Best Free Virtual Machine Software in 2020 – Start Your New Career

Going virtual is a significant step for any programmer or IT professional to create test/demo environment. Emulating different Operating Systems within the current platform without additional costs is the best way for differentiating various critical processes and resource demonstrations. These processes may vary from code experimentation to testing, learning new Operating Systems and Sandboxing.

These virtual machine applications are also known as hypervisors, and the good thing is that most of these good-quality applications are free of cost. You can always upgrade to the paid version to get access to more capabilities and resources based on your requirements.

So, read on to find out the best free virtual machine software of 2020. Some software supports cross-platform as you can install on all type of Operating System such as Windows, Linux & macOS, whereas few others work on specific OS only.

Virtuazliation Technlogy

Table of Contents

Virtual Machine Software: What is it?

Virtual machine software or a VM application is a program with which you can run different Operating Systems on the same host machine. It virtualizes your physical computer (desktop, laptops or server) to utilize the unused resources. You don’t need any extra hardware upgrades to work with these applications and virtual machines. The virtualized environment remains isolated and secured. The only essential requirement is that your physical computer should have enough hardware resources (RAM, storage & processor cores) to host multiple VMs

By using virtual machine software you can run Linux Ubuntu or macOS Catalina on a Windows 10 machine or vice versa. This program allows you to create a range of other combinations of Operating Systems as well. These include Chrome OS, Solaris, Linux and even NAS OS.

What Is Virtualization

The virtual machine and its OS that you will run on the program called as a guest, and the physical system with the hardware is called as host. Operating Systems like Microsoft Windows may need additional license key to use the OS as guest VM. But if you are looking to use Linux or other open-source OS or the newer macOS, including the 10.15 Catalina, then you can get access to these programs and run other OS free of cost.

As these programs are very versatile, their demand among the developers has grown significantly in recent times. There are several of these programs available, and making a choice is difficult. But the idea here is to eliminate any buggy programs and consider the smoothest operating options only according to your needs.

Top Free Virtual Machine Applications of 2020 (For Mac & Windows)

Oracle VirtualBox

Features

VirtualBox is a VM program by Oracle, and it will suit you best if you are new to the virtualization world. The best part about this hypervisor is that it is free of cost and open source. You can conveniently use it at work and install it on your personal computer.

The program was released back in 2007, and it was an instant hit within the IT industry. The program can support a long list of Operating Systems. From XP to the latest Windows 10, you can run any OS on it, including Solaris, OpenSolaris, and OpenBSD. Plus, you can also add any release of Linux from 2.4 on wards.

Fedora Apps

The VM program is an excellent choice for developers, beta testers and IT geeks who are Windows-fans. The program can also get hold of Windows NT and Server 2003 along with 3.x. It can even manage IBM OS/2 on systems equipped with the latest generation processor chips. We have a list of pre-built VirtualBox images here.

Mac users get the same joy of using this program on their systems. You get to host Mac VMs without any issues, which is a massive bonus for any developer. Apple only allows their computers to operate on the hardware with its trademark. Therefore, the possibility of running macOS on VirtualBox has fewer chances unless you are a Macintosh owner.

MacOS On VirtualBox

The portability of this VM program is superb, and you get to change the host and transfer the settings with ease. You won’t have to worry about host Operating Systems when moving virtual machines since it supports cross-platform. You can also run several guest Windows OS and other Operating Systems simultaneously on the same system.

Once the VirtualBox guest additions installed and Seamless mode enabled, you almost get the same experience on the full screen like a standard OS hosted on the physical computer.

The Oracle VirtualBox which is a free hypervisor for desktop computers, have most of the premium features, such as:

  • Snapshot of VM
  • Cloning VM
  • Teleportation (like a cluster migration)

VirtualBox Options

They were some of the required features for any virtual machine software.

This hypervisor can boost hardware performance and optimize resources to run the guest program within the host with ease. As the product gets frequent updates and bug fixes, it is the best choice to start your virtualization journey. Also, the community-driven support forum is friendly and most of the support cases attended there itself.

