Kitchens Sync

Virtualization Shootout: VirtualBox 2 vs. VMWare Fusion 2

- 2008.11.25 - Tip Jar

In my previous column, I reviewed the two major commercial virtualization products for the Mac, VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop. After declaring Fusion the winner, I promised to bring a comparison between it and Sun's VirtualBox.

In this case, I could not declare a definite winner. Although both are virtualization solutions, each product is targeted towards entirely different computing segments.

Different Aims, Different Talents

For the purposes of this review, I found most direct comparisons completely pointless. VMware Fusion touts several very friendly consumer features - among them are automatic printer interfacing, a free one-year subscription to McAfee VirusScan Plus, and 3D graphics acceleration. Since these are qualities that appeal to the average consumer, this product is popular in that sector.

VirtualBox lacks all the above features, but it offers many features that are quite useful to another important sphere: server virtualization and other IT uses. Among these unique advantages are finely grained virtual hardware control, complete command line management of machines, headless remote desktop display modes, and easy virtual machine portability to Linux and Windows versions of the software.

This program excels in server roles: The virtual machines are designed to easily run hidden in the background of a remotely managed server while still allowing direct interface access through remote desktop protocols. In fact, the whole setup process can be remotely managed with no need to ever touch the target server.

I could easily see VirtualBox becoming a leading solution for server virtualization in the Mac world. However, due to the easy portability of the virtual machines, I doubt we will ever see it support Mac OS X Server itself: The license restrictions only allow Server to be virtualized on Apple hardware.

Win-Win Situation

Even though the two products are good at different things, they are both still fairly general purpose. Fusion can work in a server environment, and VirtualBox has enough user-friendliness to serve passably in a basic consumer environment. If you can afford the extra features of VMware Fusion and it's appropriate for your intended uses, go ahead and buy it, but if VirtualBox serves your needs, I highly recommend it.

After all, the price can't be beat. Plus, it's open-source, which appeals to me greatly. LEM

Further Reading

Purchase Links

  • VMware Fusion 2, currently $62.99 shipped from

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