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VMware Workstation vs. VirtualBox vs. Parallels 289

Posted by timothy
from the can't-you-be-content-with-the-actual-box? dept.
snydeq writes "InfoWorld's Randall Kennedy takes an in-depth look at VMware Workstation 7, VirtualBox 3.1, and Parallels Desktop 4, three technologies at the heart of 'the biggest shake-up for desktop virtualization in years.' The shake-up, which sees Microsoft's once promising Virtual PC off in the Windows 7 XP Mode weeds, has put VirtualBox — among the best free open source software available for Windows — out front as a general-purpose VM, filling the void left by VMware's move to make Workstation more appealing to developers and admins. Meanwhile, Parallels finally offers a Desktop for Windows on par with its Mac product, as well as Workstation 4 Extreme, which delivers near native performance for graphics, disk, and network I/O. 'There's some genuine innovation going on, especially in the areas of hardware support and application compatibility,' Kennedy writes. 'All support 32- and 64-bit Windows and Linux hosts and guests, and all have added compelling new VM management capabilities, ranging from automated snapshots to live VM migration.'"
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VMware Workstation vs. VirtualBox vs. Parallels

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  • by drinking12many (987173) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @04:48PM (#30463596)
    If cost is an issue why do these reviews forget the free VMWare Server it does most everything most users would need at no cost vs workstation
    • by phantomcircuit (938963) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @04:53PM (#30463670) Homepage

      It does not do accelerated 3d. That is clearly one of the main features for 'normal' users trying to play games in their VM.

      • by dlanod (979538) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @05:12PM (#30463954)

        "Normal" users play games in their VM?

        Actually now that you raise that point, it's not as bizarre as it sounds. I was getting ready to ridicule it but giving Linux the ability to play Wine unsupported games and Windows 7 the ability to play WinXP-dependant games with decent performance may be one of the main consumer drivers of virtual machines. Though I'm not holding my breath on it being widespread just yet.

      • It does not do accelerated 3d. That is clearly one of the main features for 'normal' users trying to play games in their VM.

        The only games I play on a VM are the ones too old to work on XP, designed for DOS and pre 95 windows.

        And believe me, they do not need accelerated 3d.

        Anyone who is able to launch a VM of whatever OS they want to play whatever game they want is probably better off just installing it on a seperate partition, because there's no sense in playing a game while running 2 operating systems at once.

        • Unfortunately, a certain company [gametap.com] offers some free games, but their DRM system doesn't work on Windows x64.

          This line-up includes 3D accelerated games.

          • But why eat up twice the memory to run 2 Operating systems to run a graphicly intensive game instead of partitioning it and having a dual boot option?

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by mabhatter654 (561290)

              With 4GB+ RAM and 4+ cores why not! ... the video cards now meet minimum SYSTEM requirements of only 2-3 years ago.

            • by NotQuiteInsane (981960) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @06:09PM (#30464998) Homepage

              Because with a dual-boot system, you have to reboot to switch between games and work. With a virtualised second OS, you just kill off (or suspend) the VM when you want to do some work again. Also, if you've suspended the VM, you can carry on right where you left off, no save-games necessary (which more often than not leave you at some arbitrary place in the level, rather than where you were when you saved).

              Maybe I'm just lazy...

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Hurricane78 (562437)

                Well, you can even create multiple snapshots, and so if you have to make a big descision in a game, you can actually choose to go both ways! I call that a great function! :)

                If only VMs weren’t so horribly slow.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by AP31R0N (723649)

          If partitions can offer the same kind of flexibility as VMs then sure.

          With some VM systems, it is possible to have forks off a central VM. i could have MAIN, MAIN + GAME1, MAIN + GAME2.... If some super hard core LAN gamer wanted to do that they could end up with a dozens partitions... or one VM with several snapshots.

          Are there partitioning systems, or tricks with partitioning that might do something like that?

          • No, I think I get what you're saying, and you're right.