VirtualBox Network Settings

Additionally, the VirtualBox has robust virtual networking setup where you can group and segregate virtual machines and host OS.  Several types of network and multiple adapters can be added to a single VM. This allows the end user to create separate network for certain virtual machines, Guest to Host, or only to the all guest virtual machines. Even you can setup the port forwarding in the network setup of a VM in console settings.

Pros

Cons

VMware Workstation Player

Features

Among the leaders in the virtualization programs is VMware, and they have multiple Virtual machine software on offer. The top-notch hypervisors for desktops from this company are Fusion and Workstation and Player. The VMware Fusion is for the Mac users while the Workstation and Player are for Linux/Windows users. Also, they have their leading server virtualization platform called VMware ESXi.

VMware Player
Working Ubuntu VM on VMware Player – Windows 10 Host

Both these applications have similar features and user-friendliness, but the configurations are developed for their respective Operating Systems. VMware player is a free product if you are looking to use this program personally. But it lacks some of the important features to use as a complete virtual machine software compared to VirtualBox or VMware workstation. If you are happy with VMware products and you need a full fledged desktop virtualization software, then you need to buy the VMware Workstation. The license cost will be around $100.

The program has a high standard for VM software, and that’s why it is hugely popular among IT professionals. It was released more than two decades ago, and it has aged well with time. The hypervisor supports both OpenGL 3.3 and DirectX 10. And you won’t have to deal with choppy videos or blur photos throughout your virtualization process.

VMware Player Features

There is an intelligent snapshot feature in VM workstation that helps you in creating multiple VM instances. You can also set various rollback points when testing. If anything goes off-plan, then you can quickly run back and resume your progress correctly. The snapshot feature is not available in VMware Workstation player, you need to get the pro version for it.

Find out more how to merge snapshots in VMware workstation.

Since VMware player can host more than 200 guests, you will not run out of options. Also, sharing files and data between guests and hosts super easy and smooth in VMware products.  You can easily share files at a very high rate.  Networking, sound from guest VM and display performance are great once we install VMware tools.

Virtual Machines Settings

If you are new to virtualization and want to have multiple VMs on your host computer, VMware player is one of the best and free options to start with. It is backed by the global virtualization leader VMware and its pro product. Anytime, you can upgrade and migrate the VMs to pro version or to their hypervisor vSphere suite.

Pros

Cons

Hyper-V

Hyper-V is one of the most commonly used virtualization tools among IT professionals who use Microsoft Windows. Microsoft released it in 2008 for Windows Server. Gradually, the VM program has become popular. It is better suited for the newcomers of hypervisors.

The VM program is straightforward to use and install. It is integrated with the Windows 10 features, you just need to enable it from the control panel. Not only you can install Windows client and Server Operating Systems, but also the Linux and open-source appliance.

Hyper V Windows VM

This hypervisor can take snapshots easily via the Hyper-V management console.

HyperV VM Options

It means that you can run the same VM in various cloned versions securely within an isolated environment. Virtual Switch is another tool in this program that allows you to access maximum connectivity. You can connect with other virtual machines with the separate network as well as physical networks alternatively. There are different types of network and virtual switch types available to explore.

Network Switch Settings In Hyper V Console

As Hyper-V leading the server virtualization market with VMware, it is the best way to install the free version on your computer and learn well. It has powerful Powershell commands you can control this hypervisor well and complete tasks which can’t be done by the GUI.

Pros

Cons

Old but Useful Virtual Machine Sofwre

Linux KVM

The KVM or kernel-based VM program is developed for Linux Kernel. This hypervisor at first supported x86 processors along with ARM ports. Later on, they merged into Kernel Merge Window 3.9.

There is a selection of guest Operating Systems supported by this hypervisor. These include the likes of BSD, Windows, Solaris, Linux, and more. If you want your KVM to work efficiently, then you will need a processor that features extensions for hardware virtualization.

Linux KVM

The setup will feature privately virtualized hardware. It will include a disk, card, graphics adapter along with other hardware. The hypervisor is the open-source program, and it is a kernel component which is included in the Linux mainline operating system

Virtual PC

The virtual PC for Windows is another freeware program for virtualization by Microsoft. The program doesn’t work for the versions of the Operating Systems earlier than Windows 7. Also, you do not need this on the latest Windows Operating Systems since you can install free Hyper-V. Also, the Virtual PC doesn’t support MS-DOS either. Therefore, it is a program that runs at the very basics.

