Difference Between VirtualBox and VMware and Parallels

VirtualBox vs VMware vs Parallels

Platform Virtual Machines (VM) are being used very heavily because they provide the ability to emulate a complete physical computer machine on top of another. Most of such software allows having multiple machines on top of one physical platform. VirtualBox, VMware and Parallels are three of the most popular platform VM software. VirtualBox is the most popular VM software at the moment. Meanwhile, VMware and Parallels are the two major players in the Mac consumer virtualization (commercial) software market.

What is VirtualBox?

VirtualBox (Oracle VM VirtualBox) is a virtualization package for x86, developed by Oracle corporation. It is released as a member of their family of virtualization products. Its original creator is innotek GmbH, which was bought by Sun Microsystems. VirtualBox is installed on top of the existing operating system (host systems). Then, using the VirtualBox, many other operating systems (Guest OSs) can be loaded and run. VirtualBox supports Linux, Mac OS X, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Solaris and OpenSolaris as the host operating system. VirtualBox supports Windows, Linux, BSD, OS/2, Solaris, etc as guest operating systems. It also allows restricted virtualization of Mac OS X on Apple hardware. It is considered the most popular virtualization software at the moment.

VirtualBox provides the ability to start, pause, stop and resume any of the host operating systems it loads, without disturbing other virtual machines. Furthermore, each virtual machine can be independently configured to run with its own software/hardware emulation (if supported). A common clipboard (among many other methods) is used for the communication between the host and the guest operating systems. In addition, communication between two virtual machines is also possible with proper configuration in place. Because, both Intel’s VT-x and AMD’s AMD-V hardware virtualization extensions are supported by VirtualBox, it can safely avoid few issues that arise when only software emulation is used.

What is VMware?

VMware is a virtualization software developed by VMware, Inc. VMware is based in California, USA and was founded in 1998, although now it is owned by EMC Corporation. Desktop versions of VMware (VMware Workstation, VMware Fusion and VMware Player) can be run on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. However, VMware server versions (VMware ESX and VMware ESXi) can run directly on server hardware without requiring an operating system, because they use hypervisor technology (that maps host’s hardware directly to virtual platforms’ resources). VMware Workstation allows running multiple x86 or x86-64 operating systems. VMware Fusion is a similar product intended for Intel Mac users. VMware Player is free software similar to both VMware Workstation and VMware Fusion. VMware software provides virtualization of video/network/hard disk adaptors. Pass-through drivers are provided by the host for USB and Serial/Parallel ports. So, the virtual machines running on VMware are extremely portable, allowing system administrators to pause on a one machine, move it to another machine and resume from exactly where it was paused.

What is Parallels?

Parallels (or Parallels Desktop for Mac) is a virtualization software that offers hardware emulation virtualization for Mac computers with Intel chips. It is developed by Parallels Inc. Parallels VM software also uses hypervisor technology (similar to VMware). This makes it possible for all virtual machines to act exactly equal to a stand-alone machine (with all properties of an actual computer). Consequently, this provides high portability (i.e. allowing to stop a running virtual machine, copy it to another and restart) to the instances of virtual machines, because all virtual machines utilize the identical drivers regardless of the actual resources used on the host. Parallels can use Mac OS X 10.4 or later running on Intel powered Mac machines as the host operating system. It can have Windows, Mac OS X Leopard Server and Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server, several Linux distributions, FreeBSD, OS/2, Solaris and many other operating systems as the guest operating system.

What is the difference between VirtualBox and VMware and Parallels?

Although VirtualBox, VMware and Parallels are popular virtualization software, they have a lot of differences between them.

- They all support Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows 2003, Windows Vista, Linux and Mac OS X as the host operating systems. But, VirtualBox is the only software that supports Windows 7, Windows 2008 Server, Solaris 10U5+, OpenSolaris, FreeBSD (in the near future) as the host operating systems.

- All three software support DOS, Windows 3.1, 95, 98, NT, 2000, XP, Vista, Linux as the guest operating system. But again, VirtualBox is the only software that can load Windows 7, Windows Server 2003/2008, OpenBSD and OpenSolaris. VMware does not support OS/2, while Parallels does not support FreeBSD and Solaris as the guest operating system.

- Although, all three support 64-bit versions of guest operating systems, only VirtualBox and VMware support 64-bit host operating systems.

- Both VirtualBox and Parallels support Intel VT-x and AMD-V virtualization extensions, but this support is limited on VMware.

- VirtualBox, VMware and Parallels provide virtual network cards up to 8, 4 and 5, respectively.

- Both VirtualBox and VMware can support IDE or SATA virtual disk controllers, but Parallels will support only IDE. However, VirtualBox is the only software that supports iSCSI (which allows virtual machines to directly access storage servers over iSCSI).

- Although all there software provides Serial ports, only Parallels and VMware provide Parallel ports.

- Only VirtualBox supports CD/DVD writing.

- Furthermore, VirtualBox is the only virtualization software with unrestricted 3D acceleration. In fact, Parallels does not have any 3D acceleration capabilities.

- Out of VirtualBox and Parallels, only VirtualBox supports VMware images.

- Unlike VirtualBox and VMware, Parallels does not support Headless operation.

- VirtualBox is the virtualization software with unrestricted remote virtual machine access (with Integrated RDP server). In fact, Parallels does not have any remote access capabilities. Similarly, only VirtualBox supports remote USB access.

- Only VirtualBox and VMware provide reports on guest power status.

- Only, VirtualBox and VMware come with an API. But only VirtualBox is open source (with few closed source enterprise features).

- Unlike with Parallels and VMware, customizations are possible (upon request) with VirtualBox.

- Finally, VirtualBox is the only free virtualization software out of the three. However, Parallels is considerably cheaper than VMware.