Virtual machine software ranges in use from server virtualization to mimicking other operating systems to handle package dependency for development. Things as varied as package dependency and server virtualization require an equally varied solution. This means there is no one-size-fits-all virtual machine solution.
Businesses can spend upwards of $150.00 per year per license just to handle virtualization. Unless you need highly specific features, there will likely be a free virtual machine option for you.
We will explore the best virtual machine platforms for developers using each of the most popular host OS: Windows, Linux, and macOS. Each of these virtual machine options is easy to implement and manage, and most of them are free of charge.
Virtual Machine Software Overview
|VMware Workstation Pro
|-Free for individuals-Works on Most popular OS
|-Fewer Niche OS capabilties
|Windows, Linux, MacOS
|Oracle VM VirtualBox
|– Supports Most OS Options- High Level of customization
|– More Difficult to Manage than Alternatives
|-Most Operating Systems
|-Easiest to Implement- High Performance
|– No Forever Free Option
|– Windows 10- Most Linux Distributions
|$75.00+ per Year
|– Built into Windows 10-No Installation Required- Good for Server Virtualization
|– Only Supports Windows Virtualization and Some Linux Distributions
|– All Windows and Windows Server- Most Linux Distributions
Popular, Generalist Virtual Machine Software
One of the most common names you will hear when looking for VM software is VMware Workstation Pro, and other products by the same vendor. For many people, this is going to be a solid, reliable option, though it may lack some niche use case support, as we will discuss later. Overall, VMware Workstation Pro is a fantastic, reputable virtualization software that offers great functionality across a wide array of different operating systems.
To start, the tool supports Windows, MacOS, and Linux operating systems, with a catch: The MacOS tool is technically a separate product. It has many similar capabilities, and benefits such as the highly rated support of VMware extend across product lines.
Users routinely praise the virtual environment, ease of use, temporary network, strong optimization, and a host of other features. The tool is well-suited to consistent, moderate workloads. This is one of the few products in this space that can handle DirectX11 and OpenGL4.1. Notably, the tool is consistently being improved, and as with improvements to CPU tech, broader architecture, and VM workflows, you can trust that your software will adapt with you.
Some scenarios where VMware Workstation pro is best suited are:
1. Utilization for testing software – can install a virtual machine to simulate software requirements and testing it on your network.
2. Testing operating systems upgrades and installation on specific hardware requirements.
3. Virtualizing a physical server
4. Being able to backup a whole server and restore from it in the event of any issue occurring.Verified User | General Manager in Information Technology | Information Technology & Services Company, 1-10 employees
Most Versatile Virtual Machine Software
The best free virtual machine software for Linux is also the most versatile for other operating systems. Oracle VM VirtualBox is an open-source software that supports the widest range of guest operating systems of any virtual machine software on this list. Many virtual machine tools support a limited group of guest operating systems. In contrast, Oracle VM VirtualBox covers everything from Solaris to Red Hat.
Oracle VM VirtualBox is a type-2 open-source hypervisor. This means that it is a piece of software that you install on your computer instead of being built into the hardware. This can cause reduced performance compared to type-1 hypervisors. That said, installation will be a familiar process for anyone that has worked with software.
For Linux users, Oracle VM VirtualBox is also easy to implement. The software includes pre-built packages for many Linux distributions. For Windows and Mac users, Oracle VM VirtualBox will be more difficult to implement than some more specialized options. Experienced developers won’t run into many problems. If you are looking for a highly versatile tool that can virtualize almost any operating system you need, Oracle VM VirtualBox is a strong choice.
Oracle VM VirtualBox is often compared with VMwares suite of virtualization tools. Many users of both tools find Oracle VM VirtualBox to be easier to use and more affordable.
“VirtualBox is just as robust and as functional as the VMware fusion product. It actually has more features and in some ways is easier to work with. I’ve also found that VirtualBox supports newer operating systems better than VMware Workstation Pro. There’s also the cost advantage of VirtualBox. VirtualBox works equally well on all operating systems.”Kenneth Hees | Community Manager | Red Hat (Computer Software, 10,000+ employees)
Best Virtual Machine Tool for Windows Development
Businesses that operate on Windows are in luck because Microsoft provides a free virtual machine tool with Windows 10. Any Windows 10 user can enable Hyper-V with a few simple Powershell commands. It’s easy to use Hyper-V to support guest OS options including any version of Windows, or Linux distributions like Ubuntu.
Hyper-V is a type-1 hypervisor built onto the Microsoft Windows 10 kernel. This is why no installation or download is necessary for Hyper-V. Microsoft provides detailed documentation on how to set up Hyper-V. If you aren’t comfortable with Powershell, you can enable Hyper-V by copying and pasting the commands.
Hyper-V is also fully featured to support server virtualization. In fact, the Hyper-V server support is one of the software’s most used features. Besides supporting systems like Windows 8 and Windows XP, Hyper-V also supports a wide variety of Windows server options. This makes Hyper-V a great hardware virtualization choice for businesses that want a single tool for development and Windows Data Centers. Like Oracle VM VirtualBox, Hyper-V is completely free and an excellent choice for Azure businesses.
“Simple Hyper-V setups are really great when you want to put multiple VMs on the same physical hardware. You then could use replications of those VMs so that you would have a redundant copy of the VM. You can do this every 5 minutes.”Jeffrey Sabotin | Director of IT | Realtime Services (Financial Services, 11-50 employees)
Best Virtual Machine Software for mac OS Users
There are a ton of virtualization tools for Mac, and historically they’ve focused on virtualizing Windows machines. Apple includes a built-in tool for this in the form of Boot Camp, but that tool is limited to Windows 10 Virtualization. Parallels Desktop is an easy to implement tool for creating Windows and Linux guest operating systems on mac OS.
Parallels is the only paid option on this list, but it offers an affordable license at $74.99, with stellar usability. Parallels provides an installation assistant that makes it simple to create virtual machines. The pricing makes Parallels an ideal choice for Mac businesses that want an easy-to-use tool. For businesses with more operating system needs, like OpenSolaris or OpenBSD, Oracle VM VirtualBox is better.
Parallels is well optimized for Mac, which makes it a strong choice for users that need high performance virtual machines. Parallels a strong choice for demanding scripts or programs such as most CAD tools. Parallels also offers built-in presets for development, design, and software testing. This means developers won’t have to get into the weeds on tweaking virtual machine settings for good performance.
“Parallels is excellent for QA teams who need to test on a variety of operating systems, or from Mac users who need to run Windows apps in an integrated way simultaneously with their Mac apps, without a lot of performance overhead. Parallels is especially well-suited for power users who have state-of-the-art hardware running the latest version of both Parallels and Mac OS X.”Jonah Dempcy | Web & Mobile Development | Bluefire Productions (Computer Software, 1-10 employees)
Still Not Sure Which Virtual Machine Tool is Right for You?
Need more information? Consider checking out some user reviews for virtual machine software on TrustRadius. If none of these tools seem quite right for you, you can also check out other popular virtual machine software like those offered in VMware vSphere.
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