            But are you saying that there could be someone out there who is wanting to play multiple games at once, or rather - 3 positions in the same Game?

            That's intense. I feel inadequate now.

            • by AP31R0N (723649)

              Not at once. One at a time.

              The idea is to have effectively... a clean install for each game.

              Build the core OS with everything you'll want to play *any* game (browser, audio and video drivers). Then have VM snapshot of that + the game you're installing. So in my case, i'd have MAIN + PlanetSide. It would be like having a separate, pristine system for each game. No iTunes or Google Services running in the background. Just a clean system running that one game.

              Wouldn't be worth the effort for 90% of the po

              • by dave562 (969951)

                The more things change... the more they stay the same. It sounds like going back to the old philosophy of having to have a separate boot disk for each game. I understand what you're saying though. The benefit of having a clean system with the bare minimum of services + the game is a good deal.

                I personally use virtual box to help some clients of mine in their OSX transitions. I'm not a big fan of OSX and I still run Windows on my personal computers, but I'm getting tired of cleaning up after other people

        • The only games I play on a VM are the ones too old to work on XP, designed for DOS and pre 95 windows.

          because there's no sense in playing a game while running 2 operating systems at once

          If the games you are playing in a VM are DOS / W95, the whole VM should take minimal CPU, memory, and graphics resources. On a modern multi-core multi-ghz PC with 2-4 gigs of RAM, I'd say that makes plenty of sense. One a quad-core x86, you should be able to run 10 old games in parallel W95 vms and still run each better than on an old sub-333mhz pentium the game was originally intended for.

      • Or watching videos. I have a Windows XP VM on my Linux machine and Netflix movies play great on it.

      • by jasonwc (939262) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @05:44PM (#30464506)

        I just wanted to say that I have some experience with Virtualbox 3.1 and I disagree with the "ease-of-use" assessment of 7/10. I've played around with VMWare 7, Virtualbox, and VirtualPC, and Virtualbox is about as easy as a virtualization program can get. It has a simple GUI interface to setup your VM, provides sane settings by default, and allows lots of optimizations (like increasing # of cores used and 3D accel) easily.

        I'm currently running Ubuntu 9.10 x86 in Windows 7 Professional x64, sharing 4 CPUs and allocating 512 MB of RAM to the VM. The VM runs very well and starts up incredibly fast. I'm very happy with it. It was also dead easy to install. Virtualbox also has a huge array of support for OS's - pretty much every Linux flavor, all Windows verisons from DOS/Win 3.x to Win 7/2008 R2, OpenBSD, FreeBSD, BeOS, Haiku etc. See http://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Guest_OSes [virtualbox.org] for a full list.

        In addition, it has VT-x and AMD-V support, but it isn't required. But, the best part is that it is open source (there is a closed version with a few more features) and FREE.

        I didn't find Vmware as easy to use (rated 9/10). It was fine, just not easier than Virtualbox.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by couchslug (175151)

          I strongly agree!

          On Windows, "portable" Virtualbox is sweet and doesn't even require normal installation.

          I did a clean install to VM, then .rar'ed a copy as backup. If I have problems, I can easily replace both program files and VM in one shot.

          http://www.vbox.me/ [www.vbox.me]

          On Ubuntu, installing the PUEL version of Virtualbox was easy and allows me to try out other Linux distros and run XP for when I need that.

      • Just to point out that VirtualBox has support for 2D and 3D acceleration. I used to play "armadillo" there and (by also using AMD-V virtualization extension) it works great.

        I also saw some friends using it to develop flash games using Adobe Flash CS3 and it was really smooth.

