Review: VMware Workstation 12 gets a shine for Windows 10

VMware’s polished and pricey desktop virtualization platform adds formal support for Windows 10 and a host of minor enhancements

At a Glance
  • VMware Workstation 12 Pro

Think of VMware Workstation 12 as VMware Workstation 11, Service Pack 1. The latest point release of the commercial virtualization environment for desktop machines is decidedly incremental, the changes adding little beyond official support for the most recent generation of hardware and the latest revisions of operating systems to be run either as a VMware guest or host. That said, there’s little one might want from a desktop virtualization platform that Workstation doesn’t already provide.

The main new addition is support for Windows 10 as a host and as a guest, with integration features for both scenarios. On the guest side, Workstation’s Auto Detect and Easy Install features now work with Windows 10. That means you can pop in the Windows 10 installation disc (or ISO), Workstation will recognize the new OS when booting a VM, and setup will proceed automatically. I tried this with the latest Windows 10 ISO and a brand-new VM, and installation was the work of a few clicks.

Two other VMware Workstation features have also been expanded to include Windows 10 support. The first is Unity mode, which allows applications within a virtual machine to be displayed directly on the host’s desktop as if they were native apps. I wasn’t able to test if touch or gestures from the host OS were transmitted to the guest in Unity mode (I lack a touch display), but otherwise apps run via Unity behaved as expected. That includes Windows Universal apps and old-school, native Windows apps.

vmware workstation 12

Windows 10 now runs as an officially supported host and guest of VMware Workstation 12, with integration fully supported for both scenarios.

The other expanded feature is the ability to migrate physical Windows 10 installations to VMs. There’s apparently nothing different about the process for Windows 10 as opposed to migrating previous versions of Windows. The only requirements are disabling User Account Control on the machine to be migrated and downloading the free VMware vCenter Converter Standalone utility (which you only need to do once for any given installation of VMware Workstation).

VMware has also updated the roster of Linux distributions that run under Workstation 12; Ubuntu 15.04, Fedora 22, CentOS and RHEL 7.1, and Oracle Linux 7.1 are all officially supported. New to that list is VMware’s own Project Photon, a stripped-down Linux distribution designed as a container host. Like Windows 10, all of these new Linux distros will run on previous versions of Workstation; Workstation 12 merely gives you the modest benefit of formally recognizing them and perhaps the comfort of official support.

vmware workstation 12 unity

Windows applications, including Windows Universal apps, can run directly on the host desktop via VMware Workstation’s Unity feature.

Another change to Workstation 12 spurred by recent trends is support for 4K monitors in the application’s UI, as well as support for multiple monitors with different DPI settings. The latter may not sound like a vital add-on, but it’s handy if your setup consists of a main monitor with a high dot pitch and one or more lower-res auxiliary units.

Most of the other touches are UI polish -- nothing groundbreaking, but convenient. IPv6 now works for NAT connections between guest OSes and the host. Tabs in VMware’s overall UI can be torn into stand-alone windows, à la browser tabs in Chrome. Shutting down the host machine now causes all running VMs to automatically suspend, with little discernible impact on the system’s shutdown time.

All told, Workstation 12 brings a number of nice but modest improvements. If you currently use Workstation 10 or Workstation 11, Workstation 12 adds little to justify the $150 upgrade. If you don't currently use a recent version of Workstation and are seeking a better experience than free VirtualBox provides, Workstation 12 is certainly the most performant, polished, and feature-rich desktop virtualization product available. At $250 retail, it’s also the most expensive.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Features (20%)
Ease of use (20%)
Performance (20%)
Integrations (20%)
Documentation (10%)
Value (10%)
Overall Score
VMware Workstation 12 Pro 9 10 9 9 9 9 9.2
At a Glance
  • VMware Workstation 12 Pro

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

How to choose a low-code development platform