Review: VirtualBox 5.0 vs. VMware Workstation 11

VirtualBox 5.0's new features add ease and flexibility, but VMware Workstation 11 leads in performance and convenience

Oracle VirtualBox and VMware Workstation have been duking it out for several years now. VirtualBox occupies the “free and open source” corner of the ring, while VMware Workstation is a proprietary commercial application. For the price, Workstation has generally led in features and performance, while also providing close integrations with the rest of the VMware virtualization line.

Fundamentally, though, the two products are quite similar. Both run on Windows or Linux hosts, and both support a broad range of Windows, Linux, and Unix guests. (VirtualBox also runs on OS X, whereas VMware offers Fusion for Macs.) Both VirtualBox and Workstation let you create large VMs and complex virtual networks. Both let you take as many snapshots of VMs as you can store, and they give you a graphical timeline to navigate among them. Both support linked clones, which base copies of VMs on snapshots to save disk space.

In short, VirtualBox and Workstation are the most capable ways to run virtual machines on the desktop. With version 5.0, VirtualBox closes some of the gaps. How high has the bar been raised? High enough to keep VirtualBox competitive at the low end of the VMware Workstation market, although not enough to make it a one-to-one substitute for users wanting Workstation-level performance.

Oracle VirtualBox 5.0

VirtualBox has generally distinguished itself as the free alternative to VMware Workstation, even if its feature roster wasn’t as full or its performance as snappy as that of its commercial competitor. With version 5.0, the new features are mainly aimed at making day-to-day work a little smoother.

That isn’t to say performance improvement wasn’t on the agenda at all. VirtualBox 5.0 adds paravirtualization support for Windows and Linux guests. Paravirtualization allows guest OSes to perform certain actions directly on the host hardware through an API exposed on the host, although the guest needs to be paravirtualization-aware for this to work. The good news is that the major OSes -- Windows, Linux, and FreeBSD, for instance -- can all do this. The user can choose which paravirtualization interface to go with for a given VM (such as Hyper-V or KVM) or allow VirtualBox to decide automatically.

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