    • by Bogtha (906264) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @04:59PM (#30463760)

      VMWare Server 1.x was great. For 2.x, they decided to ditch the native client in favour of an awful web interface that barely worked. That's one of the reasons why you don't hear many people singing its praises any more. It went from being useful to being absolutely horrible to use. VirtualBox is also free to use, it understands VMWare images, and it doesn't have that awful web interface.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Zebra_X (13249)

        This was true of the preview release of 2.0. It was horrible. However, the final version of the UI is fairly decent.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          No it isn't. Its the same dog-awful crap that they use in the Virtual Infrastructure Client and Virtual Center used with the ESX deployments. Sloooow, cumbersome, crashing, useless crap. Orders of magnitude more pain than the old 1.x interface. One of the main reasons (in addition to exorbitant costs, total mess with license management, constant wholesale re-branding of every component with every major release - Virtual "Sphere" anyone? - and the Virtual Center Linux non-support, etc, etc) why we are in the

        • Not at all. I've used (or tried to use) several versions after it became "stable". The web interface was still complete garbage. I'm not sure what the point of the stupid web interface is anyway when you still need a native application (in the form of a browser plugin) to interact with the console.

    • by nxtw (866177) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @05:27PM (#30464208)

      If cost is an issue why do these reviews forget the free VMWare Server it does most everything most users would need at no cost vs workstation

      VMware Player is also free, and as of version 3.0 includes the capability to create and edit virtual machines. It also has support for 3D, Unity (seamless mode), and Aero in Vista/7.

    • by MrCrassic (994046)

      Last time I tried VMware Server (latest version), it was mostly web-based as opposed to its previous version which was more "together." It was also kind of a hog. Excellent for servers, terrible for workstations.

  • but crawled onto second place for being free. I think cost should be kept out of reviews, instead tell what you think of the product - as it is - then the reader can decide for himself if the price is worth the extras.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Hatta (162192)

      Free has nothing to do with cost. It's free as in freedom, which is an important feature to many.

      • Whether it meets some arbitrary definition of "freedom" shouldn't affect its score. If "freedom" is a desirable feature for certain users, they can certainly weigh that appropriately themselves.

        • by Hatta (162192)

          If "freedom" is a desirable feature for certain users, they can certainly weigh that appropriately themselves.

          You could say the same about any feature. Which is just another way of saying that these aggregate scores are pretty much meaningless. Which is true, but not really a useful observation.

        • Whether it meets some arbitrary definition of "freedom" shouldn't affect its score. If "freedom" is a desirable feature for certain users, they can certainly weigh that appropriately themselves.

          VirtualBox is free as in Open Source. Which is very important to some folks, and unimportant to others. But that doesn't mean whether a product is Open Source or not shouldn't factor into these reviews...

          Some of these products offer better speed, or better administration, or better 3D support... All of which will matter to some people, but not everyone. Are we going to toss out all of those as well?

          If we toss out every single difference between products that some random person out there may not care abo

      • by anss123 (985305)

        Free has nothing to do with cost.

        When I wrote free I referred to the price, not that it is open source. I suspect most folks look at the price separately regardless of what a product scores, which is why I don't think the price should be baked into the score of a product.

      • I suggest RTFA. In this case the GP was referring to the "Value" score, which is directly correlated to the price.

        In fact, it seems to be there solely to push VirtualBox up higher on the chart, as the other two both got 7/10 on it (whereas VirtualBox got 10/10).

        The scores with it, as shown in the article:

        VMWare Workstation: 8.6
        Parallels: 8.2
        VirtualBox: 8.4

        The scores without it, assuming the 10% score is divided evenly into the two 20% scores (to make them 25%):

        VMWare Workstation: 8.8
        Parallels: 8.3
        VirtualBo

      • I agree. I used Parallels software up until recently, and it was the lack of free as in freedom that was causing my grief.

