VMware offers numerous virtualization solutions, with the most popular ones being VMware ESXi, which is a part of VMware vSphere – the cloud computing virtualization suite.
While not as popular, VMware does offer Desktop Virtualization options as well in the form of VMware Workstation (Windows, Linux) and VMware Fusion (macOS), and these are the ones we’ll be discussing today.
Specifically, we’ll talk about getting started with these hypervisors, their working mechanisms, settings and applications, and other important topics that you’ll find helpful as a beginner.
Table of Contents
VMware Workstation and Fusion
Unlike ESXi, VMware Workstation and Fusion are Type 2 Hypervisors, meaning these are installed on top of a host OS, somewhat like other applications. These are dependent on the underlying OS for resource access, and they aren’t very scalable either.
As such, these hypervisors are primarily used for creating a secure and isolated environment to test different operating systems, different programs on different OS’es, or virtual machines with different specs.
Next, let’s talk about which one you should use. VMware Workstation is the virtualization solution for Windows and Linux, while VMware Fusion is the Mac equivalent. Both of this software are available as Player (free for non-commercial use) or Pro (premium license) versions.
VMware Player is used to run a single VM at a time, primarily for educational purposes. On the other hand, VMware Pro is designed for professional environments and supports additional capabilities such as using multiple VMs concurrently, virtual networking, cloning, and so on.
Depending on the platform you’re on and your use cases, you should be able to decide which VMware product to use now. After you’ve made the decision, you can check the appropriate sections below for detailed steps on installing VMware, creating a VM, and configuring the most important settings.
Prerequisites for VMware
First, if you’re downloading VMware Fusion, you’ll probably want to get the recently released Tech Preview (universal) version, as this is intended for both Intel and Apple Silicon Macs, while the older DMGs will only work on Intel-based Macs.
If you need to manually enable hardware virtualization on Intel Macs, you can do so by executing
sysctl -a | grep machdep.cpu.features in the terminal.
Similarly, on Windows and Linux machines, you can enable it via the BIOS. Here are the steps for this:
- Power on your computer and press the BIOS key shown on the screen (Fn keys or Del).
- On Linux, you can also access it via the GNU GRUB menu. To do this with BIOS, press and hold Shift. With UEFI, press Esc a few times when booting. Either way, in the GRUB menu, select the Firmware Settings option.
- In the BIOS, locate the Virtualization option (AMD-V, SVM, Intel VT-x, VT-d, etc.) in the Advanced or CPU Configuration tabs.
- Enable Virtualization and press the key shown on the screen (usually F10) to save the changes and exit.
Finally, on Linux, if you’re using a niche distro, you’ll also want to make sure that it’s actually compatible as a host OS for VMware Workstation.
Create A VM in VMware Workstation
Installing VMware Workstation on Windows is simple enough; you simply download and install it like any other application. On Linux, things are slightly more complicated, though. Users often face issues with the installation, particularly when installing VMware Tools afterward.
As such, we recommend referring to this in-depth guide on installing VMware on Linux if you need help with that. But in this article, we’ll skip the installation part and dive straight into the steps for creating your first VM:
- Launch VMware Workstation and click on Create a New Virtual Machine.
- In the New VM wizard, you can select Typical or Custom.
- Typical automates part of the process by selecting the default options. This option is ideal for beginners or if you’re fine with the recommended options.
- Custom allows you to customize all the configurations like hardware compatibility, I/O controller, virtual disk type, etc. We’ll go with this.
- The VM hardware compatibility option allows you to determine the virtualized hardware features (firmware type, max memory, etc.) that will be available to the VM. We recommend picking your current workstation here and pressing Next.
- In the Guest OS Installation screen, you have three options.
- You can install from Installer disk if you have an installation media mounted to the physical machine.
- You can also use Installer disc image file to specify the ISO from which the Guest OS will be installed.
- Or, you can also just create the VM without an OS for now by selecting I will install the OS later. We’ll go with this.
- If you selected an ISO, you might be prompted to enter some info for Easy Install. If you opted to install the OS later instead, then you’ll have to select the OS version that you plan to use with this VM.
- Next, you can name the VM and set the location where the VM files will be stored. Do note that these files aren’t the same as the virtual disk, which we’ll configure later.
- Depending on the guest OS you selected, you may be prompted to select the firmware type. You must configure this according to the guest OS’s requirements. For instance, Windows 11 requires UEFI with secure boot.