It is a pretty old product, later updated with the built-in Hyper-V. So, if you are using Windows 10, you do not need to think of Virtual PC. But since it is still available from Microsoft site to download, we decided to mention as the free virtual machine software in 2020.

The Virtual PC can virtualize a standard PC along with all its hardware and supported software. You can access this program either by the applications installed by the OEMs or through direct download that is accessible through the Microsoft website.

The feature that differentiates it from the rest is that you can install Linux based guests into this program too. These include the likes of SUSE Linux and RedHat. However, you have to install them in text mode because they don’t support the graphics chip of Virtual PC.

Paid Virtual Machine Software

VMware Workstation Pro

The Workstation Pro version, as we have described above, is far better for you if you are looking to intrude more guests. The free version of the program can get slower as the number of guests increases. But that is not the case with the Pro version.

VMware Workstation Pro Best VM Software For Desktop Computers

VMware workstation provides competitive premium features compared to its free VM player. If you are looking for full-fledged virtual machine software from trusted VMware on your Windows or Linux computer, then Workstation is the best option. They keep adding new features, guest VM OS support and improvement in speed and security. It is worth to try if you are going towards VMware virtualization products.

VMware Fusion

This is a paid version for macOS users and it has better support for your CPU and RAM allocation for the guest. And it won’t take many resources on your host either. You also get the convenience of sharing files by dragging-and-dropping on your virtual machine.

VMware Fusion

The best thing is that the program supports 4/5K Retina Display, and you get to run Boot camp on your VM. And you can do this by running Windows on your macOS. Therefore, this VM program is all about huge performance. Being a developer, you can connect to the vSphere Server, which is a graphics rendering facility ideally suitable for iOS developers.

Parallels Software

Here is another excellent premium product. They are popular among Mac users. If you don’t know much about these VM programs, then you should go for the Parallels software. You can conveniently locate the ISO installation file and use this file. Moreover, you can download the hypervisor to your system with ease.

Parallels Software

You can also find a Windows, Ubuntu, or Android-based image based on the soft that you need to run. Ultimately, you can create an installation file from the recovery disk on your macOS. The program allows you to run Android, Linux, and Windows on your Mac.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Yes, virtual machines are very secure because each one of them is isolated from other VMs but using the same hardware. If you’re using all good quality safeguards, including antivirus programs, firewalls, etc. to protect your physical machine, then your virtual machine will remain safe as well. However, you need to make sure that the security programs that you are running on your physical machine don’t slow down the processes and capabilities of virtual machines.

A lot of support comes with VirtualBox, and it is free of cost and open source as well. On the other hand, VMware provides the user with a better experience when it comes to file sharing through drag-and-drop between the guest and the host. But VirtualBox gives you an ability to take as many snapshots as possible. This feature is free in VirtualBox, but you have to pay for it in the Pro version of VMware. So, VirtualBox is the better option here because you don’t have to pay for top features in this scenario.

The physical machine on which you have installed the VM is the host, and the system that you are accessing virtually is the guest. If the guest system is hacked, your host will remain safe. So you don’t have to worry about it. However, you need to have excellent quality firewalls and antivirus programs running on your host.

The internet connection of your virtual machine goes right past your physical computer, as well as your router. Therefore the address of your physical router can be traced. Someone can track you down to your city, at least. A VM can only protect you from someone hacking your actual computer.

Yes, it is legal to use these virtual machines as long as you have an authentic copy of your operating system. There is nothing wrong with the virtualization you are doing. Several developers and IT professionals test their software using virtualization methods.

Yes, viruses can escape the virtual machines, and you have to be very careful. These viruses can enter your host and your network as well depending on the network and file/disk sharing.

No, you don’t need to install a security program in your virtual machine. If you use your virtual machine from the original work and not for testing, then you need to install an antivirus program. It is because a virus might move from the VM to your host and its network during the file-sharing process.