        I just don't like the fact that Parallels comes pretty close to using a subscription model. If you don't upgrade to the newest version, then you don't get any future bug fixes. Why can't I keep getting support for software I already paid for and is less than a year old? I upgraded 3 times since buying Parallels Desktop for Mac 1.0, and 3 seems to be my limit especially when it works out

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @04:58PM (#30463742)

      Right, 2nd place because of cost alone:

      With support for up to 32 virtual CPUs per VM, VirtualBox is now the class leader in terms of raw virtualization muscle. The introduction of branched snapshots is a major usability upgrade from version 3.0, while the new Teleportation feature (live VM migration) means that VirtualBox is now poised to challenge VMware and Microsoft in the datacenter.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      I agree and that was my point. IF cost is an issue it should be included. If your just looking for the best product it shouldnt even be mentioned. We use the free VMware server in our patch test environment as its a free and it performs pretty well. I have some complaints about the UI as the guy does above but its functional 95% of the time with limited headache. Production side we use ESX but the costs of that just didnt make sense for a test environment for workstation patches.
    • by dlanod (979538)

      The arbitrary "placing" of products is one of the more annoying features of these reviews. The better ones just outline the competitive differences and deficiencies of the products and let a knowledgeable user determine which fits their needs (value for money potentially being one of those needs), and then follow it up with corresponding information on how to determine which fits their needs for those less knowledgeable.

      • by vux984 (928602)

        The arbitrary "placing" of products is one of the more annoying features of these reviews.

        Its often the case that one product is head and shoulders above the others. There's no reason that shouldn't be recognized, even if one of the lesser products has a niche it excels in.

        I agree the rankings are often arbitrary, and based on author biases, and so on, but they are often relevant. When I'm looking at 10 consumer laser printers... having them identify clearly which they felt were the best gives me a starting

    • by LWATCDR (28044) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @05:23PM (#30464142) Homepage Journal

      That is one way to look at it.
      I have used Virtual Box and I find that it getting bumped down for ease of use is a bit silly. It isn't hard to use at all. It maybe slightly more difficult to install but once installed it is trivial to use.
      So lets drop ease of use and "value" from the matrix.
      If you do that they tie at 8.6 for the top spot.
      Before you dismiss Virtual Box out of hand take a good look at the matrix.
      The only area outside of ease of use that VirtualBox got less than a 9 on was VM management where it got an 8.
      Also take a look at the weights of each column. Ease of use is 25% while cost is only 10%.
      I think the cost and the Ease of use are both interesting metrics. With a cost of Free I can see no reason not to try VirtualBox first. If you find the ease of use and VM management good enough for your task then you have a huge win. The other may have demo systems you can try for a limited amount of time but they will still cost you money so VirtualBox really should be the first system on anybody's list to try.

      • by oakgrove (845019)

        I have used Virtual Box and I find that it getting bumped down for ease of use is a bit silly. It isn't hard to use at all. It maybe slightly more difficult to install but once installed it is trivial to use.

        I have to agree with this as well. If someone has sense enough to make use of virtual machines then they should have sense enough to glom to the VBox or VMWare interfaces and controls about equally well in my opinion. The only thing I can honestly say is easier for me on VMWare is copying a virtual machine from one computer to another and then just starting it up. On VMWare, you just copy the machine's directory from /home/user/vmware to wherever you want on your other computer then click on the virtualm

    • by Bert64 (520050)

      No, a review is a comparison by one person of several choices...
      The price is just another comparison point, how important that point is to the review is up to him.

      Personally i consider free (as in freedom) a positive point, as is availability of source code..

      As to free (as in monetary price), that is also a beneficial point.. In order for me to consider using something i have to pay for it needs to not only be superior to the free option, but sufficiently superior to justify its price tag, a minor improveme

  • by al0ha (1262684) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @04:59PM (#30463752) Journal
    VirtualBox rules. XP on VMWare barely ran while the same Win XP install on VirtualBox is working well.
    • VirtualBox is also great for network labs as you can bind physical NICs to seperate virtual machines. You can't do that with any others until you start getting into ESX territory afaik.

      As an example you can run Checkpoint or Olive on it and link it in with Dynamips, get an entire enterprise network running on your desktop. Maybe not everyones idea of fun but a comparable hardware lab setup would run to many thousands of pounds.

