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 as VirtualBox for many users. You may even prefer it to VirtualBox.
If you’re not sure what a virtual machine is, be sure to read What Is a Virtual Machine?. We’ve also covered a list of creative uses for virtual machines. You can even turn your current PC into a virtual machine so you’ll have access to it even after it dies.
Player vs. Workstation
VMware Player runs on Windows and Linux. There’s no VMware Player for Mac OS X – VMware would prefer people use their paid Mac virtualization program, VMware Fusion. (Of course, if you’re a Mac user, you can always use VirtualBox for free instead.)
Player was originally intended as a barebones product for home users. While the first version didn’t even allow you to create your own virtual machines, VMware Player has grown more features over time. It now includes the ability to create virtual machines, install guest operating systems, and manage your virtual machines. You can modify the virtual machines’ hardware, although the paid VMware Workstation offers more settings. If you prefer not to do the dirty work yourself, you can download “virtual appliances” – pre-created virtual machines you’ll find online.
Player also includes the ability to drag and drop files to and from the virtual machines to easily share them, enable 3D acceleration, use “Unity mode” to make windows from a virtual machine part of your host operating system’s desktop, and do most of the other things the average home user would want to do with virtual machines.
So what’s the catch? VMware Player can only be used for noncommercial purposes. It also lacks the ability to create “snapshots” and “clones” of a virtual machine. Some of the more advanced hardware settings are also not available. However, if you’re a home user that never uses these features in VirtualBox, you may want to give Player a try.
Why VMware Player?
Considering VirtualBox has more features on paper, why would anyone want to use VMware Player? It’s anecdotal, but I’ve found VMware Player to be easier to use, more compatible, and less buggy in the past. I’ve also found features like drag-and-drop file transfers and connecting USB devices easier to set up in VMware. The interface is a bit cleaner than VirtualBox’s – although it does offer a few less features.
VMware Player also has some nice features VirtualBox doesn’t have. Easy Install saves you time by automatically performing an unattended installation when you start installing a recognized operating system. For example, if you’re installing Windows 7 in a virtual machine, VMware will ask you a few questions at the start of the installation and then complete the installation on its own, automatically answering the questions as appropriate.
If you’re happy with VirtualBox, that’s fine – but if you encounter issues, you may want to try VMware Player instead. We haven’t seen any hard benchmarks comparing the two. It’s possible the one which is faster, more stable, and better all-around will depend on the hardware and operating systems you use.
Using VMware Player
Using VMware Player is simple. Click the Create a Virtual Machine link in the application and you’ll be prompted for an installer disc or an ISO file. If VMware Player recognizes the disc and knows the operating system you’re installing, it will use Easy Install to quickly install the operating system. Enter the information and, once you get started, Alt+Tab away from VMware Player or leave your computer for a while – VMware Player will handle the installation on its own. If Easy Install isn’t supported, you can install the operating system normally.
Before the installation starts, you’ll be able to customize the virtual hardware VMware Player is using. However, VMware Player will try to choose the best settings on its own, so you can probably leave the default settings alone.
The operating systems you’ve installed will appear in the list in VMware Player’s main window. You can double-click a virtual machine to start it, as you would with other virtual machine programs. You can also modify the virtual machine’s hardware settings, although many settings can only be changed while the virtual machine is fully powered-off.
VMware Player has a fairly simple interface – you can use the options on the toolbar to activate full-screen mode, enable Unity mode (where a virtual machine’s window will appear directly on your main desktop), connect and disconnect USB devices from the virtual machine, and more.
VMware Player and VirtualBox are both listed on our Best Windows Software page, where we collect the best applications we find for Windows. Take a look!
Which virtual machine program do you prefer? Do you use VMware Player, VirtualBox, or something else? Leave a comment to share your favorite and what makes it the best.