Final Thoughts

If you are looking for the best virtual machine program in every aspect, then you need to choose the VirtualBox. The program is open source and free to use. It is straightforward and easy to install and operate. Furthermore, it allows you to create multiple snapshots, and you can access any number of VMs on your host with ease. It is a top choice for you if you are using a personal computer at home.

If you are Microsoft lover, then you do not need to look for any other extra tools. You can simply use the Hyper-V on your Windows 10 computer. It natively works well on the Windows platform to host Windows and Linux virtual machines.

However, if you are looking for a professional virtual machine software in VMware field, then go for VMware workstation. With a small investment, you will get a fantastic software to host and manage several virtual machines. There is a separate program for Windows and Mac platforms. It is a paid hypervisor and is useful, which is excellent when it comes to file sharing.

VM programs are great for enhancing resource capability and are very commonly used by IT professionals for testing procedures and experimentation. Make sure that you pick the right programs that meet all your requirements for better utilization of resources.

So, which of these VM programs have you used? Do you have a favorite for home or business use? Let us know by leaving a comment in the section below!

Dinesh is the founder of Sysprobs and written more than 400 articles. Enthusiast in Microsoft and cloud technologies with more than 15 years of IT experience.

30 thoughts on “Best Free Virtual Machine Software in 2020 – Start Your New Career”

  1. Hello,

    I use XP Mode, Virtualbox and VMWare Player 3 on Host W7x64.
    Did you ever try to use USB on VB or VMWare. On both I could not use my USB devices but on XP Mode it works fine.
    I only had this problem on host W7x64, but on host W7x86 it works fine in VB and VMWare. It seems to be a problem on Host x64, as guest I tryed XP 32bit and W7x68.

    Thanks !

    Reply
  2. I’m sorry, I have Windows 7 64 Bit as Guest only, not host. So, I didn’t get chance to face this issue. Make sure you installed the correct 64 bit versions of VirtualBox additions or VMware tools. It may help you.
    Thanks for your comment.

    Reply
  3. If you don’t spend about 2 hours readings tutorials on VirtualBox’s snapshot function, all you’ll do is shoot yourself in the leg. Crappy logic, and documentation. If you are just clicking by hunch, you’ll be destroying a snapshot you intended to keep.
    Virtualbox supports a lot of USB device, but not the HTC Hero so I converted my existing VBox image, and went for VMPlayer.
    Result: enormous disk activity, which is killing my notebook. Either I turn to SSD, or wait for a working VBox version with HTC Hero support.
    On supporting 64 what did you mean? Vbox – in my experience – has no problem with 64 bit guests, even on 32 bit host.
    To the “Aero” support: when the guest OS is Linux it is the other way around. VBox supports both 2D and 3D graphic acceleration in Linux, which makes Compiz fanatics itch, and it is a lot of help in virtual machines. VMWare doesn’t support either acceleration in Linux.

    Reply
  4. I’m running virtualbox 3.2 on a debian GNU/Linux amd64 host, and I can’t see the memory or core limitations you mention above (I’m currently running a Windows7 64-bit VM using both cores of my core2duo and 2Gb of RAM in the guest, out of the 3Gb from the host).

    Addind harddisks or networks adaptors, although doable, would be of a dubious usefulness, because most OSs don’t expect those kind of devices to be hotplugged.

    “Defragment” a vdi image doesn’t have any sense; it could contain any kind of filesystem, and every filesystem which needs defragmenting has its own tools and ways of defragmentation. Anyways, most filesystems are well designed enought to not to need manual defragmentation.

    Virtual disks cannot be also easily resized.

    And drag’n drop support… I might be doable, but with a lot of work for every supported guest and host. Drag’n drop works in very different ways across platforms. And I don’t see the shared folders approach such a pain to setup.

    for P2V, you can always create a VM using physical partitions and make a sanpshot. Then, you’re done.

    Reply
  5. Does anybody know which kind of video information are supported? I bear in mind the Intuition solely may dl 3gp utilizing opera mini. I downloaded the twist ap, maybe that is the problem? How can I watch videos from sites other than youtube? Which file sorts? Often I’m given the option of 3gp or mpeg4. Can’t get both to work. Thanks for your time! Rattling I wish I used to be eligible for the improve to EVO!

