Finally got this to work properly. The biggest trap is that when it restores / upgrades / whatever, it changes its USB ID, so don’t filter just on what it is when its working, or it will get stuck in recovery mode. DAMHIK.:

  1. Install VirtualBox from the deb package at http://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Downloads
  2. Tell hal to keep away from monoliths: /etc/hal/fdi/policy/10-noiphone.fdi:

    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
    <deviceinfo version="0.2">
    <device>
    <match key="info.vendor" string="Apple, Inc.">
    <merge key="info.ignore" type="bool">true</merge>
    </match>
    </device>
    </deviceinfo>
    
  3. Tell usbhid to keep away too: /etc/modprobe.d/usbhid.conf:

    # iPhone
    options usbhid quirks=0x05ac:0x1294:0x04
    options usbhid quirks=0x05ac:0x1281:0x04
    

    Then run module-assistant update and reboot or otherwise reload the usbhid module

  4. Configure VirtualBox to allow a filter for all Apple products (0x05AC) and

    leave the other fields blank

  5. Start the virtual machine, select the iPhone device, run iTunes, etc.
  6. If restoring / updating / whatever, note that every time the iPhone disconnects and reconnects or changes its ID, you’ll need to reselect the device … so watch it while it is working and check the Devices >> USB Devices menu any time it seems to get stuck.

Refs / Thanks To

Update

Backing up the iPhone using iTunes on VirtualBox is godawful slow. CPU load is pegged at 80-90% of one CPU, and it takes hours. This page: http://forums.virtualbox.org/viewtopic.php?f=7&p=107254 helpfully mentions that it works okay if run from a smaller window, and despite the ludicrousness of this idea I gave it a go … CPU load is much lower and … well, its still slow, but it is at least moving.

Yep, took about an hour to back up ~15GB of stuff on the iPhone, as opposed to the several hours it used to take to get nowhere. Weird.

Update 2

I think that slowness problem is fixed in more recent versions … I’m now using VirtualBox 4.

Update 3

I use iTunes on Snow Leopard these days, and yes, you can make Snow Leopard run under VirtualBox if you try hard enough :-). It doesn’t seem to have the same slowdown problems.