VMWare Workstation

VMware Workstation is a line of hosted hypervisor products running on x64 computers that allows users to run virtual machines, containers, and Kubernetes clusters on a single physical machine and use them simultaneously along with the host machine. Each virtual machine can execute its own operating system, including versions of Windows, Linux, BSD, and MS-DOS. The software is developed and sold by VMware, Inc., a division of Dell Technologies.

In layman’s terms, VMWare Workstation enables the installation of multiple operating systems, including both client and server operating systems, at the same time. It helps network or system administrators check, test, and verify the client/server environment. Authorized users can switch between different virtual machines at the same time.

VMWare Workstation product offerings

VMWare Workstation supports hardware compatibility, acting as a bridge between the host and virtual machine. Hardware resources include hard disks, USB devices, and CDs. All device drivers are installed by the host machine. The software can save the state of a virtual machine (known as Snapshots) at any instant. This state can later be restored, meaning at any time the virtual machine can return to that saved state if there was damage made to it after being saved.

vmware compatibility guide

IMAGE: VMWare features a compatibility guide that provides a single point of access for all VMware hardware compatibility guides. The search tool streamlines the HCL posting process and offers advanced search capabilities and the ability to save the guide(s) or search results in the csv format.

Read more: What is a hypervisor? 

There are two products collectively referred to as VMWare workstation: Workstation Pro and Workstation Player. Player is a free local virtualization solution for Windows and Linux that was created for non-commercial use, but it does have a paid version if using commercially.

Pro is a solution for running multiple operating systems as virtual machines for Windows and Linux that was created for commercial use and requires a one-time payment to use. Major differences between the two are outlined in later sections.

A few uses of VMWare Workstation include:

  • Learning server management and web development
  • Testing multiple OSes and apps
  • Assisting with new application rollout
  • Demoing products
  • Staging vSphere
  • Developing software
  • Testing browsers

Read more: What is a virtual machine? 

VMWare Workstation Pro vs. Workstation Player

Fundamentally, Workstation Pro and Workstation Player share the same hypervisor technology, but each has a unique user interface for different types of use. The hardware and host operating systems requirements are the same for both.

Workstation Pro is designed for IT professionals and developers, providing more features and capabilities for running multiple virtual machines at the same time. Pro can configure virtual networking, create clones, connect to VMWare vSphere (a server virtualization app), and show multiple virtual machines simultaneously in a tabbed user interface.

Workstation Player is designed for a single graphical virtual machine operation or command line operation. It’s a much more straightforward application compared to Pro, and it’s easy to quickly create and run virtual machines. Player is typically used in education for learning more about IT and computer systems or for those who need to run virtual machines provided to them by their IT system administrator.

VMWare Workstation Pro vs. Player comparison chart

Feature

Workstation Player

Workstation Pro

Create new virtual machines

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Create large Virtual machines (16CPU, 64GB RAM, 3GB vRAM)

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Over 200 supported guest operating systems

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Mass deployment

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Host/guest file sharing

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Run virtual machines with different view modes

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3D graphics

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Draggable tabbed interface

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One-click SSH to Linux virtual machine

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4K display support

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Supports wide range of virtual devices

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USB smart card reader support

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USB 3.0 device support

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Works with assistive devices

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Multi-language keyboard support

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Microsoft virtualization-based security support

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Virtual trusted platform module

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UEFI secure boot support

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Create/manage encrypted virtual machines

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Virtual network rename

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Run managed/restricted desktop

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REST API control

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vCenter server application effortless deploy

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Command line operation: vmrun

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Snapshots

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Run multiple virtual machines at once

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Virtual network customization

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Virtual network simulation

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Virtual machine cloning

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Shared virtual machine

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Connect to vSphere

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Remote vSphere host power control

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How does VMWare Workstation work?

