How to Install Ubuntu on Your Mac Using VirtualBox

This in depth guide will take you every step of the way through installing Ubuntu Linux on your Mac, by way of VirtualBox – a free and outstanding program . Using this method you’ll be able to run Ubuntu and OS X at the same time!

The following guide uses Ubuntu 15.04 (“Vivid Vervet”), but the steps and screenshots are nearly identical for Ubuntu 14.04 (and 14.04.02, “Trusty Tahr”) – the previous LTS release, and Ubuntu Kylin 16.04.2 LTS – the current LTS. Whether you’re installing 14.04, 15.04 or 16.04, you’ll have no trouble following along.

Using this method to install Ubuntu not only allows you to run it and OS X at the same time, you can really try out Ubuntu – and if you don’t like it – very easily get rid of it. Plus, it will not affect the files in OS X itself at all. None of the data on your Mac is at risk of being deleted or altered. The entire process is actually quite straightforward – and all of the software involved is free – so why not give it a shot :)

  1. Before you get started, there are a few things that should be noted up front.
    1. Depending on the speed of your Internet connection, it might take a while to download Ubuntu. During the actual installation process, based on the version of Ubuntu you opt to install – you may have to spend some time downloading updates as well
    2. The installation time is about 20 minutes, depending on the speed of your Mac, amount of memory etc. You may want to make yourself a cup of coffee or tea before you start
    3. Running both Ubuntu and OS X at the same time will “slow down” your Mac. The more memory you have, the faster your CPU and/or hard drive is – the less you’ll notice it

    Let’s get started!

    1. First up, head over to the Ubuntu download page and download the 64-bit version of Ubuntu. From that page you’ll be able to download either “Ubuntu 14.04.2 LTS” or Ubuntu 15.04 (to download 15.04, scroll down a bit). No matter which version you opt to download, select the 64-bit version, and remember – using this guide, you’ll have no trouble installing either version – the steps and screenshots are almost identical. Remember where you saved the file!
    2. Now you’ll need to download and install VirtualBox. Visit their download page and click the link titled “x86/amd64” next to VirtualBox 4.3.28 for OS X hosts (which is the current stable version). Once the download has completed, open the .dmg file and run the installer. When the very straight forward installation is done, launch VirtualBox from your Applications folder.
    3. When VirtualBox opens, click the New button.

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    5. Give your “virtual machine” a name (something descriptive is good, but it doesn’t matter). Make sure the Type: is set to Linux and the Version: is Ubuntu (64 bit). Then click the Continue button.

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    7. Now you’re going to decide how much memory (RAM) you’re going to allocate to Ubuntu when it’s running, and how much to leave for OS X. As illustrated in the screenshot below, my total RAM is 4GB, so I allocated half of it to Ubuntu, and the other half to OS X. The more memory you give to Ubuntu, the faster it will run. The drawback is that OS X will have less to use while Ubuntu is running. At a minimum, give Ubuntu at 1GB (1024MB) of RAM. When you’ve decided how much memory (RAM) to give Ubuntu, click the Continue button.

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    9. On the Hard drive screen, select Create a virtual hard drive now and then click Create.

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    11. Now select VDI (VirtualBox Disk Image) and click Continue

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    13. Select Dynamically allocated and yep – you guessed it – click Continue

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    15. Give the “VirtualBox Disk Image” a name (again, doesn’t really matter, but descriptive is always helpful). Use the “slider” to determine the size you want to make the “hard drive” for Ubuntu. At a minimum, you’ll want to select 6GB – and that will not allow for you to install many programs, let alone store files etc. Keep in mind that because you selected “Dynamically allocated” in the previous step, that does not mean that VirtualBox is going to take up that space right away. It means that as Ubuntu needs more space, it will allow the “hard drive” to increase up to whatever size you set at this step.

      As illustrated in the screenshot below, I opted to give Ubuntu 8GB. That’s enough for the installation and to install quite a few programs. Since I won’t be “storing” many files in Ubuntu (movies, pictures, music etc) – 8GB will suit my needs. Plus, I have a small hard drive on my MacBook Air. If you have a big hard drive, you might as well allocate more rather than less, again – the space won’t be used until it’s needed. After you’ve made your selection, click Create.


