Using virtualization software to run different operating systems on one computer has become very popular in today’s technological world, and with good reason. As most of you likely already know, virtualization means creating a virtual version of things, such as network resources or storage devices.
So, operating system virtualization allows your computer’s hardware to run many operating system images simultaneously. One of the most used instances of this is to test software or applications in a different environment, rather than on a different computer. This can potentially save you quite a bit of money by running multiple servers virtually on one computer.
So, let’s take a look at the top OS virtual machine applications for Windows computers.
What’s better than great, functional software? Functional and free software. VirtualBox has passed through a few different hands but is now owned by Oracle. It’s open-source, hence it’s free price tag, and has a large number of features to back it up.
According to their website, VirtualBox is “a general-purpose full virtualizer for x86 hardware, targeted at server, desktop, and embedded use.” And although this list is specifically for Windows computers, it’s nice to note that it’s also available on Mac and Linux machines.
This product is a Type 2 hypervisor, so it’s a virtualization host software that runs on an already established operating system as an application. A Type 1 hypervisor, instead, is “host software that runs on what’s now known as ‘bare metal.' ” This essentially means that it runs on a computer without an operating system.
Some examples of Type 1 hypervisors include Hyper-V, Xen, and OpenVZ. Additionally Type 1 hypervisors “run cloud-hosted environments, server virtualization environments, and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI).” Type 2 hypervisors, though, run a single guest virtual machine on local systems.
VirtualBox is loved as a Type 2 hypervisor mainly because it’s not required to reboot the system to run the other operating system on your computer nor maintain the typically more expensive Type 1 hypervisor systems.
This program integrates with your pointer and you’re able to create “snapshots,” one of VirtualBox’s main selling points. These snapshots allow you to boot up your machine from any point that you’ve saved in its history. It’s also possible to share your clipboard between the virtualized and host operating system.
A few complaints about this virtualization software is that its “seamless” mode isn’t the best experience, as it “carries the entire toolbar of the guest OS with it.”
VMWare’s free version is VirtualBox’s top competitor. It provides a secure and isolated environment for all your virtualization software needs, such as evaluating new operating systems or testing patches. While VirtualBox works with Windows, Mac, and Linux computers, VMWare functions on Windows and Linux, not Mac.
With this software, users are able to “replicate server, desktop, and tablet environments on a virtual machine, to run applications simultaneously across operating systems without rebooting.”
Essentially, the Player is for those who have the need to create and run virtual machines, but not on a larger scale. Also, it's good to know that it's a Type 2 hypervisor, just like VirtualBox.
With the free version, you get the ability to create new VMs simply, have access to over 200 supported guest OSs, mass deployment, host/guest file sharing, have 3D graphics with DX10 and OpenGL 3.3 support, the ability to run encrypted VMs, and more.
While it has a higher price point, there are quite a few things the Pro version offers that isn’t available to the free users. Using VMWare Workstation Pro, you can connect to vSphere, ESXi, and other Workstation servers to manage virtual machines and physical hosts.
Also, feel safe with this virtualization software by having the ability to encrypt and password-protect virtual machines, as well as isolating corporate desktops from BYO devices by “disabling copy-and-paste, drag-and-drop, share folders and access to USB devices.”
With the free version, you are able to run encrypted VM, but with Pro, you can create and manage encrypted VMs. You are also able to run multiple VMs at one time, share VMs as a server, have snapshots, and some other features not available to free users.
So, now onto the costs, which the website makes understanding a bit confusing. Don't worry, though -- we've simplified it for you.
You can download the free VMware Workstation 12.5 Player for Windows 64-bit on their website, where they claim that this free version “is available for non-commercial, personal and home use.” They also “encourage students and non-profit organizations to benefit from this offering.”
Commercial organizations, however, must pay for licenses required to use Workstation Player.
If you need to buy Workstation 12.5 Player “Streamlined PC Virtualization for Business,” this will cost you $149.99 (or $79.99 to upgrade a pre-existing version). If, instead, you want to go for the Workstation 12.5 Pro, it’ll set you back $249.99 to buy (or $149.99 to upgrade).
So, which should you choose?
If you need virtualization software for a large company or organization, Workstation Pro is the right choice. It’s received great reviews from thousands of users and is generally very reliable software. It has a number of different useful features that we've gone over and is regularly upgraded.
The harder decision comes into play when you consider Player vs. VirtualBox.
VirtualBox truly has a lot of support because it's open-source and free. Being open-source means that recent releases are sometimes a bit buggy, but also that they typically get fixed relatively quickly.
With VMWare player, instead, you have to wait for the company to release an update to fix the bugs, but this software has proven to be, overall, quite reliable with quick fixes, and many users believe that it runs more smoothly.
Honestly, many users are split between these two products, and a large portion of it comes down to preference. VMWare Player is seen as having a better drag-and-drop between host and VM, yet VirtualBox offers you an unlimited number of snapshots (something that only comes in VMWare Workstation Pro).
If you don’t need your VM for enterprise solutions and you like that it is open-source software, go with VirtualBox as your virtualization software. It’s easy to install, takes a smaller amount of resources, and is many people’s first choice. Instead, if you prefer a smoother interface and more functional drag-and-drop between hosts, you should choose VMWare, which an equally large number of people swear by.
Overall, though, they’re both great products and it comes down to preference. Take a look at the features listed in this article and decide what’s most important to you.