    Reply
  6. Just upgraded from vmware 6.5 to vmplayer 3 to test the new features such as multi cpus etc. It appears that i have lost all incoming network access to the vms. If i have two vms running at the same time they appear to be linked. Minimise one they all minimise. What else is linked? Maybe that’s why the networking has died?

    Virtual box has for free all the features of vmware 7, it’s fast, it works!

    Reply
    • @dave,
      Yes, possibly both linked or teamed on VMware workstation.
      Since you don’t get all features on VMplayer as Workstation, after upgrade some conflicts would be there.

      Reply
  7. Thank you for this useful information. I just want to add two important features. The first is the ability to copy/past pictures between the host and the guest. VBox does not support it. The second is files drag & drop between the host and the guest. Again VBox does not support it. Thanks

    Reply
    • @Ahmed,
      Thanks for your comment. Yes I agree with you.
      Already I mentioned your point in another post, called ‘ Oh.. VirtualBox still you are missing these all’
      Just check, it may be interest for you.

      @karatedog
      Thanks for your comment too.
      For some reasons copy and paste never worked for me in VirtualBox, but I’m sure it should work since a option available for ‘ bidirectional clipboard sharing’.
      Yes, drag and drop works well in VMware if you have the updated correct VMware tools on guest.

      Reply
  8. @ahmed: Copy/paste works, just “sometimes”. Which means if it doesn’t work, I usually restart both the host & guest OS, and then it will work in VBox.
    Drag&drop is not available in VBox by design, however I cannot do it in VMware either. Are you sure it works in VMWare?

    Reply
    • @karatedog, from where you got this name? 😉

      No, I didn’t change host key. Anyhow Thanks for your tip. I understood one thing with your comment. Till now I was trying to copy and paste files and folders from host to guest ( how it used to work in VMware), but VirtualBox ‘bidirectional clipboard sharing’ is little different, it allows to copy and paste contents of file.

      I can copy the content of a notepad file from host computer to guest computer notepad, this is what meant by ‘sharing clipboard’.

      Anyhow, copy and paste (file content) is working for me in VirtualBox with your tip.

      Reply
  9. These suggestions are either available by using the command line tools, fixed already, completely pointless or more suitable to be fixed by third party tools. You are not very technically minded for someone who claims to be “addicted to virtualization”. I mean come on – drag and drop? Do you have any idea how much coding it would take just to implement a feature designed specifically for retards? You’re totally clueless.

    Reply
    • Hi Ryan Sharp,
      Thanks for your comment, I don’t know how you reached my post, anyhow I’m glad to read a comment like this.

      Yes, I’m not very technically minded to understand the codings from developers side. If you are one of the developer or contributor for VirtualBox community, then I must say ‘ You are doing a great job‘.

      I clearly said in my post that some of the things can be done by command prompts and third party tools, even I published several posts and linked to them.
      I wrote this post as normal home or newbie user of VirtualBox or some one who is switching to VB from other products, still there are so many users using VirtualBox who don’t know to run VBox commands.

      Your suggestions and comments are highly welcomed in this blog. Keep visiting.

      Note – I removed ‘addicted to virtualization’ and my author box from this blog for other blogging reasons. Your comment also pointing that. nice timing 🙂

      Reply
  10. There are a few things fundamentally wrong with this article.
    #7-Not true, a Windows guest detects more than one for me. Or you have no VT-x support on your CPU (but then you can’t even run a 64-bit guest).
    #8-Not true, the limit is higher than that. You just can’t assign more than 88% of your computer’s memory.

    Reply
  11. Hello Dinesh,

    I really appreciate your blog.

    However, 1 thing is missing from this post:

    The ability to set video memory higher than 128mb.

    That way, we can all get better 3d performance.

    Reply
    • Hi lordalpha1,
      Yes, you are correct, that’s the reason we do not get full 3d performance and Windows 7 aero. There could be some reason for that and I hope it will be fixed in forthcoming versions.

      Reply
  12. I’d tried VBox in the past a number of times but never used it much. The reason why is that when I would fire up Dreamweaver (2008, CS4, and even CS5) my host CPU would get to about 50% even if no activity was occurring in DW.