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    17. Almost time to install Ubuntu! Click the Start button.

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    19. Right away you’ll be prompted to locate a file. Click the “folder” icon next to menu that says Empty (see screenshot below).

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    21. Navigate to the Ubuntu .iso file that you downloaded all the way back in step #1. Select it, and click Open

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    23. Now click Start

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    25. As Ubuntu boots for the very first time, VirtualBox will ‘pop up’ little messages explaining how the keyboard and mouse will work with your new ‘virtual machine’. Read them, then click the little X to close them.

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    27. Finally! Click Install Ubuntu

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    29. Ubuntu will run a quick test to ensure your computer is capable of running on it. Once it’s passed those tests, make sure to place a check in both of the boxes – Download updates while installing and Install this third-party softwarethen click the Continue button.

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    31. Select Erase disk and install Ubuntu. NOTE: this is not going to ‘wipe out’ or erase any data in OS X. None. It is safe to click Install Now, so do just that.

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    33. Click Continue

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    35. When prompted, select your Time Zone and then click Continue

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    37. Select the keyboard layout and language you want, then – yep – Continue

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    39. Fill in each field with the required information. When you’re done, Continue

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    41. Now it’s time to sit back and relax with that cup of coffee or tea. This may take a bit.

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    43. Yay! It’s done! Click Restart Now

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    45. If Ubuntu doesn’t start loading, and you’re left at a screen with what looks a bit like gibberish, have no fear. Click the OS X “Close” button (the red one in the upper left corner).

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    47. Select Power off the machine and click OK. You’ll be left back at the window illustrated in step #10. Just click the Start button again.

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    49. And you’ll boot into Ubuntu! Enter your password when prompted.

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    51. Welcome to the Ubuntu Desktop! At this point you should be connected to the Internet and completely ready to go – have fun!

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  • Evan Sitzes

    Awesome, easy to follow, and up to date!

  • Steve Fister

    If you have troubles installing Ubuntu on the VM where it crashes the installer with the message “Ubuntu error “Running post-installation trigger update-notifier-common””, recreate the VM and upon installation make sure you uncheck “Download updates while installing” (#16 in the instructions). This helped me get past the problem.

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  • Eric

    Great article. Got up and running in a jif.

  • sara

    i have problem in step 14 because it appear screen that i should select language then another step that do not mention in his steps please any recommended solution?

  • Jaydev

    Whenever I’m not using Ubuntu, will my OSX use full ram ?
    Also when I uninstall Ubuntu and Virtual box later, will the allocated space be reclaimed by OSX ?

  • @disqus_S8P2MsGUoS:disqus – correct! Think of VirtualBox as any other program – when you’re not using it (and it’s closed) – it’s not using any RAM. When you uninstall it, you get all of your space back :)

  • Chandrashekar M.M

    Hi Ross, I have downloaded – ubuntu-14.04.4-server-amd64.iso and VirtualBox-5.0.16-105871-OSX.dmg and installed Viertual box on my Mac os (v 10.11.3). After I tried to set up Ubuntu on virtual box and I am getting below error. Please help me. Thanks in advance.

    uncompression error
    Kernel Panic – not syncing: VFS: Unable to mount root fs on unknown-block(0,0)
    …..
    …..
    Kernel offset : disabled
    [end Kernel panic – not syncing: VFS: Unable to mount root fs on unknown-block(0,0)

  • Heya – sorry for the delay in answering! Looks like you’re trying to install the AMD version of Ubuntu instead of the x64/Intel.

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  • Teemu Leisti

    An excellent guide. Thank you.

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  • yongle

    with great detail, excellent!

  • Art Haedike

    Beautiful. Easy. Thank you!

  • Lei

    Thank you!

  • Sandeep Mohan

    Thanks it worked for me. You made it very easy.

  • wow thanks!

  • Reginaldo Vidal Canova

    Thank you for the well described procedure. Unfortunetly for me, after the installation and restart, it returns to step 15 – as if the Ubuntu was not installed after all. Is there any advice to solve this problem?

  • Rafał

    Awesome! Thanks! :)

  • Prabhu

    Hi Ross
    Thanks for your step-by-step and detailed tutorial, it was very easy to follow. I was able to install it on my Mac mini with ease