Posted by: reformedmusings | December 31, 2008

VMWare Workstation 6.5 vs. Sun VirtualBox 2.1

This post checks off another item on my blog todo list. I had planned to write a comparison article on the subject. However, in researching some background, I found this excellent article by Randall C. Kennedy: Showdown: VMware Workstation vs. Sun XVM VirtualBox. It covers the bulk of what I had in mind to post and comes to the same conclusion. I’ll just add just a few points.

First, installing VirtualBox’s Guest Additions into a Linux guest is easier than installing Workstation’s VMWare Tools into the same guest OS. While Tools provides more configurability, the setup script has difficulty with some Linux guest distributions. For example, I couldn’t configure it at all in a Mandriva 2009 guest because of Mandriva’s issues with kernel source versions and names.

Second, Workstation supports parallel ports nicely whereas VirtualBox doesn’t support them at all through their GUI as of version 2.1. My primary printer runs off of a parallel port, so this is a must for me. Other users need to run legacy hardware or use parallel port dongles in their guests. VirtualBox’s forums have folks clamoring for parallel support, so I assume that it will probably be included sooner or later.

Migration either way would be an issue. Yes, there are ways to convert Workstation VMs to VirtualBox format, but it isn’t pretty and requires installing QEMU. Some even claim that you can run a WMWare virtual machine directly in VirtualBox if you don’t use snapshots. I haven’t tried either method. It apparently is also possible to go from VirtualBox to Workstation using QEMU.

Price is an issue. Workstation 6.5 sells for $189 online as of this writing. VMWare occasionally puts it on sale, usually around the end of the year. Upgrading to new major versions usually runs around $99. Not cheap. VirtualBox is free, even the proprietary version with USB support. One can always hope that Workstation’s price will come down as VirtualBox increases in capability – as long as VirtualBox remains free.

I started with VMWare Workstation on Linux back before VirtualBox became a player and have no intention of switching at the moment. Workstation does everything that I need, including full parallel port support, and I’m set until version 7.0 comes out. If you have lighter requirements, then the free VirtualBox may work for you. If you want USB support, though, you’ll have to go with the proprietary version.

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