      I'd second your comments about the Atom too, it runs XP blazingly fast.

      • by nxtw (866177)

        VirtualBox is also great for network labs as you can bind physical NICs to seperate virtual machines. You can't do that with any others until you start getting into ESX territory afaik.

        This has been a feature of every VMware desktop release I've used, since before VirtualBox was around...

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by nabsltd (1313397)

          This has been a feature of every VMware desktop release I've used, since before VirtualBox was around

          It's not as obvious how to do it on VMware Workstation, though.

          You need to change one of the "virtual networks" to bridge to a specific adapter. In addition, on a Windows host you should disable all protocols but the "VMware Bridge protocol" from binding to that adapter. Then, you set the VM to use that virtual network.

          I have my vCenter server running this way, because version 2.5 could run on a domain controller, and version 4 cannot. An install of workstation later, and vCenter is running with its own

      • by MrCrassic (994046)

        I thought it was as simple as putting that NIC in bridge mode with the vNIC...

    • by lwsimon (724555)

      I've used VirtualBox OSE for about a year now, and have found issues only when doing complex setups for network testing.

  • Virtualbox (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dikdik (1696426) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @05:07PM (#30463856)
    I use Virtual box on a pair of mac intel core duo 2 machines to run windows XP pro I'm very pleased with it. It essentially works perfectly. I don't care that it is only single processor since All I want is basic seemless windows functionality for those few cases where software is windows only.

    it works well with USB devices. I use it to program Lego Mindostorms, and for Midi (to USB) keyboard input and some thumb drives.

    it will mount any folder on my mac disk either permenantly or temporarily (these show us as X: or Y: or whatever). What's mildly annoying is that this is 2 step process: first you tell the VM to "add the drive" then you have to use a windows "run" command "net use x: " to tell windows about it. the second step seems strange to me, but you only do it one time.

    I've had three things I could not figure out.

    I never was able to get a windows media player to mount in media player mode so I could use windows DRM protected WMA files on it and manage it from within windows media player 11. Instead it only will mount as a thumb drive.

    I was not able to get a virtual CD device to mount an iso image or burn an iso image (as a work around for getting the WMA files in a format I could play).

    It will not burn a CD or DVD.

    also I never figured out how to add my Samsung C310 printer to it or my HP multifunction printer to it. it does see them, it just never finds the drivers. However I'm pretty certain this is a windows driver problem and nothing to do with the VM.

    I don't game so open GL means squat to me.

  • by timkar (964479) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @05:31PM (#30464282) Homepage
    Wow. I see that they've stopped teaching good sentence and paragraph construction in college. Is it possible that this "paragraph" was cobbled together from several tweets?
  • For smaller scope tasks, there's nothing wrong with Virtual Box, but when you start running 50+ machines, you just need something like ESXi server. I've never used the web interface and don't plan to. We always use the Windows client.

    • by haruchai (17472)

      You're comparing apples to oranges -Virtualbox is a type 2 hypervisor like VMware Workstation / Player. How does Vbox scale compared to Workstation?
      How does XenServer scale compared to ESXi?
      Those are fair and relevant comparisons.

  • For me VirtualBox wins because it works on Windows 7 home premium. VMWare Server requires Professional.

    I also like the interface better than VMWare's free server product which I was using on my old xp pro installation.

  • Where's KVM (Score:5, Informative)

    by snadrus (930168) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @05:51PM (#30464644) Homepage Journal
    Linux's KVM module and the "Virtual Machince Manager" (VMM) app that uses it needs to be measured on here. The interface is simple and easy.

