Why Does Ubuntu Server Install Fail in Virtualbox?

Why Does Ubuntu Server Install Fail in Virtualbox?
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There are few things better in computing than virtualization, a superb technology that lets users and administrators alike sample PCs, networks and servers in a whole host of different ways. Virtualization is so common now that most people don’t even realize when it is in use, but it is a technology that drives websites as much as it allows the testing of new software in a safe and secure environment.

One of the most popular virtualization solutions is VirtualBox, software that is ideal for creating and running a virtual machine in Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and Solaris. Like the more famous VMware, VirtualBox enables you to configure a virtual machine and then install an operating system upon it.

Common uses for VirtualBox include installing Linux distros in Windows or Mac OS, and in particular this use allows more and more people to become familiar with Linux without having to throw themselves in at the deep end.

VirtualBox can also be used to install Linux Ubuntu server operating systems, although this isn’t always entirely successful.

Advantages of VirtualBox

VirtualBox is open-source and free, which is why it is often chosen in preference to VMware. However, the latter has become largely free to use over recent years, so why isn’t it more commonly used for tasks such as this?

The truth is, as useful and impressive as VMware is, VirtualBox is more suited to small-scale projects whereas VMware is particularly suited to use by many people regardless of the project and system dynamic.

More crucially, perhaps, is the fact that VirtualBox is comparatively small and compact, using fewer system resources than VMware Player, for instance, as well as being quicker to start-up and configure.

Regardless of the virtualization choice, however, issues with the installation and setup of Ubuntu or Ubuntu server are not limited to a particular solution – they occur on physical machines as well. Thanks to virtualization it is easier to resolve these faults.

Disabling 3D Acceleration

VirtualBox in action

One common issue affecting Ubuntu server installs is the impact of having 3D acceleration active. This is a problem with the OS that goes back several years and is one that is still to be resolved. The best way around this issue is to disable 3D acceleration within your virtual machine, something that is relatively easy to do.

In VirtualBox, select the apparently failed installation of Ubuntu and click Settings > Display. Here you can alter the amount of memory assigned to video using the Video Memory slider as well as add up to 8 monitors.

What you are specifically looking for, however, is the Extended Features section, where two options, Enable 3D Acceleration and Enable 2D Video Acceleration, can be selected or deselect via check boxes. Clear the Enable 3D Acceleration checkbox, click OK and then select the VM and click Start – it should boot up successfully!

Resolving Mouse Issues with the XORG.CONF File

While the 3D acceleration issue is common, it is not the only fault that can prevent the installation of Ubuntu in VirtualBox.

More common are issues with the mouse, preventing you from interacting with the installed server. This creates the impression of a failed setup, when in actual fact everything has gone as planned.

In order to resolve input-related issue, you will need to install the VirtualBox Guest Additions software. You can start the process of adding this by starting the virtual machine and then opening Devices > Install Guest Additions… and following the displayed instructions.

It shouldn’t be long before you have the Guest Additions software installed, and you will then be ready to edit the xorg.conf file. But hold on - if the GUI won’t accept input from the mouse, how do we force it to recognize that we’re trying to login?

The answer is to take advantage of the command line in VirtualBox. This can be accessed by pressing the Host Key + F2 (the Host Key is whatever is selected to switch control from the virtual machine to your host operating system).

Once you have access to the command line, you will need to issue a command to open the xorg.conf file:

vim /etc/X11/xorg.conf

Now that you have opened the xorg.conf file, make sure the following code is added:

Section “InputDevice”

Identifier “vboxmouse”

Driver “vboxmouse”

Option “CorePointer”

Option “Device” “/dev/input/mice”


You should then save and close xorg.conf and restart the virtual machine. Ubuntu should now load without any further problems!


  1. Author’s own experiences.
  2. HOWTO: Install Linux Guest Additions + Xorg config
  3. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Sertion
  4. Screenshot provided by the author.