- For processor configuration, you can go with the default value. But if you want to customize, we recommend assigning 1 processor if the VM is intended for light app usage, while 2 processors should suffice for intensive usage or things like server operations.
- Next, allocate the memory for the VM. Once again, it’s best to go with the recommended value here, but as long you stick between the min and max recommendations, you’ll be fine.
- For Network Setup, you have multiple options.
- Bridged Networking gives the VM direct access to the external network that the host is connected to. The guest will have an IP on the same network as the host.
- With NAT, the guest and host will share the same IP. NAT will make any network requests from the VM seem as if they were originating from the host. We’ll go with this.
- With Host-only networking, the host uses a virtual network adapter to set up an isolated virtual network between the host and the guest only.
- Or you can also simply select Do not use a network connection if you don’t want one.
- If prompted to select the SCSI controller, go with the recommended option (LSI Logic SAS). The prior two are generally deprecated, while Paravirtualized SCSI is for when you’re creating a remote virtual machine on an ESX host.
- Now select the disk type for your virtual disk. This one’s up to preference, but we recommend going with NVMe if it’s available.
- Once again, you have a few options when selecting the disk to use:
- First, you can choose to create a new virtual disk. We’ll go with this.
- You can also use an existing virtual disk (VMDK) file. With this, you may want to duplicate the VMDK files first, as the copy you use will be locked to this specific VM. All the child VMDK files should also be in the same location.
- If you opt to use a physical disk and give the VM direct access to the physical HDD. You can choose to use the entire HDD or certain partitions with this method.
- When creating the virtual disk, you must configure a few things:
- First, you’ll have to specify the max disk size. Generally, you can go with the recommended option here, but you may also need to allocate higher space depending on your use cases. You should also be careful about allocating too little space. This will depend on the specific guest OS, but Windows 11, for instance, won’t work if at least 52 GB of disk space isn’t allocated.
- You can choose to allocate all the disk space right away for enhanced performance. But if you’re facing space constraints, feel free to skip this, as the difference isn’t significant.
- You can store the vdisk as a single file, but a large single disk file can be difficult to move around. You won’t have this issue if you split it into multiple files, but the performance may be impacted with very large disks.
- Now, name the vdisk and specify the storage location. Do make sure to store the files in a partition with enough space.
- Finally, you can press Customize Hardware to review the hardware configurations one more time. After you’re satisfied, press Finish.
- You can press Add to add extra virtualized hardware such as network adapters, serial ports, TPM, etc. Or, you can select and remove certain ones as well.
- In the Processor tab, you can enable the Virtualize Intel VT-x/EPT or AMD-V/RVI option for nested virtualization capabilities (running a VM inside a VM).
- In the CD/DVD section, you can select Use physical drive (auto detect) or Use ISO image file to mount a disk.
- In the Network Adapter section, you can click on Advanced and generate the MAC Address for the adapter or set bandwidth limits.
- In the USB Controller section, you can set the USB compatibility. You can also pick whether or not to share Bluetooth devices with the VM.
- In the Display section, you can configure things like 3D graphics acceleration, graphics memory, display scaling, and other monitor settings.
These were the basic steps for creating a VM. Afterward, you’ll generally want to select the VM and click on Edit VM Settings. In the CD/DVD section, you can mount the ISO that you’ll use for installing the guest OS. Once that’s done, you can power on the VM, install the OS, and get started with it.
VMware uses Easy Install for a lot of popular operating systems, thanks to which most of the process will be simplified. The exact steps will differ depending on which guest OS you’re trying to install, but we do have an in-depth guide on installing Windows 11 on VMware Workstation if you require it.
VMware Settings in Detail
We discussed how to configure the settings necessary for creating a VM earlier. But that was just the start. You can take the customization a lot further, both in terms of VMware and specific VMs.
General Options and Features
Let’s start with the menu bar.
- File: In this tab, you can Scan for Virtual Machines. This will allows you to locate any VMs stored outside of the VM library.
- Connect to Server: It allows you to remotely access a shared VM hosted on VMware ESX or vCenter Server.
- Export to OVF: It allows you to convert the VM from
.ovfformat. The OVF format contains full specifications of the VM, which is very useful for migrating VMs.
- Map Virtual Disk: It allows you to map a virtual disk and make it directly accessible from the host machine.