    It has shiny features too:
    - live OS migration.
    - Tools like "Test Drive Ubuntu" can use it to give you one-click "Test your bug in a daily build VM".
    - FOSS on FOSS (Linux, BSD, etc) no-latency driver requests being passed to the Host OS, meaning only 1 context switch per Virtual-Physical interrupt.
    - It's contributers are all still in the business of improving it (unlike all those mentioned except Parallels)
    - It's FOSS, has very little code, is the fastest growing
    - Its modules can run code for other CPUs (good for the oncoming ARMs).

    Hardware virtualization helps for Windows virtualization. Please measure programs that use it (other than with Virtualbox which doesn't cooperate).
  • I have no doubt that VMWare is a good product but the UI is terrible, and performance can be a bit iffy. On the other hand I've had nothing but a good experience with VirtualBox. Performance is excellent and the UI is nice and friendly too. I'm sure I might think different if I were some admin with a whole bank of these to run and other requirements, but for personal use VirtualBox has been far better than VMWare.

    It's too bad that no VM tool seems to support OS X as a guest. I'm sure it must be possible.

    • by nabsltd (1313397)

      It's too bad that no VM tool seems to support OS X as a guest. I'm sure it must be possible.

      I have successfully installed OS X on a VMware Workstation 7 VM, but I can't boot from the virtual hard drive...I have to boot from the CD, then tell it to use the HD as root.

      I suspect this is from my lack of experience in building a Hackintosh, and the bootloader/kernel on the hard disk is not correct for non-Mac hardware.

      In my testing, I have also found that nothing could get the OS X installer to boot on a Core i7 (either through a VM or raw hardware).

  • When it comes to VM's I use for interactive work like running Win32 desktop apps or gaming, I prefer Parallels Desktop 5 on OS X. It even has WDDM drivers for Winblows. Very slick, integrates well with OS X and has good enough 3D performance to play some games.

    When it comes to virtual servers, I use VirtualBox where scalability isn't a HUGE concern. I also use it extensively in the classroom since it's quite free and not hard for students to get ahold of and feel comfortable using it. The 3D performance

  • None of these products are perfect, they all have problems.

    These are complex products with many many features and I don't imagine there are many of us who use all of them.

    Stuff that seems like a minor issue to one user is a total show-stopper to another.

    Your success with a product means nothing to another user if they are using it differently or are attempting to use a different set of features.

    Really the only answer is you have to try them for yourself and see how they work for you.

    Fortunately even the pay

    • by haruchai (17472)

        Based on your other posts, it sounds like you have access to business / enterprise class hardware so why are you using type 2 hypervisors?

      It sounds like your needs would be better served by ESX / ESXi / Xenserver.

  • by isolationism (782170) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @06:43PM (#30465698) Homepage
    I've been using VMware religiously for a few years now to test web pages in Windows-based browsers (I do web-based UI design on Linux and love it), but recently I've been doing more design/visual work and less markup/scripting, so I bought a deep-colour (10 bit) display with a much wider gamut than sRGB and promptly went about setting up the requisite software.

    It took very little time for me to discover that VMware has absolutely no colour management capability, which completely kills any chance you have of using Windows-based, colour-managed applications like Photoshop (unless you are intentionally not using a colour-managed workflow).

    The color matrix/LUT itself must obviously be created and applied in the host OS (I use Argyll and an X-Rite i1 Display 2 all on Linux, which work great) but it's useless if the Windows application isn't aware of the display profile.

    I did a bit of reading and it turned out VirtualBox does support hardware display profiles for Windows guests; the same afternoon I had a Windows XP VirtualBox guest running Photoshop CS3 with full colour management and has since been working great. Strongly recommend to other Linuxy designer-types finding themselves in a similar situation.

    On a related note, if ever you do create a calibrated monitor profile using Argyll that you intend to use with Firefox, use a matrix type profile, not a LUT -- Firefox apparently does not support the more accurate LUT profiles at all, but matrix profiles work just fine. I use the LUT for the general display profile but point firefox explicitly to an alternate matrix profile so that photos containing embedded display profiles show up with gamma and especially saturation levels for my display.

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