Review: VMware Workstation 9 vs. VirtualBox 4.2

VMware Workstation is richer in features and polish than ever, but VirtualBox is still both capable and free

When it comes to virtualization on the desktop, two products stand front and center: VMware Workstation and VirtualBox. The former is the long-standing original keeper of the flame, from the company that gave us PC-centric virtualization technology as we know it. The latter is an open source project now under the stewardship of Oracle, with its own strongly competitive set of features.

Which one's superior? It's never been a better time to ask, now that VMware Workstation is out in a new incarnation, and VirtualBox has a new release. We put the two side by side to see how they shaped up and whether or not the free-to-use VirtualBox 4.2 has advantages over the pay-to-use VMware Workstation 9.

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Both products run on Windows or Linux hosts, and both support a broad range of Windows, Linux, and Unix guests. Whereas VirtualBox supports Mac OS X hosts and guests as well, VMware offers a separate product, VMware Fusion, for the Mac. 

I tested Workstation and VirtualBox on an Intel Core i7-3770K CPU with 16GB of RAM, 128GB of SSD system-volume storage, and 2TB of additional hard disk space. The host operating system was Windows 7.

VMware Workstation 9
It's difficult to go wrong with VMware Workstation. It's not just a top-notch VM host, it sports a level of polish and attention to detail worthy of a $249 desktop virtualization product. In addition to all the features users of such a product might need, Workstation has some capabilities that users might never have thought about.

Version 9 adds such a bevy of new features to the product that listing them all in one place threatens to become overwhelming. The most visible are support for Windows 8 and USB 3.0; improved graphics drivers, which include OpenGL support for Linux guests; nested virtualization, which allows -- among other things -- running Hyper-V in a guest (at your own risk!); and a number of remote-control and VM management improvements.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Value (10.0%)
Features (30.0%)
Documentation (20.0%)
Ease of use (25.0%)
External integrations (15.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
VMware Workstation 9 9.0 10.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 9.3
Oracle VM VirtualBox 4.2 8.0 9.0 8.0 8.0 7.0 8.2
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