The evolution of VMware Tools for Linux

VMware Tools for Linux is getting better all the time. Actually it has been in movement for years and the way it has improved shows the strength of Open Source.

Back in the old days, we only had one package to care about: VMware Tools as bundled with the VMware product. Many times it stopped working after a kernel upgrade and we had to patch the source code by hand.

Nowadays there are 3 different packages that add to each other. While it greatly helps to simplify it working smoothly, it also confuses Linux users at times.

So what has changed?

Due to the nature of Open Source and VMware’s willingness to participate, lots of the drivers have actually moved into the source tree of the kernel developers and the larger recognized distributions.

One part of that is what VMware call’s “inbox drivers”.
See also: VMware KB: VMware support for Linux inbox VMware drivers

The inbox drivers are:

  • vmxnet3 network driver,
  • pvscsci block scsi driver,
  • memory balloon driver,
  • vmwgfx 3d graphics driver,
  • vmci and
  • vsock driver

As a result all the drivers above “just work” when running a new version of linux. Pretty amazing eh?

Then there’s two other packages, open-vm-tools and the vmware-tools package that is bundled with your VMware software.

For open-vm-tools see this KB article: VMware KB: VMware support of open-vm-tools Linux distributions are allowed to carry this version of VMware tools in their repository so quite often the install of this version of VMware Tools is just an “apt-get” or “yum” away.

There’s two parts in VMware Tools which is interesting to know, one is a core functionality and another one adds specific desktop features. The core version of VMware Tools is particularly interesting for servers where you do not need all of the extra desktop features.

The core package adds:

  • Time synchronisation with the host
  • High Availability heartbeat
  • Power operations (startup, shutdown, suspend, sleep)
  • Scripting, resource information and other VIX operations

The desktop package has all of the above, but also adds:

  • Guest display resizing
  • Clipboard operations (copy & paste text between guest, host and other guests)
  • File Drag & Drop between guest and host (Fusion/Workstation/Player only)

The open-vmware-tools package can be found on Fedora, Debian, openSUSE and ubuntu as is detailed on the above KB page. But,  I have for example also seen it on pfSense (which is freeBSD based, not even linux) and it is also supposed to be available on centOS/RHEL/

On vSphere an installed copy of the open-vmware-tools will display as “third party” on your VM summary.

Finally there’s the bundled version of VMware-Tools that you can find with your VMware product (Fusion/workstation/vSphere/…) or get via the Operating System Specific Packages site from VMware which is to be found at: http://packages.vmware.com/tools

The OSP site does carry more current versions of the software and while it says “esx” aka “vSphere” it is good to know that there’s actually only one vmware-tools for all products.

On vSphere the bundled package is the only package that displays as “up to date” on desktop virtualisation products like Fusion and Workstation this adds the Host Guest File System (vmhgfs driver).

As a result this is nowadays pretty much the only driver people have problems with when a new kernel comes out as it is the only part that might get out of sync with kernel developments.

I’m hoping for the HGFS driver to also move to an inbox driver, but it seems the policy is not to have it there (yet). Ah one can always hope for more 🙂

Author: Wil van Antwerpen

Wil van Antwerpen is a software developer who loves to work on Open Source and dabble a bit with VMware products. He likes to help people out as that is a good way to learn more. He is the author of Vimalin Backup (https://vimalin.com) which is virtual machine backup software for VMware Fusion and VMware Workstation Pro.

One thought on “The evolution of VMware Tools for Linux”

  1. Thanks for laying these three packages/options out clearly. I’d started to see these crop up now and thena nd wondered where the line was – either in features or maintenance & support. Those two VMKB articles are also good references for the specifics of the inbox drivers and open-vm-tools support.

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