Qubes OS Review – Every Application Running in Isolated Xen VM


Qubes OS – Linux Fedora-based Distribution focused on security through isolation with Xen virtualization. Qubes OS developed by Joanna Rutkowska; in this review I use latest version – 3.0. Also available installation DVD and LiveUSB. Basic hardware requirements – 64bit Intel of AMD CPU with VT-x/VT-d or AMD-v/AMD IOMMU technologies, minimum 4 GB RAM.


Qubes architecture is domain based: administrative domain (Dom0) and other Xen-based domains. Here is a simple list:

  • Dom0 – administrative domain with direct access to hardware and X server and without network access
  • Network domain – the another isolate virtual machine
  • Storage domain – used to encrypted disk storage access. One basic filesystem is shared to another virtual machines, the difference it’s only in user directories.
  • Application domains – special domains of application hosting: browser, IDE, email-client and others. General domains: personal, banking, works and others. You can also run two and more applications in single domain.

Every virtual machine uses X-server for graphics and fake video driver that translate video output to general KDE comsositor.


Qubes OS uses the KDE desktop environment with some application from GNOME and Xfce. Applications in one domain have the same color of window. Difference classes of applications (network access, hardware access, data storage) running not in one virtual machine. Every application has a personal storage.

Qubes VM Manager – tool for VM controls: settings of every application with their VM can be changed. You can also run console commands in virtual machines.

Classic applications in basic system without virtual machines is also available.

Nice illustration from Wikipedia
Nice illustration from Wikipedia


Very interested non-typical architecture and can be used in real life. Bad side – need the powerful hardware and a lot of memory – 8-16 GB for typical desktop.



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  • Matthias Schuster Scharmer

    It support now Debian and Windows as well.