It’s undeniable that virtualization technology has become an integral part of modern-day computing. We can now effortlessly run multiple operating systems and applications on a single physical machine, making workflows more efficient and cost-effective.
As far as virtualization software goes, two powerful players dominate the market: VMware and VirtualBox. Even though both of them are hypervisors, they have different licensing terms, compatibility, and performance metrics.
That’s why we’ve put together this comparative article to offer you an in-depth look at how these two platforms differ. Hopefully, you’ll be in a better position to select the one that best meets your virtualization needs at the end of it.
Whether you’re a beginner or expert in software development, cybersecurity, or gaming, this article will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the differences between them, so let’s get down to it!
VMware vs VirtualBox: Side-by-Side Comparison
|Broadcom Software Group
|Free for personal use, paid for commercial use with varying prices based on edition and features
|Free, open-source under GNU GPL v2 with PUEL for commercial use of Extension Pack
|Host Operating Systems Supported
|Windows, Linux, macOS (With VMware Fusion/Fusion Pro for macOS)
|Windows, Linux, macOS, Solaris
|Guest Operating Systems Supported
|Windows, Linux, macOS, Solaris, FreeBSD, OpenBSD
|Windows, Linux, macOS, Solaris, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, OS/2
|High overhead, better performance per VM
|Low overhead, may not handle intensive workloads as well
|Live migration, virtual networking, Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS)
|Snapshots, USB 3.0 support, virtual webcam, remote desktop connection, Guest Additions
VMware vs VirtualBox: What’s the Difference?
VMware and VirtualBox are poles apart when it comes to acquiring a license and using the software. VMware charges a pretty penny for commercial use with the price varying depending on the edition and features.
For instance, VMware Workstation Player is available free for personal use, whereas you would have to shell out $149.99 for commercial use of the same. Of course, enterprise use is paid-for with VMware Essentials Kit, which is made for small businesses, being their least expensive option and going for $576.96 currently.
But, if you’re using VirtualBox, you won’t have to worry about costs. VirtualBox itself is free and open-source, released under the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 2. This means that VirtualBox can be downloaded, installed, and used without any costs or restrictions, for both personal and commercial use. Plus, VirtualBox’s source code is available to anyone who wants to tinker with it, tweak it, or just learn from it.
However, it’s worth noting that the VirtualBox Extension Pack Enterprise Pack is subject to the VirtualBox Personal Use and Evaluation License (PUEL). As such, personal use of this extension is free but commercial users must purchase a license.
Host Operating System Support
Something else that sets the two VM tools apart is support for different host operating systems. VirtualBox goes all out, supporting the ubiquitous Windows, Linux, macOS, and even the more niche Solaris. Conversely, VMware is a little more limited, sticking to the trio of Windows, Linux, and macOS. And if you’re on Mac, you’ll need to install the VMware Fusion or Fusion Pro versions.
However, each version of VMware is optimized for its respective host operating system, ensuring you get the best performance and integration possible. For instance, the Windows version supports DirectX 10, allowing you to run 3D games and applications on virtual machines almost as smoothly as you would on a physical machine. VirtualBox only supports DirectX up to the Direct3D 9 version.
So, while VirtualBox supports a plethora of host operating systems, it may not quite offer the same level of performance and integration as VMware’s optimized versions.
Guest Operating System Support
Both VMware and VirtualBox can run different OSs with ease, but VMware takes the cake here as it supports more guest operating systems. Besides Windows, Linux, and macOS, which VMware supports, VirtualBox can also handle Solaris, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, and OS/2, making it the better choice for techies looking to experiment with different operating systems.
VMware, however, provides optimized guest drivers and tools for each supported operating system, which enhances performance, stability, and security. With VMware, you’re unlikely to encounter choppy video and audio playback and unexpected system crashes.
And when you install a guest OS on VMware, it automatically installs VMware Tools, a collection of drivers and utilities that improve the performance of the virtual machine.
The VMware Tools package includes drivers for network, graphics, and storage devices, making it easier to transfer files from the host to the guest OS. Plus, you get features such as drag-and-drop, copy-paste, and time synchronization, making it feel like you’re working on a physical machine.
VMware may require more powerful hardware and investment as far as performance goes, but it’s got the upper hand in terms of virtualization overhead, CPU utilization, and memory management. In simple terms, VMware can juggle more virtual machines with less overhead and a better performance per VM.
It’s more or less like the heavyweight boxer of virtualization tools, capable of taking on anything thrown its way. Meanwhile, VirtualBox is like the nimble, lightweight boxer.
It may not have the same punch as VMware, but it’s quicker on its feet and can run on less powerful hardware with a lower overhead. However, like any lightweight, VirtualBox may not be the best for intensive workloads.
VMware has more advanced features than VirtualBox, which may make it feel a little more complicated and intimidating. However, these features are a godsend for pros and techies, so if you consider yourself one, VMware might be the way to go.
VMware allows live migration, which is like teleporting virtual machines from one host to another without experiencing any downtime. VMware also offers virtual networking, which allows you to create complex network topologies with multiple switches, VLANs, and advanced features like load balancing, and network security.
But don’t count VirtualBox out just yet. This lightweight contender still packs a punch with some advanced features of its own. With snapshots, you can take and restore snapshots of virtual machines, which is like creating a safety net for when you need to roll back or test changes.
The VirtualBox Extension Pack adds even more functionality, like USB 3.0 support, virtual webcam, and remote desktop connection. Plus, Guest Additions allow you to install additional drivers and tools for your guest OS, making integration and communication between your host and guest OS a breeze.
VMware vs VirtualBox: 5 Must-Know Facts
- Virtualization isn’t a new concept. It’s been around since the 1960s, but it has become mainstream only in the last 2 decades or so due to the increase in hardware capabilities and the need for more efficient and secure computing.
- VMware was founded in 1998 and has been a leader in the virtualization industry ever since. VMware is currently owned by the Broadcom Software Group.
- VirtualBox was initially developed by Innotek in 2007 and was later acquired by its current owners, Larry Ellison’s Oracle Corporation, in 2010.
- Virtualization can be used not only for server consolidation and workload optimization but also for security, testing, development, and education.
- Virtualization can also be used in cloud computing, which allows deploying VMs on remote servers over the internet. Most popular cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Cloudways, and Digital Ocean support virtualization.
VMware vs VirtualBox: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Choose?
Your choice will certainly depend on several factors, such as the use case, budget, hardware, and preferences. In general, if you need advanced features, high performance, and/or enterprise-level support, VMware may be a better choice. If you have limited resources, need basic virtualization features, or prefer an open-source solution, VirtualBox may be a better fit.
Moreover, if you already have experience with one of the products or have a preference for a specific hypervisor, you may want to stick with it to avoid the learning curve and potential compatibility issues. Both VMware and VirtualBox have their unique strengths and benefits, and the decision will boil down to your specific requirements and preferences.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Michael Traitov/Shutterstock.com.