VMware Fusion vs. Workstation: Choosing an end-user virtualization tool

VMware Fusion and Workstation are similar virtualization tools for end-user computing, and do many of the same tasks. Here's how to select a product.

VMware Workstation and Fusion share many key traits. But once you compare VMware Fusion vs. Workstation, the differences become clear.

Both tools support end-user, or hosted, virtualization. Both tools assist in test and development -- and sometimes production -- infrastructures. The latest versions of Fusion and Workstation both accommodate 64-bit nested virtual machines (VMs).

VMware Fusion virtualizes Windows OSes and programs so that you can use them on Mac computers. VMware Workstation virtualizes various operating systems and hosts some cloud and big data operations for PC users. "Fusion actually inherits lots of Workstation code, and the underpinnings are built from the same foundation," explains Michael Roy, VMware product marketing manager of cloud marketing, noting why users can confuse which tool is right for them.

VMware Workstation does not virtualize every operating system. To virtualize Mac OSes, such as OS X, users resort to hardware virtualization or unsupported patches to unlock Workstation.

The VMware Workstation vs. Fusion comparison includes differences beyond the underlying physical computer types. Workstation allows admins to restrict and encrypt virtual machines, while Fusion does not. To access admin restriction options, you'll need Fusion Professional. Fusion Professional, incidentally, will give you a copy of VMware Player, a free version of Workstation. (Confusing, right?) Workstation users also access certain features, like teams, that Fusion does not support. VMware offers a short list of these features here.

The latest versions of Workstation and Fusion

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Workstation and Fusion are both effective test-and-development tools. VMware Micro Cloud Foundry can operate as a VM in Workstation, enabling Platform as a Service development. Fusion also supports diverse development tools. Both tools easily take snapshots of VMs. VMs from Fusion can move to Workstation and vice versa without converting them to a new format, even though VM files are stored differently in Workstation than they are in Fusion.

VMware admins have found both Workstation and Fusion useful in the production IT environment. Both tools can convert physical computers to VMs. Admins can move VMs from vSphere to Workstation and back again. Fusion can run on production data center servers as well, supporting Microsoft Active Directory domains, for instance. The ability to switch between Mac and Windows interfaces on Fusion can be crucial for troubleshooting, and is a key benefit to Fusion.

Fusion has a taste for memory, eating it up especially when multiple OSes are running concurrently. Be sure to operate Fusion on a system that can handle your demands. Customizing the Fusion interface will give you faster, more agile operation as well.

This was first published in April 2013

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