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I've been out of the virtual machine market for a while. Back in 2005, I used Microsoft Virtual PC 2004 (not free) and the current version of VMWare (not free). What are some good, free solutions?

I'm sick of trying out new software on my host OS and hosing it!


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8 Answers 8

up vote 40 down vote accepted

I've been using Sun's VirtualBox for the past little while, and I have been completely happy with it.

Update: I have been wanting to update this to provide some of the reasons why I am perfectly happy with it, but in doing that I will take way from the comments that other's have added. So, with that said, I highly recommend people read the associated comments.

virtualbox is free, open-source edition (OSE) version available (with some proprietary features missing, but for OS purists it is available). lots of development is going on, new features being implemented and new versions released very often. i've tried it and stayed with it. the only missing feature is drag'n'drop between host and guest, but i believe it'll be added some time soon... until then, shared folders work for sharing data –  zappan Apr 30 '09 at 21:52
To note as well, VirtualBox is free, and very comparible to VMware. –  Matt Hanson May 1 '09 at 6:20
I've been using VirtualBox and VMWare Player, I've been really impressed with VirtualBox. I'll try Virtual PC later just to be complete, but I'm loving VirtualBox right now. –  Nathan Bedford May 1 '09 at 17:00
I'm using VirtualBox extensively too and it's been just fine - it's ahead of VMware's offerings in some places, notably AHCI SATA support for virtual disk images. The only annoying thing is the utter lack of guest additions for Windows 9x operating systems (yes, some of us unfortunately still have to support those) which makes it unusable for those OSes. –  Mihai Limbăşan May 5 '09 at 19:35
It is also possible to run VMWare virtual machines/appliances on VirtualBox, giving you access to a large set of prebuilt VMs. You simply need to configure a new machine and then add the VMWare disk image as the hard drive in the VirtualBox configuration. I even have some machines that I run under both. Other details found here: wiki.ubuntu.com/UbuntuMagazine/HowTo/… –  Tim Jun 29 '09 at 21:36

VMWare Player and VMWare server are free. You'll need an appropriate image to start for Player, of course.

(And you mention VirtualPC, but that's free as well now, I believe.

The big thing to note is that a LOT of software systems are offering pre-configured VMWare images to go with the player such as Ubuntu, a Mono framework install running on a brand of *NIX, MS Server 2003 R2, and plenty more. –  Dillie-O Apr 30 '09 at 21:54
Thanks, Jon. I knew about VMWare Player being free, but was looking for a one-stop solution, such as Virtual PC (didn't know that was free until now) or VirtualBox. Now that you've mentioned VMWare, I looked around and found tutorials on creating images for free too. Thanks! –  Nathan Bedford May 1 '09 at 2:47
Found this link to help create images: johnbokma.com/mexit/2005/10/26/vmware-player-windows-xp.html –  Nathan Bedford May 1 '09 at 2:48
For VMWare, both the player and the server are free. –  Portman May 1 '09 at 4:50
Portman: Thanks, will add link to server as well. –  Jon Skeet May 1 '09 at 5:14

Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 IS free, download it here:


I think he was saying he didn't like Virtual PC, and he'd use VMware, except that it [VMware] is not free. –  Ben Alpert Apr 30 '09 at 22:06
Yes, it wasn't really well-written - what he implied was that they were both non-free, so I thought I'd just throw this in so that others don't get confused :) –  Wayne Koorts Apr 30 '09 at 22:16
Wayne, it was written with the assumption that Microsoft Virtual PC was NOT free (since it wasn't when I used it last, in 2005). I don't think that qualifies as "wasn't really well-written", just "behind the times" :) a Thanks for the info on Microsoft Virtual PC 2007. Good to know it's free. –  Nathan Bedford Apr 30 '09 at 23:12
I agree that VMWare is generally better than VPC, but VPC is a much lighter weight install. Doesn't even require a reboot, and it doesn't spray weird drivers all over your system like VMWare does. So it has that going for it.. –  Jeff Atwood May 1 '09 at 7:19
I would also add to Jeff's comment and say that the Microsoft VPC IE compatibility images (XP-based) run beautifully on just 128MB of assigned RAM, which is the recommended amount! –  Wayne Koorts May 24 '09 at 21:42

Virtualbox from Sun and VMWare Server are both free.


In my very recent experience between Virtual PC, VMWare, and VirtualBox:

If you want 3D Graphics Acceleration: VMWare. Program seems to fail DirectX check immediately on the other two.

Otherwise some Google querying with the underutilized wildcard can yield some quick comparisons, e.g.: "virtualbox * faster OR performance * virtual pc" (and then reverse the order, substitute names, etc.) repeated for whichever quality you wish.

I'm personally very satisfied with VirtualBox and its performance, but needs vary.


Just as an information: not only Microsoft Virtual PC is free, but also Microsoft Virtual Server. If you're looking to virtualize servers, then this might be what you'll want to use instead of Virtual PC.

Here is a whitepaper describing the differences between the two products: Virtual PC vs. Virtual Server: Comparing Features and Uses

Thanks, Martin. I would like to virtualize a server, so this is good info. –  Nathan Bedford May 1 '09 at 16:58
Hyper-V is also free if you have a Server 2008 server, and there is a standalone bare-metal Hyper-V which doesn't require a server OS. –  a_hardin May 2 '09 at 15:14

VMware also has their bare-metal free hypervisor option, ESXi. It can be made to boot from a USB key.

+1 That could be a LOT of fun. –  Kara Marfia May 6 '09 at 19:03

Citrix XenServer - it's free, but you don't use it inside your OS. You would need to have separate machine that hosts VM. Then, you can use XenCenter console (similar to VM one) to connect to the VM. Xen is really fast, I frequently RDP to VMs and use visual studio and don't really feel like it's VM.

Having separate server has an advantage - if your system is down, you can grab any PC and connect to your VMs.


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