- Edit: In this tab, the Virtual Network Editor allows you to manage advanced configurations for the virtual network and adapters.
As the name implies, the Preferences are up to the user, but we’ll talk about the most important ones and our recommendations below:
- Workspace: In this tab, you can set the default location for VMs. You should also configure whether you want to enable all Shared folders by default, and whether you want to keep VMs running after Workstation closes.
- Input: In this tab, you can choose how Workstation grabs keystrokes and mouse input.
- Hotkeys: Here, you can modify various keyboard shortcuts. The important one is Ctrl + Alt, which releases control from the current VM.
- Display: Here, you can configure hardware acceleration for remote VMs.
- Unity: This tab allows you to set the Unity applications menu hotkey. This mode allows you to display programs from the VM on the host OS’s desktop.
- USB: In this tab, you can specify whether a newly connected USB should connect to the host, VM, or you’d like to be asked each time.
- Updates: In this tab, you can set the update server or manually download software components. You can also enable automatic updates for VMware Tools.
- Memory: In this tab, you can change the total host RAM available for VMs. If you’re running multiple VMs, you’ll want to set this high. But setting it too high can cause CPU thrashing on the host, and setting it too low will impact the number of VMs you can run and their performance. It’s a matter of finding the sweet spot according to your system specs.
- Additional Memory Settings: In this section, Fit all VM memory into reserved host RAM makes the VMs run entirely in RAM. The performance will be optimal, but the number of VMs you can run will be limited.
Allow some VM memory to be swapped allows the host OS to swap some VM memory to the disk. This will allow the number of VMs and their memory size to be higher, but it can impact individual performance. Allow most VM memory to be swapped is more of the same – even more VMs but reduced performance.
Virtual Machine Settings
Now we’ll go over the additional VM-specific settings and features. Select the VM and click on VM from the Menu bar. The first option worth looking at here is snapshot.
As the name suggests, taking a snapshot captures the VM as it is, basically logging everything about its current state. Do keep in mind that snapshots are not backups. If the base disk is deleted, you won’t be able to restore the VM using the snapshot.
In the Manage tab, the Clone and Upload options are also worth checking. Upload is self-explanatory – you can upload the VM to a vSphere server. Clone allows you to create a cloned VM, which is a copy of the original with the same hardware and software configurations.
A fully cloned VM is independent of the original, and you can make whatever changes you want to the clone. But a linked clone requires access to the original to run. You also can’t delete the original without deleting the linked clone.
If you press CTRL + D or click on Edit Virtual Machine settings, you can access some additional options. We already configured most things from the Hardware tab while creating the VM, but the Hard disk section is worth checking again. You can perform operations like defragmentation, expanding the vdisk size, and compacting the vdisk here (return unused space to host).
In the Options tab, we first recommend configuring Shared Folders to your preference. Next, you should check Snapshots (when powering off) and AutoProtect (auto snapshot creation). In the Guest Isolation tab, you can drag and drop and copy-paste between host and guest.
The Advanced tab has some minor settings you could check, like automatic logging (helpful for troubleshooting) and auto disk cleanup.
VMware Workstation versions released prior to Feb 2022 also allow you to virtualize a physical machine. This isn’t something that’s commonly done, but for certain things like server consolidation, it can come in clutch.
Installing VMware Tools
VMware Tools is a set of utilities that enables support for various VMware features like shared folders, shared clipboard, clock synchronization, etc., and most importantly, provides a significant performance upgrade.
Installing VMware Tools on Windows guests is pretty straightforward – you just select VM > Install VMware Tools and follow the on-screen instructions in the installation wizard.
The same cannot be said for Linux guests. Most popular distributions include Open VM Tools (the open source implementation of VMware Tools) during the OS installation. So generally, VMware Tools is not required. But when you need to manually install VMware Tools, the process is somewhat complicated. As such, we recommend referring to the linked guide for full steps on installing VMware Tools on a Linux guest.
VMware Fusion used to be supported on Intel-Macs only, but as we mentioned earlier, the recently released Tech Preview version will work on Silicon Macs as well. The UI may be different, but most of the things we’ve talked about so far, from the steps to create a VM and the various settings, will be similar.
But with that said, we do have an in-depth article on VMware Fusion, which includes full steps to install Fusion, and create and configure your first VM, that you may find helpful.