VirtualBox is a great tool enabling you to run multiple operating systems on one computer without the need to reboot every single time you need to switch between them. Windows 7 is one of the best operating systems to run in a virtual machine especially if you are a Linux or Mac user. But, when you install it, you initially have no support for the Windows Aero effects which is really what gives Windows 7 that slick modern look.
As you can see from the image above, Windows 7 is pretty blocky and ugly without the Windows Aero effects. But, did you know that is actually quite easy to enable them in a VirtualBox VM? Well, it is. Follow the steps below to find out just how easy it is.
What You Need
The most recent version of VirtualBox available and a working Windows 7 virtual machine.
Before You Begin
Before we get started, we need to prep our Windows 7 virtual machine. If your Windows 7 VM is running, shut it down. Select the Windows 7 Virtual Machine in the list in VirtualBox. Go to Settings > Display. In order for Windows Aero to function properly, you need to set the video memory to a minimum of 128 MB but if you can spare the memory it will perform better if you set it to 256 MB. Once you have adjusted your video memory check Enable 3D Acceleration. Click ok and then start up your Windows 7 virtual machine.
Install the VirtualBox Guest Additions
With your Windows 7 virtual machine active, go up to the menu at the top and go to Devices > Install Guest Additions. This will mount a cd in your Windows 7 VM and run an installer. If the User Account Control prompts you click Yes. Follow the installer until you get to the Choose Components window.
In this window check “Direct 3D Support (Experimental)”. VirtualBox will then remind you that it is experimental and ask you a trick question.
It actually asks if you want to install basic Direct3D support instead which you actually don’t want. You want the new experimental Direct 3D Support. Click No. It will then remind you to adjust your virtual machine’s video memory (which we have already done). Click OK. Click Install.
You will then be asked to a device driver, obviously you do but the default answer is Don’t Install so be sure you click on Install and do not just press Enter. Once the install completes, you will be prompted to reboot the virtual machine. Click Finish and let the system reboot.
Now, the moment of truth. Once your virtual machine has rebooted and you have logged in right click on the Desktop and go to Personalize. Scroll up until you find the Aero themes and choose your favorite. If everything works ok you will now have a fancy looking Windows 7 virtual machine running Windows Aero in all its glory and with the Guest Additions installed, you can even resize the Window for an even better look at your virtual machine.
Not too shabby is it. It’s nice to have all the whiz bang effects on your virtual machine because, well, it looks good! I will warn you though, while my experience has been pretty uneventful while using the Aero effects in my virtual machine, your mileage may vary depending on the speed of your host machine and how much memory you have and what you do with your virtual machine while it is running. But, if you are like me, you will end up with the slick Windows 7 interface running inside your VM with no trouble at all.