Workstation uses special functions in modern 64-bit CPUs to create fully isolated, secure virtual machines that summarize an operating system and its applications. The VMWare virtualization layer maps physical hardware resources to a virtual machine’s virtual resources. Through this, each virtual machine has its own CPU, memory, disks, and input/output devices.

History of VMWare Workstation

The first version (1.0) of VMWare workstation was released in May of 1999. A new version was released almost every year thereafter. These releases featured a mix of bug fixes, issue resolution, and support for new operating systems.

The most recent version, released in April 2021, is version 16.1, which features support for new guest operating systems including Windows 10, Ubuntu 20.10, Fedora 33, and RHEL 8.3.

In January of 2016, the entire development team for Workstation was disbanded and all US developers were immediately fired as part of VMWare’s annual workforce rebalancing efforts. VMWare stated that this shift would not impact products. In September of that same year, a new version of Workstation was released, signifying that the company was still progressing with the product.

Use cases of VMWare Workstation

The use cases vary depending on whether Workstation Pro or Workstation Player is being used.

Use cases for Workstation Pro

Workstation Pro is best for any user in the commercial space, but it’s most used by IT personnel, developers, and business leaders.

IT personnel can run virtual machines that are compatible with their corporate data center from their laptop or PC. They use Workstation Pro to perform management tasks on vSphere and integrate with network tools to fully design and test enterprise topologies without using expensive mission-critical hardware. It’s also used to test operating system and application security on client machines while remaining isolated from the physical computer’s memory and storage.

Developers use Workstation Pro to develop and test applications in a virtual sandbox. They can rapidly create and delete virtual production-like environments using containers, virtual machines, or Kubernetes clusters. Using shared folders, they can mount source code folders to one or many virtual machines or containers at the same time. Workstation Pro has built-in encryption, meaning every virtual machine can be secured by developers and access can be limited to only authorized users.

Business leaders use Workstation Pro to deliver secure work-from-home desktops and apps. End users can run Windows on Mac, or Linux on Windows or Mac without rebooting. Mission-critical legacy applications can be deployed on modern hardware while still remaining compliant and secure.

Use cases for Workstation Player

Workstation Player is best for students, faculty, businesses, and corporate users who need a small sandbox environment for testing or control.

In educational settings, students get a simple environment for exploring new operating systems while faculty can provide repeatable, controlled lab environments for class activity without the need for an internal cloud. The evolving technology landscape can be tested with VMWare’s virtualization tools in a virtual sandbox on an existing PC.

In business settings, Player allows users to work wherever they are by providing a corporate desktop image that can run managed or unmanaged on the end user’s laptop or PC. The app allows for easy access to other corporate apps, and IT administrators can centrally manage and enforce security policies with it.

VMWare Workstation key features

Key features of Workstation Pro

  • Features running multiple virtual machines, containers, or Kubernetes clusters on a single PC
  • Supports VM snapshots, clones, and virtual networking use
  • Encrypts and builds restricted or expiring virtual machines
  • Enables users to move and access virtual machines across VMWare infrastructure
  • Features enhanced 3D graphics support
  • Supports running Workstation virtual machines and containers alongside Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 (WSL2) and Hyper-V on Windows

Key features of Workstation Player

  • Is an adequate environment to learn about virtualization, operating systems, containers, Kubernetes, or VMWare ecosystem
  • Runs restricted virtual machines created by Workstation Pro or Fusion Pro
  • Supports over 200 support guests and host operating systems
  • Features enhanced 3D graphics support
  • Runs Windows XP or Windows 7 in a virtual environment on modern hardware
  • Enables EULA compliance for running  the software in a commercial environment by allowing a license to be purchased
Abby Braden
Abby Braden is an award-winning writer and editor for websites such as TechnologyAdvice.com, Webopedia.com, and Project-Management.com, where she covers technology trends and enterprise and SMB project management platforms. When she’s not writing about technology, she enjoys giving too many treats to her dog and coaching part-time at her local gym.

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