Virtual Box Virtual Keys

While a new Mac OS X laptop might be the perfect system for hosting a cornucopia of virtual machines, you may soon discover that many of the Mac function keys are already used by your laptop subsystem. How do you get something as simple as F12 to access the virtual BIOS using VirtualBox?

Fortunately, VirtualBox includes a utility that can be used to direct these unusual keyboard sequences from a command prompt.One of the many benefits of the Mac keyboard is the utilitarian mappings provided by virtually every function key. There are dedicated function keys to adjust screen brightness, volume and even eject a disc from the DVD-ROM drive. When running VirtualBox, however, many of these function keys fail to deliver the expected results in the host operating system.

Fortunately, VirtualBox includes a utility that can be used to direct these unusual keyboard sequences from a command prompt. The application is called VBoxManage and it is easy to use from a command prompt. On your Mac, open a terminal window and at the resulting text prompt you can begin issuing commands. An extremely popular command is Ctrl + Alt + Delete, which can be used to bring up the Windows logon dialog on XP:

VBoxManage controlvm [name] keyboardputscancode 1d 38 e0 53

In place of [name] you should put your VM name; for example, if your VM is called WindowsXP then you would do the following:

VBoxManage controlvm WindowsXP keyboardputscancode 1d 38 e0 53

The cryptic hexidecimal characters represent the Ctrl+Alt+Delete key sequence, these values are described in greater detail on this site. Most of them will work as-advertised although in at least a few cases it may be necessary to simulate a key up or key down condition. The following table outlines some of the most common hex sequences that can be used with VirtualBox.

1d 38 e0 53 Ctrl + Alt + Delete Start Windows logon screen.
38 3b Alt + F1 Invoke OS/2 recovery screen.
06 3c F2 Standard F2 keypress.
06 42 F8 You will need this to agree to XP license terms.
07 58 F12 Press F12 to open BIOS.