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2010/10/31 From VmWare To Virtualbox
π 2010-10-31 00:00 in Linux

Vmware linux kernel support downfall

I've had vmware workstation since version 2.0, and paid for each version since then: 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. My latest version is 6.5.4 (under the 6.0 license).

I need to start by saying that I've always considered vmware an impressive product. Some of what they're doing is incredibly hard (fast VT without CPU support) and they're doing it very well.

Yet, I've always had a gripe with Vmware which finally got me to switch to Virtualbox just now: their total lack of support for new kernels as they come out.
While it would be nice, I'm not asking for their website to have up to date patches for the latest rc kernel patch that just came out 2 hours ago, but they have always lacked support for new stable kernels, even months after they came out (sometimes up to six months almost!).

It's not like they don't have kernel engineers there, why don't they write timely patches to vmmon, vmnet and friends a few days after each new stable kernel comes out? Ok, there is the support and testing issue, but then just post them unofficially on the web site as 'unsupported', which is better than my googling for the same thing off some random guy's web page.
Now you could say "just upgrade to workstation 7.x", but shouldn't I get kernel support for the existing workstation license I already paid for, for a reasonable number of years, like 3 to 5? I'm not asking to have vmware 2 working anymore... Forcing me to buy the next vmware every time just to get kernel support is wrong. The worst part is that even workstation 7 still does not support kernel 2.6.35 or 2.6.36, so even by paying for the next version, I'm still unsupported.

For "fun", I tried to get the lastest vmware workstation from their web site, take its modules, patch them for 2.6.36 since they do not work as is, and then try to use them with vmware 6.5. Unfortunately, they're not backward compatible :(

So, I'm left with using the free limited vmware player when I had 5 paid for licenses for vmware 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 (!). That's just wrong: I shouldn't have to use the free limited product when I have paid licenses for multiple older vmware versions with no kernel support...
And to add insult to injury when I installed the latest vmware player, it removed vmware workstation from my system without asking me, never mind if I wanted to reboot with an older kernel and use my older vmware workstation. Grr, that's not cool guys!

So, while I really liked vmware, the company and the product, this just drove me away and enticed me to try VirtualBox.
Sorry to tell you vmware: you lost a customer who could otherwise recommend your products for server room use because you couldn't be bothered to support new linux kernels timely as they came out in the 10 years or so you've been in business and I've used your products, and you clearly dropped support for your paid customers as soon as a new vmware came out, forcing people to upgrade and pay for a new version.

VirtualBox

VirtualBox comes in two flavours: the open source edition (OSE) and the closed source but free as in beer version. They came from Sun who needs to be commended for the contributions they have made to open source. Unfortunately, this is now owned by Oracle which I respect and trust a whole lot less (especially since the Java lawsuit).

Because USB support is a requirement for me (I mostly use windows to sync to hardware that only has windows support, like garmin GPSes), I had to use the closed source edition from Oracle.

First impressions were good: Oracle provides multiple native packages for all popular distributions (which is better than the vmware bundle that decides to uninstall old versions of vmware products without asking me), and one apt-get command later, I had virtualbox running on my laptop.

The part that really impressed me was that VirtualBox was able to re-use my vmware disk image cut in 2GB chucks as is. I just pointed it to my vmware image, and it just booted windows. Now, things were a bit ugly until I got its tools installed (a bit like vmware tools), once that was done, things worked pretty well. I read some notes about the fact that a WinXP image might not work as is in virtualbox due to ACPI and IOAPIC, but my W2K image from 10 years ago just worked as is.
A small problem was that it was incompatible with the AMD PCnet emulation than vmware used, so networking didn't quite work until I switched virtualbox to emulate an e1000 card and installed the e1000 driver in my vmware image. After that, things were good.

I was then even able to shut down the image, and re-open it in vmware player 7 (the only thing to be very careful about was that vmware player remembered that the image was a snapshot and tried to restore windows to its running state in vmware with disk blocks that has since changed due to Virtualbox having run in the meantime. Worryingly enough I did not find a way to tell vmware player to start the image from scratch as opposed to trying to restore the frozen snapshot. I had to restore my full vmware disk blocks from a backup and then delete the pointers vmware had so that it would not try to restore the image anymore and just boot it from scratch.

Anyway, I can now run my vmware image with either VirtualBox or Vmware Player, although I'm going to stick to Virtualbox from now on: I tested USB on it and it worked fine to talk to my garmin GPS, so that's all I need.

Little things I noticed:

  • virtualbox does not allow me to map a serial port on the fly (i.e. reserve a serial port and map it to /dev/ttyUSB0 after I plug in the serial converter in linux). I can do that with vmware.
  • Annoyingly vmware and virtualbox use a different hostname and path to share host virtual systems under. As a result, I have drive letter mappings that are different for vmware and virtualbox and one half fails each time I boot windows. I'm not sure if I can hack virtualbox to use the same names than vmware.
  • Virtualbox otherwise looks as good, if not better as vmware player. Its snapshot/restore looks a bit faster on my system and more importantly their kernel modules are actually supported and working on recent kernels.
  • One needs to be *very* careful not to try and restore a snapshoted system back to life if the disk image was used to boot the system from scratch by the competing product. Severe disk corruption could otherwise occur. Virtualbox should maybe detect that and optionally invalidate the vmware freeze/snapshot after it mounts and modifies its disk image.
  • I am wondering if virtualbox is a bit slower on a vmware disk image instead of its native format. If someone knows, tell me.
  • But all in all, while I'm sad to have had to ditch Vmware after about 10 years of being a user, I'm a happy Virtualbox user now. I just hope Oracle isn't going to screw it up.


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