VMware Workstation 14 - Expansive and expensive

Updated: September 3, 2018

Several weeks ago, we tested VMware Player 14. It was simple, versatile, robust - and not quite as rich in features as I had expected. Which is why I'm going to test the Workstation today. Indeed, the free Player is a tech demonstrator for the much more powerful and ultimately more expensive VMware Workstation Pro.

If you're on a hunt for a useful, Jack-o'-all-Trades virtualization product, you will normally be told about two principal products: Oracle VirtualBox and VMware Workstation. Years back, I bought the Workstation on several occasions, and it proved to be a valuable piece of software: Unity mode, reasonable 3D support, and it worked seamlessly both in Windows and Linux. But then, upgrades to new versions were quite expensive, and in the end, I opted for freeware solutions. Maybe this one will rekindle my shopping spree mood. Let's see what version 14 can offer us.

Teaser

Features and whatnot

When you compare the freeware Player to Workstation, the list of differences is quite long. The Workstation is designed to be a professional, commercial product, and as such, it gives you the ability to use multiple VM at the same time, it offers snapshots, encryption, remote connectivity, advanced networking, and more. Let's explore them as we go along.

Setup

I decided to run the setup on the same host as the one I used for the VMware Player testing - KDE neon, based on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, installed on my Lenovo G50 laptop. I downloaded the bundle, had it chmodded, and then ran the installer. Immediately, it informed me that it could not run as the freeware VMware Player was already installed, and it had to be removed first.

Cannot install

There was no option to do this automatically. Now, there are several ways to remove the player. The easiest solution is to run:

vmware-installer -u vmware-player

I was able to run the setup wizard after that. The Workstation did ask a few questions, most notably around shared virtual machines and remote connectivity. And then, it installed just fine.

Port configuration

Shared user

Installing

Main interface

Settings

Once you have Workstation installed, you will have 30 days to test the product in full. And you do need the time, because it comes loaded with options and features. Even the system preferences menu has a lot of stuff, including multi-VM startup, hardware compatibility, guest autofit, memory management, remote connectivity, and more. Some of the settings are only available if you run the Workstation as root.

Prefs 1

Prefs 2

Prefs 3

Prefs 4

Import existing virtual machines

Workstation 14 was able to load the existing Ubuntu instance (installed through the Player) without any problems. However, now I had additional options, like VT-x, which was not available in the freeware product. This ought to improve the performance. Advanced networking and snapshots are also extremely useful. With snapshots, you have the ability to create multiple scenarios for software testing, which you can later merge or undo, as you see fit.

Loaded existing virtual machine

VT extensions

Advanced networking

Snapshots

Running

I started the Ubuntu guest, and the Workstation complained about missing 3D support. As it turns out, the Player VMware Tools (actually the open-vm-tools package) seems incompatible with the Workstation. This meant I had to rectify this manually.

No 3D support for old system

Eventually, I had everything sorted out. However, the performance was not as good as I expected. Now, the Gnome 3 desktop is not that sprightly in general, so it's hardly Workstation's fault, but still. There isn't that much difference compared to the player. The auto-resize of the guest worked fine. The wallpaper was also resized in an odd way, too. But this might be entirely related to Ubuntu 18.04 Beta, which is what I used for this test, at the time of writing.

Guest

Full screen

Guest system running

Other stuff

All in all, VMware Workstation behaved well. There were no weird errors, and the problems you do encounter often come with self-explanatory text that helps you work around them relatively quickly and easily. Unity mode is not available for Linux guests, which is a shame. Finally, you can also control your virtual machines from the system area.

System area

Comparison to Oracle VirtualBox

I've recently tested the latest version of VirtualBox, too, and so, one might ask the question, which one should you use? Well, that question has two aspects. The first one is, in the commercial world with necessary support and whatnot, where the actual product price tag bears less importance, things play out differently from what you get in the home environment, and it's not all about simple feature set comparison. It's about support and licensing and whatnot. The second one is home environment, and here, it's very difficult to justify Workstation versus VirtualBox.

Both products offer similar things - multi-VM use, encryption, snapshots, screenshots, 3D acceleration, guest tools that enhance performance and sharing, support for external and removable devices, advanced network management, and then some. VirtualBox seems to favor Linux distributions, Workstation seems more inclined toward Windows, and both offer better 3D support for Microsoft operating systems. VirtualBox is a little clunkier to use, but it has better storage management. Workstation comes with auto-install for some guest systems, and has better remote connectivity. The price tag is the one big factor.

But ... if you do intend to use VirtualBox for non-personal use, as I said, then things get more complicated. The enterprise edition of VirtualBox is listed at USD50.00 per user on Oracle's website, with a minimum order quantity of 100, plus additional enterprise support and annual update costs. And then, it's no longer the question of just pure numbers. And certainly NOT the topic of this article.

However, for personal use, VirtualBox offers much more than VMware Player, and because it's cheaper than Workstation, it's also an easier choice, simply because the two have roughly the same capabilities.

Conclusion

I have always liked VMware Workstation and found it to be an awesome, consistent product. Version 14 slightly degrades that impression, mostly because the 3D support wasn't quite as auto-magical as I'd expected or remembered it, and performance wasn't as good as I'd hoped. In fact, the Ubuntu virtual machine ran better with no 3D enabled. Then, we can't really compare to the olden times, as Gnome 3 is a completely different framework than what we had in the past.

Over the next few days, I will test the program with several other operating systems, and maybe even load an odd Windows or two, just to see how it all works before the evaluation period runs out. In general, if money is no issue, this is a very good choice for a powerful cross-platform virtualization product, especially if you intend on using it with Microsoft guest systems. But for the rest, the price tag is quite hefty and cannot be lightly ignored. That makes Workstation an overkill for home use, and you will be better off with freeware products. Well there. Now off you go and play.

Cheers.

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