    I just tried the latest version, 4.0.8, again today to see if the problem had been fixed. NOPE. Still sucks. To add to the problem DW CS5 would hang up tight.

    The only reason I’d tried VBox again was for seamless window support. Then after a little research I found that VMware Player has seamless window support. It’s called Unity.

    I’m sticking with VMware.

    VBox has always been a bit buggy in my experience when using it under a Linux host. And I’ve tried numerous hardware/kernel combinations with Vbox. It has never been all that stable.

    I’ll take stability over speed any day. So I chose VMware.

    Reply
  13. I’d tried VBox in the past a number of times but never used it much. The reason why is that when I would fire up Dreamweaver (2008, CS4, and even CS5) my host CPU would get to about 50% even if no activity was occurring in DW.

    I just tried the latest version, 4.0.8, again today to see if the problem had been fixed. NOPE. Still sucks. To add to the problem DW CS5 would hang up tight.

    The only reason I’d tried VBox again was for seamless window support. Then after a little research I found that VMware Player has seamless window support. It’s called Unity.

    I’m sticking with VMware.

    VBox has always been a bit buggy in my experience when using it under a Linux host. And I’ve tried numerous hardware/kernel combinations with Vbox. It has never been all that stable.

    I’ll take stability over speed any day. So I chose VMware. And it’s really not all that much slower.

    Reply
  14. VMware touts Player as an alternative to XP Mode, but they forget to point out that an XP license is required to run XP in Player, which makes VMware solution no longer ‘free’.

    Microsoft includes an XP license in XP Mode. If you convert an XP Mode VM to Player, you’ll have to enter a license code to use XP.

    Reply
  15. I like your write up, but have the following disagreements.

    1. I can just shut down/save the vm, and copy the files. Why do you need a gui for that? And if my host system supports snapshots (using lvm, zfs, etc.) then I don’t even need to shut it down (assuming guest file system doesn’t suck and corrupt its files, since it is equivalent to a hard reset/power off).

    4. I miss this too! I want to add hard disks… I especially love moving virtual disks to different hosts to repair and modify them (boot loaders, fsck, partitioning, etc.)

    7. On my 8 core (4 with HT) Linux machine, I can add 8 cores to a vm… why would I want more? Is this #7 out of date? In many systems, they are not shpped with full virtualization enabled in the BIOS. If you enable that, you should be fine.

    8. The other day I gave 8 GB to a VM because it wanted more than that to compile FreeBSD 9 rc3. It worked fine. (Maybe you set your VM to 32 bit? That limits most OSses to around 4 GB)

    10. Drag and drop files would be great, but that never works for me in VMware either… never compiles properly, so I skip that step. But I’m a Linux techy, so it is simple (or preferred in most cases) for me to just use scp, rsync, etc. instead.

    Reply
  16. License:

    “For production environment, you have to purchase Sun VirtualBox license”

    This isn’t true. Their definition of “personal use” does not mean non-commercial.

    Read about the license here:
    https://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Licensing_FAQ
    “What exactly do you mean by personal use and academic use in the Personal Use and Evaluation License?”
    “It doesn’t matter whether you just use it for fun or run your multi-million euro business with it. Also, if you install it on your work PC at some large company, this is still personal use.”

    Performance / scalability:

    And about performance, they both perform okay for me when not so heavily used, but in my testing of VMware player and server on Windows 7 and Ubuntu host systems, no matter what sort of VM I am running, if I start using the disk heavily, the system crawls. With VMware player (Windows 7 or Ubuntu), the system eventually becomes completely non-responsive. The vmware-vmx processes hog all the cpu, and setting the process priority to very low has no effect. With VMware server (only tested it on Ubuntu), the system gradulally slows down, and eventually runs horribly slow, but doesn’t seem to ever completely fail. With VirtualBox and with VMware ESXi, I haven’t had any problems like that at all so far (but I don’t have long running VirtualBox server VMs yet.)

    And off topic (servers, not desktops), but I am considering switching from using ESXi (a whole OS, not a desktop app) to VirtualBox because the ESXi NFS client is terrible with ZFS. And that is why I read this page. Thanks for all your info.

    Reply

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