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If you’ve never used one before, virtual machines can be overwhelming. Not that they’re difficult to use, but they’re unlike any other kind of app and that unfamiliarity is what scares most off. In practice, virtual machines are simple What Is a Virtual Machine? What Is a Virtual Machine? Virtual machines allow you to run other operating systems within your current operating system, but why does that matter? What are the pros and cons? Read More and extremely useful.

The toughest hurdle to getting started is deciding which virtual machine software to use. Several options exist, but if you don’t want to pay a cent, then only two are worth discussing: VirtualBox and VMware Workstation Player.

In this post, we’ll compare both of them and help you decide which one you should use. For this comparison, we’ll be looking at VirtualBox 5.1.26 and VMware Workstation Player 12.5.7.

Price

While VirtualBox and VMware are both free, they aren’t equally free.

The core engine that drives VirtualBox is licensed under GPLv2 and open source in the truest sense Open Source vs. Free Software: What's the Difference and Why Does It Matter? Open Source vs. Free Software: What's the Difference and Why Does It Matter? Many assume "open source" and "free software" mean the same thing but that's not true. It's in your best interest to know what the differences are. Read More , but the “extension pack” is under Oracle’s proprietary license and is only free for personal use, educational use, or evaluation purposes.

VMware Workstation Player is the free version of VMware Workstation Pro, meant strictly for students, non-profit organizations, and personal or home use. The catch is that you have to sign up for the occasional VMware promotional email. Commercial use requires the Pro version.

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For casual home users who just want to run old and deprecated software 7 Practical Reasons to Start Using a Virtual Machine 7 Practical Reasons to Start Using a Virtual Machine The term "virtual" has been co-opted in so many ways. Virtual reality. Virtual RAM. Virtual schools. But Virtualization in the context of PCs can be confusing. We're here to clear it up. Read More or test new operating systems Testing A New Operating System? Stay Secure With A Virtual Machine Testing A New Operating System? Stay Secure With A Virtual Machine Read More , they’re both free so you have nothing to worry about.

Ease of Use

To compare, I installed Elementary OS 0.4.1 in both virtual machines, then ran both of them (not at the same time) and used them as I would any normal machine.

VirtualBox has a wizard that walks you through the creation of a new virtual machine. It makes recommendations for how much RAM and hard drive space to set aside based on your system’s hardware. Launching a virtual machine is as easy as clicking Start, and again it walks you along every step of the way. I was up and running within minutes.

Learn more in our guide to setting up VirtualBox.

VMware Workstation Player’s setup wizard is even easier, allowing you to tweak aspects that can only be done in VirtualBox after the fact (e.g. how many CPU cores to dedicate). Unlike VirtualBox, VMware doesn’t recommend values so first timers may feel unsure how to proceed. But overall? VMware’s interface is simpler and less intimidating.

Learn more in our guide to setting up VMware Workstation Player Run Multiple Operating Systems At Once With VMware Player Run Multiple Operating Systems At Once With VMware Player We’ve lavished attention on VirtualBox here at MakeUseOf, and for good reason. However, VirtualBox isn’t your only option for creating and using free virtual machines. VMware Player, VMware’s free product, is every bit as good... Read More .

Performance

VirtualBox is among the slowest virtual machine solutions currently available. It was never very fast to begin with, but ever since it was acquired by Oracle in 2010, performance has slowly but surely degraded.

To be fair, if you’re going to run a virtual machine, you should be doing it on a powerful computer because virtualization is slow How Does Emulation Work and Why Is It So Slow? How Does Emulation Work and Why Is It So Slow? You've probably heard of emulation before, but do you know what emulation actually means or how it works? Read More . And if your computer is powerful enough, you won’t notice the relative slowness of VirtualBox. It’s not terrible — it just isn’t as fast as it could be.

VMware Workstation Player, on the other hand, has excellent performance. When running the same guest operating system in both virtual machines with the same amount of resources allocated, I find that VMware is without question faster and more responsive.

If you have to run virtualization on a mediocre system, or if you plan on spending a lot of time in a virtual machine every day, then VMware is clearly superior. But if your system is top-of-the-line, you can go with either one.

Compatibility and Reliability

One of the more interesting uses for a virtual machine is the ability to clone an existing operating system Create a Virtual Machine Clone of Your Existing Windows Hard Drive Create a Virtual Machine Clone of Your Existing Windows Hard Drive Virtualization allows one operating system (OS) to run on another OS. We'll show you how to create a virtual machine clone of your system and how to use it. Read More and virtualize it on another computer. Programmers, for example, can clone their Linux development environment, virtualize it on a Windows computer, and keep working. In order to do that, the virtual machines need to be compatible with both systems.

This is one area where VirtualBox surpasses VMware. You can set up a virtual machine, save a snapshot, move the virtual data as is, and immediately launch it on another computer as is. It will be exactly as you expect. Snapshots and clones aren’t available in VMware’s free version.

