running oracle virtualbox on macos 11.6 big sur

I run Linux virtual machines on my MacBook Pro. The MBP is a mid-2019 machine with an i9, 64 GiB of memory, and 4 TB of SSD. It is a powerful developer machine that has been in constant use since I purchased it last June.

One of the tasks I use the MBP for is running Linux virtual machines. For that purpose, there are two well-known tools; Oracle’s VirtualBox, which is open source and free, and Parallels Desktop, which is commercial. Both are capable of running most Linux distributions I care about, and Parallels is known for running Windows, and rather seamlessly, on the macOS desktop. The only problem is I have no need to run Windows as a VM, as the critical application Office is available as a native macOS application.

One major difference between VirtualBox and Parallels is that VirtualBox appears to need a kernel extension installed for its VMs to operate. VirtualBox ran just fine until I updated macOS to 11.6. It ran without issue on every release before that. When I stepped up to Big Sur 11.6, VirtualBox VMs would no longer boot.

Every time I would attempt to start a VirtualBox VM, I would get something like the following:

along with this:

Very annoying to say the least. I finally solved the problem thusly:

  • Boot the MBP into macOS recovery mode following these directions:
  • When in recovery mode, open a terminal (Utilities > Terminal), using the menus on the upper left.
  • In the terminal execute csrutil enable --without kext
  • In the terminal execute spctl kext-consent disable

Then reboot out of recovery mode and back into macOS. The next time you attempt to start a VirtualBox VM, you will succeed.

I ran into another issue when I upgraded from VirtualBox 6.1.26 to 6.1.28. Under 6.1.28 I ran into the same VM boot issue, even though the documented changes were still in place. When I downgraded back to 6.1.26 it all started to work again.

If you’re wondering why I just don’t run everything under Parallels, it’s because Fedora and some of the other distributions I need to run don’t work very well with Parallels. The only distribution that works without issue under Parallels, regardless of version, is Ubuntu or Ubuntu derived distributions. Most of the time I’m quite OK with Ubuntu, but every now and then I need to I need to dip into Fedora.

My final thoughts on all of this: I spent six grand on this MBP. It’s my MBP, and as far as I’m concerned it will do what I want it to do, not what someone else feels it should be doing. Installing and running a kernel extension on macOS should not be a problem, and blocking it from installing is laziness on someone’s part who’ve decided perhaps it’s too much trouble to make sure that capability continues to work from release to release. I’m sure that trying to get a kernel extension running on top of Apple Silicon probably doesn’t work at all, which is why I’m not rushing out to get a new machine using it. I’m not interested in finding out that I can no longer dive into the internals and do what I want it to do.

the better apple notebook made by google and friends

I’m now approaching my first month using the Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook, 13IML05. I purchased it from a Costco when it was selling for US$400, $100 less than what was claimed to be the regular price. It came with a tenth generation Intel Core I3 processor, 8GiB of RAM, and a 128GiB SSD. It’s powerful enough to drive the Chrome browser which is the centerpiece of Chrome OS on this notebook.

If you’re always in Chrome, if you’re using the web-based versions of major applications such as Microsoft’s Office 360, or if you prefer the Google equivalents to Word, Excel and PowerPoint (Docs, Sheets, and Slides), then paying twice or more for an equivalent machine from Apple is a waste of your money. Really.

Before you pipe up about how Google is stealing your personal information, let me remind you that your personal information has been mined and cross-correlated by data brokers for decades, long before everyone started to voluntarily share that with various web companies. After all, how many years did you have your address and phone number in the AT&T white pages? Remember the opening of the first Terminator movie? Just a few sheets of paper in a Terminator’s hands and he was off and killing all sorts of folks because they happened to be named Sarah Connor.

It has a long battery life, allowing me to sit in a comfortable piece of furniture and word smith. It’s light weight and comfortable and cool in operation. And if I want to get real crazy, I can open up a Linux shell and go do fairly complex Linux “stuff”, usually in shell or Python. Chrome OS is essentially Linux with the Chrome browser as the primary UI.

There will always be a niche need for something as complex as a MacBook Air or Pro. I get that. You need a Pro to edit video and do series “creative” work, except… It’s getting to the point where a lot of that can be pushed back up to the “cloud.” All you need is a UI into that, and you’re on your way to getting some serious work done.

As for the argument of being “locked in” by Google, what do you think you have using Apple products, or Microsoft products? I’m truly tired hearing the about the evils of Big Tech. In spite of what you might think, it’s not nearly as bad as the critics would make it all out. We get in “trouble” with Big Tech because we’re too lazy to think through to the consequences of our actions.

I enjoy using the Lenovo. I enjoy using the web-based tools (such as the latest WordPress editor, Gutenberg). I like the quality feel of the Lenovo, which I believe is at least as good as any MacBook Air. This also means I’m giving up my attempts to write using my iPad Pros. I’ll continue to use them as content consumption devices until they eventually die or else Apple refuses to eventually upgrade them with iOS. On that day, I’ll probably continue to further use them until they just die and I will then recycle them. But not replace them. I’ve purchased my last iPad.

A key part of my decision process is retirement. Whatever reason(s) I may have had to buy and use Apple gear is vanishing as time goes along. I no longer see the benefits, and I now question if I ever did or if I was just fooling myself into buying Apple gear because of the perceived coolness factor. Who knows anymore…