Choose and Install VMware Tools on Linux Guests (Original vs. OSPs vs. open-vm-tools)

When you virtualize Linux Operating Systems with VMware you have 3 opportunities when it comes to the decision which VMware Tools to install. The well-known VMware Tools that come with the ESXi Hypervisor and can be installed from the vSphere Client, the VMware Operating System Specific Package (OSPs) and the open source project open-vm-tools. This post explains the differences between the variants and helps you to understand the advantages to choose the right package for your environment.

If you use Linux Guests inside VMware I encourage you to comment on what kind of VMware Tools you are using.

"Original" VMware Tools

The most common way to install VMware Tools is by using the Install/Upgrade VMware Tools option provided by the vSphere Client. This function connects an operating-system specific ISO, which can be found at /store/packages/<version>/vmtools/ on each ESXi host, to the virtual machine. After selecting this option you have to login to the operating system, mount the iso, extract the archive and run the vmware-install.pl script. These steps may be different depending on your Linux distribution:

#Install VMware Tools
mount /dev/cdrom /mnt/
tar -xf /mnt/VMwareTools*
cd vmware-tools-distrib/
./vmware-install.pl -d

This type of installation shows up as "VMware Tools: Running (Current)" in the vSphere Client and is fully supported by VMware.
vmware-tools-running-current
When there is an update available you can update VMware Tools automatically with the vSphere Client. Just select Install/Upgrade VMware Tools and select Automatic Tools Upgrade.

VMware Operating System Specific Packages (OSPs)

Operating System Specific Packages are an alternative to the embedded mechanism provided and distributed by VMware. OSPs enables you to use Linux update mechanisms like apt, yum, rug or zypper to download, install, and manage VMware Tools. To use that packages you have to update your packet managers sources by hand to add the repositories provided by VMware. After that you can install and update VMware Tools within the guest in the same way as other software. These steps my be different depending on your Linux distribution. (VMware has a great Howto on their OSP Web Site).

#Install OSPs
apt-get install vmware-tools-esx-nox

This type of installation shows up as "VMware Tools: Running (3rd-party/Independent)" in the vSphere Client. That might be a bit confusing because there is a grey questionmark instead of the green checkmark. Nevertheless, OSPs are supported by VMware.
vmware-tools-running-3rd-party-independent
You can not update VMware Tools with the vSphere Client. If there is an update available you have to use the packet manager within your operating system.

Open Virtual Machine Tools (open-vm-tools)

VMware has released large portions of their source code from VMware Tools for Linux. The SourceForge hosted project open-vm-tools is based on that code. Today this packages can be found within the most mainstream Linux distributions. Similar to OSPs the open-vm-tools package can be managed with Linux update mechanisms like apt, yum, rug or zypper. Usually even without the need to add any source to the packet manager as most distributions have that in their repository by default.

This type of installation shows up in the vSphere Client in the same way as OSP: "VMware Tools: Running (3rd-party/Independent)". But different from OSPs, open-vm-tools are not supported by VMware.
vmware-tools-running-3rd-party-independent
You can not update VMware Tools with the vSphere Client. If there is an update available you have to use the packet manager within your operating system.

Make a Choice

There are no differences form an functional perspective. All variants have the same features like Drivers, Memory ballooning, Time synchronization, Guest-Info and Soft power operations. The difference is just how you want to manage and automate VMware Tools. You should...

  1. Use OSPs when they are supported for your Linux Distribution and Version. This is the most sophisticated deployment method as it can be implemented in package distribution software like SUSE Manager, Spacewalk or Satellite.
  2. Use "Original" VMware Tools when OSPs are not available or you only have a small number of Linux Virtual Machines in your environment. Managing all VMware Tools through the vSphere Client might be an advantage in that case.
  3. Try to avoid open-vm-tools when you need VMware support. They are quick to install and have the same functionality, but you might have trouble when you need VMware support to solve your problems.

Tipps

Quick Installation (Standard Tools)
You can skip all questions by using the -d (default) parameter:

./vmware-install.pl -d

Headless (Without X) Installation
Servers usually do not have a graphical interface, so you do not need all the X related stuff:

# OSP Headless Installation: vmware-tools-esx-nox instead of vmware-tools-esx
apt-get install vmware-tools-esx-nox

# open-vm-tools: Do not Install open-vm-toolbox
apt-get install --no-install-recommends open-vm-tools

Compatibility of different Versions
A common question is about which version to use and whether they are backward compatible or not. Usually it doesn't matter which VMware Tools are installed. If you have newer versions, they are backward compatible. If you have older versions it tells you that they are out of date, but they still work.

Since VMware vSphere 5.0:

  • all VMware Tools are compatible with all ESXi Versions since vSphere 4
  • all ESXi Versions are compatible with all VMware Tools since vSphere 4

...with a small difference since ESXi 5.1 U1: VMware Interop Matrix states that VMware Tools from VMware ESX/ESXi 5.1 U1 are NOT compatible with ESXi 5.0, ESX/ESXi 4.1 (pre U3) and ESX/ESXi 4.0 (pre U4). Not sure what to say about that as i have tested 5.1 U1 Tools (9.0.5.21789 build-1065307) in ESXi 5.0GA and ESXi 4.1GA and it does work great and shows up as "VMware Tools: Running (Current)" in the vSphere Client.

  1. We have about 50% Debian Linux in out Company and we install VMware Tools with the vSphere Client.

  2. We manage several hundred RHEL virtual servers using RedHat Satellite, so it's easiest for us to use the OSP rpm packages for quickly installing and updating vmware tools.

  3. According to vmware kb2073803 the use of open-vm-tools is now supported.

  4. Flemming Jacobsen

    How do I remove "Open Virtual Machine Tools (open-vm-tools)" and replace them with: “Original” VMware Tools?.

    Do I just use yum to remove the "unoriginal" ones and then use the Install/Upgrade VMWare Tools to install it into CentOS?

  5. It might be a good time to revisit this article now that VMware has changed their stance on open-vm-tools on newer Linux based OS's

    http://kb.vmware.com/kb/2073803

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