t edit it directly — rather use the name with the previous command. Locate the line that says
<sound model='ac97'> within the file and replace it with
<sound model='ich6'>. Save and close the file. The next time you boot up the virtual system, you’ll have working sound. In low memory environments, you should consider the next option instead.
Option 2: Use a USB audio card and pass it through to the guest system. Connect a USB audio card and open the Boxes menu: Properties: Devices. Locate the USB sound card and enable it. With any recent Linux Kernel, you should have no problem hot-swapping (connecting and disconnecting between running systems) such a card to share it between the Linux host and guest systems. I’m using the cheapest USB CM108 sound card I could find and have had no issues with it. This can give a better and less stuttery audio performance.