Is VMware Free and Open Source?

VMware is a leading provider of virtualization and cloud computing software. Many people wonder if VMware products are free and open source. The short answer is no – most VMware software requires purchasing a commercial license. However, VMware does offer some free products and open source projects.

Is VMware Free and Open Source?

VMware’s Commercial Licensing Model

The majority of VMware’s virtualization and cloud products, such as vSphere, vCenter, and VMware Cloud, are commercial software that requires purchasing a license. These licenses are typically subscription-based and priced per CPU socket or per VM.

Some key points about VMware licensing:

  • License costs depend on edition (e.g. Standard vs. Enterprise Plus)
  • Support and maintenance are usually a separate annual cost
  • License portability allows reassigning licenses between servers
  • Volume discounts are available for larger deployments
  • Academic and government discounts are offered

While VMware software is a significant investment, many organizations find that the benefits in management, performance and reliability are worth the cost compared to free and open source alternatives.

VMware’s Free Offerings

Although most VMware products require a commercial license, the company does provide a few free offerings:

  • VMware Workstation Player: Free for personal, non-commercial use. Allows running a single virtual machine on a Windows or Linux PC.
  • ESXI Hypervisor: Free version of VMware’s type-1 “bare-metal” hypervisor. Limited to usage on a single physical server.
  • vCenter Converter: Free tool for converting physical machines to virtual machines.
  • vSphere Hypervisor: Free, entry-level version of vSphere for small deployments. Supports up to 8 vCPUs and 32 GB RAM per VM.

These free products allow individuals and very small businesses to utilize VMware virtualization technology at no cost, although they lack advanced features and scalability. They can be a good way to gain familiarity with VMware products before committing to a commercial purchase.

VMware and Open Source

While VMware’s core products are proprietary commercial software, the company does embrace open source in a few ways:

  1. Open source projects: VMware sponsors and contributes to a number of open source projects, such as:
    • Harbor: cloud native container registry
    • Photon OS: Linux container host
    • Clarity: UI component library
    • Concourse: CI/CD platform
  2. Open standards and APIs: Many VMware products support open standards and provide APIs for integration and extensibility. Examples include:
    • Virtual machine disk formats: VMDK, OVF
    • vSphere APIs for storage, networking, automation
    • Kubernetes APIs in VMware Tanzu
  3. Open source licensing: A small number of VMware tools, such as PowerCLI for automation, are released under open source licenses like BSD or MIT.

So while the core of VMware’s virtualization platform is not open source, the company does strategically utilize and support open source software.

How VMware Differs from Open Source Virtualization

There are a number of free and open source alternatives to VMware products for virtualization, such as:

  • KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine)
  • Xen Project hypervisor
  • VirtualBox
  • Proxmox
  • oVirt

Some key differences between VMware and these open source options include:

Feature VMware Open Source
License cost Paid, per-socket or per-VM Free
Support Paid, official VMware support Community-based
Scalability Supports large datacenters Often used for smaller deployments
Management Full vCenter management platform Varies, often less integrated
Reliability Extensive QA and testing Varies by project
Performance Highly optimized for virtualization Often lags behind VMware

In general, open source virtualization projects offer significant cost savings and work well for simpler, smaller-scale deployments. However, VMware’s commercial products tend to be more mature, integrated, performant and well-supported, making them appealing to larger enterprises despite the significant license and support costs.

Key Takeaways

  • Most VMware virtualization and cloud products require a commercial paid license, although some limited free versions are offered.
  • VMware supports open source through project sponsorship, open APIs and standards, and limited open source licensing of tools.
  • VMware’s commercial products compete against free and open source virtualization solutions. While open source is cheaper, VMware is generally seen as more enterprise-grade.
  • The choice between VMware and open source depends on an organization’s scale, performance needs, management and support requirements, and budget.


In conclusion, while VMware is not a free and open source platform, the company offers a robust set of enterprise virtualization and cloud solutions that meet the demanding needs of many organizations. Smaller businesses and individuals can take advantage of limited free offerings to get started. And VMware does embrace open source in strategic areas. But for the most part, using VMware’s full virtualization capabilities requires purchasing commercial licenses, which many customers find worth the investment. The choice between VMware and free open source alternatives depends on carefully evaluating requirements and budget against the benefits offered by each option.