However, when it comes to reliability, things flip around. When using VirtualBox, you’re likely to run into bugs and glitches. I’ve used VirtualBox every so often throughout the years, on several different computers, and it has never been a 100 percent smooth ride. On the other hand, VMware’s stability and dependability are its main selling points.

Other Points of Interest

If you’ve gotten this far and still aren’t leaning in one way or the other, then the deciding factor comes down to which software’s features and quirks you prefer. Here are some notable points that may push you off the fence in either direction.

VirtualBox

  • Snapshots
    When you take a snapshot, you save the entire state of the virtual machine at that moment. Think of it like a save state in a video game: at any time later, you can “load” the snapshot and return to how it was when you took it.
  • Extension pack
    Incorporates even more features, like support for USB 2.0 and 3.0 devices, encryption of virtual disks, remote desktop protocol, and more.

VMware Workstation Player

  • Encrypted virtual machines
    In other words, password-protected virtual machines that can’t be powered on unless you have the right credentials. You can also enable restrictions that prevent users from editing a virtual machine’s configuration.

Features in Both

VirtualBox vs. VMware: The Winner Is…

You didn’t really think one would be strictly better than the other, did you? They’ve both been around for quite a while, and there’s a reason why both still exist: they’re both excellent.

However, a quick summary of which one you might prefer:

What do you use virtual machines for? Do you prefer VirtualBox or VMware? If you know of any alternatives that are better than both, please let us know. Share with us in the comments!

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  1. Roy Verrips
    August 17, 2017 at 9:21 pm

    You're assuming the host PC is Windows, right? VMware Player isn't available for MacOS - My understanding the VMware player for MacOS (Fushion) is a paid only product, so VirtualBox is a better option there.

    Also, as mentioned Windows 8 (64-bit) and up has Hyper-V built in.

    Yours

    Roy

  2. John
    August 17, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    "Snapshots and clones aren’t available in VMware’s free version." That's a deal breaker for me.

  3. likefunbutnot
    August 17, 2017 at 6:08 pm

    I should also point out that VirtualBox can open and use files from Hyper-V and VMware hosts and has command-line software to shift file formats from one to the other. This makes it very useful for data migrations and file recovery, even if it's not used as an actual Hypervisor.

  4. likefunbutnot
    August 17, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    Hyper-V is already built in to Windows if you have a Professional license . It's not perfect either, but since it works natively with Windows backup tools, it's worth discussing. Of particular note, Hyper-V supports PCIe routing, so guest OSes can have access to things like GPUs if they are available.

  5. Charlie S.
    August 17, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    I tried both VMware and VirtualBox on my Win 10 Home machine and neither worked well, unfortunately. Specifically, I tried to run Windows XP under each and each had a different problem. VMware suffered from a nasty bug where XP's sound would crackle uncontrollably. My mouse pointer would also have a habit of slowing down to the point where trying to use WinXP under VMware was just not possible. Apparently, from discussions I found on the user forums that I visited looking for a solution, the sound bug has been in VMware for years now. As for VirtualBox, it wouldn't even recognize my source DVD drive. So, I couldn't even get Windows XP to load into VirtualBox's setup at all. That said, I've given up on VMware as far as running Windows XP goes. I'll give VirtualBox another try, though, some day as, maybe the drive recognition problem may have had something to do with another app interfering with Virtual Box. Maybe.

    • likefunbutnot
      August 17, 2017 at 6:04 pm

      I can't say I've encountered the VirtualBox bug that you're describing, but it's incredibly simple to copy a readable CD into a .ISO file. Most CD/DVD burning applications (e.g. ImgBurn, CDBurnerXP) will do that in about three minutes.

      It's also very easy to obtain the .MSU files containing the Windows 7 XP Mode virtual machine and convert that in to whatever VM format you'd like. There are google-able instructions for doing that all over the internet.

    • Admin232
      August 18, 2017 at 3:38 pm

      Try using an ISO for the XP install - Virtualbox can load virtual CDs.

      I'm using Linux Mint with a virtual XP (and Windows 7 64 bit) running in Virtualbox - no issues at all. Software including Visual Studio run without any issues.

    • Rick S.
      August 19, 2017 at 2:20 am

      Make an .iso of your Windows dvd This will reside on your hard drive in a folder of your choice . Next setup a new virtual drive click on "storage" click on disk icon (empty) in the windowed box center of your monitor. Next select "live " far right windowed box if this a Live Linux disk (.iso) if Windows only click the disk icon that is after this line : "Optical Drive IDE Secondary Master " (icon) of a optical drive. The drop down menu Will allow you to search for the folder that the iso resides in. Last click "ok". and you should be able to start your machine. Noobs lab has pre made Vm's. Nice .iso's maybe found at distrowatch linux mint is a XP similar distro also my favorite I quit using windows so long ago it is foggy memory.

  6. Rinaldo
    August 17, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    I'll give VMware a try since I've been having problems with USB passthrough in VirtualBox