  1. Is VMware Workstation free?
    No, VMware Workstation Pro and Workstation Player are paid products. However, VMware does offer a free version of Workstation Player for personal non-commercial use.

  2. Does VMware have a free version?
    Yes, VMware offers a few free products, including vSphere Hypervisor (a limited version of vSphere), VMware Workstation Player for personal use, and vCenter Converter for P2V migrations.

  3. How much does a VMware license cost?
    VMware license costs vary widely depending on the specific product and edition. Prices can range from a few hundred dollars per CPU socket for vSphere Standard to over $4,000 per socket for vSphere Enterprise Plus.

  4. Is VMware a one-time purchase?
    No, most VMware products are licensed as annual subscriptions, which include support and software updates. Perpetual licenses were previously offered but have been phased out.

  5. Does VMware offer non-profit discounts?
    Yes, VMware offers special discounts for non-profit, academic, and government organizations. Discounts vary but can be up to 50% off list price.

  6. What free hypervisors are comparable to VMware?
    Open source hypervisors like KVM, Xen, and VirtualBox provide basic virtualization features for free. Proxmox and oVirt are free virtualization management platforms similar to vSphere.

  7. Can I run VMware ESXi for free?
    Yes, VMware offers a free version of ESXi called vSphere Hypervisor. It is limited to running on a single physical server with limited features compared to paid vSphere editions.

  8. Is vSphere free?
    The full vSphere virtualization suite is not free, it requires purchasing licenses. However, VMware does offer a limited free version called vSphere Hypervisor.

  9. Does VMware have open source products?
    While most of VMware’s core products are proprietary, they do offer a few tools under open source licenses, such as PowerCLI for vSphere automation.

  10. What are some open source alternatives to vSphere?
    Open source virtualization management platforms similar to vSphere include oVirt, Proxmox, and XCP-ng. These offer features like VM live migration, high availability, and centralized management.

  11. What are the limitations of free VMware products?
    Free VMware products typically have limitations on the number of physical CPUs, amount of RAM, and advanced features like vMotion, HA, and DRS. They are suitable for small-scale, non-production use.

  12. Is VMware an open source company?
    No, VMware is not an open source company. Most of their products are proprietary and require commercial licenses. However, they do contribute to and support select open source projects.

  13. What open source projects does VMware contribute to?
    VMware sponsors and contributes code to numerous open source projects including Harbor (container registry), Photon OS (container host), Concourse (CI/CD), Clarity (UI library), and more.

  14. Why is VMware more expensive than open source virtualization?
    VMware invests heavily in R&D to develop advanced features, ensure stability and performance, and provide enterprise-grade support. This allows them to charge a premium compared to free open source alternatives.

  15. What are the benefits of VMware vs open source?
    Key benefits of VMware over open source include advanced management features, scalability to large environments, extensive QA testing and hardening, professional support services, and proven performance and reliability.

  16. Does VMware use any open source code?
    Yes, like most software companies, VMware leverages some open source components and libraries in their products. For example, vSphere ESXi uses the open source Busybox for certain utilities.

  17. Is vCenter Server available for free?
    No, vCenter Server is not free, it requires a paid license. However, VMware does offer a free product called vCenter Converter for converting physical machines to VMs.

  18. What VMware products have open source licenses?
    A small number of VMware tools and SDKs are available under open source licenses. Examples include PowerCLI (PowerShell module for vSphere automation) and Harbor (cloud native container registry).

  19. Can open source virtualization scale as well as VMware?
    Some open source virtualization platforms like oVirt and Proxmox can scale to reasonably large environments. However, VMware vSphere is generally seen as easier to scale and manage at the high end, with advanced features for very large datacenters.

  20. Should I use free VMware or open source hypervisors?
    The choice depends on your specific needs and constraints. Free VMware products can be an easy way to learn or support simple use cases. Open source hypervisors offer no-cost options for basic virtualization. For production use, consider scalability, performance, management, and support requirements to decide if stepping up to paid VMware licenses makes sense.

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