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Microsoft Offers Free Virtual Server, Will Support Linux Guests

On Monday Microsoft said it had developed virtual machine additions for Red Hat and Novell Suse Linux distributions, as well as demonstrated some of its new open-source wares at the LinuxWorld trade show.

Microsoft made a big splash at LinuxWorld on Monday, announcing the availability of Virtual Server 2005 R2 as a free download and making a pledge to support "select" Linux virtual machines on its platform.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant also announced the availability of a no-charge virtual machine add-ons to run Linux as well as a technical support option for Linux virtual machines running on Virtual Server 2005 R2.

Microsoft, which said it developed virtual machine additions for Red Hat Linux and Novell SUSE Linux, demonstrated a Red Hat Linux guest running on Virtual Server 2005 in Advanced Micro Devices booth at LinuxWorld.

Xen 3.0 will be integrated into the next-generation Linux distributions of Novell and Red Hat, but it remains unclear if Microsoft will offer technical support for Windows guest operating systems running on Xen-based virtualization platforms.

Industry observers say the move demonstrates a willingness on Microsoft's part to cull market favor as it faces increasing competition and delays its much-anticipated Virtual Server 2005 Service Pack 1.

At LinuxWorld, where Microsoft typically keeps a low profile, the company made it clear that it has no intention of ceding the virtualization software market to VMware or the recently completed open-source virtualization engine, Xen 3.0.

Microsoft claims it has 5,000 Virtual Server customers and more than 45 ISVs now supporting its Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) format, including XenSource, Brocade, BMC Software, Diskeeper, Fujitsu-Siemens, Network Appliance, Softricity and Virtual Iron.

The software giant continues to develop Virtual Server 2005 as it builds a new virtualization hypervisor for the R2 edition of the Windows Longhorn server, which is expected to be released in the 2008-2009 time frame.

But Microsoft is moving quickly to commoditize its technology faster than Xen. This week, Microsoft is making Virtual Server 2005 Enterprise Edition available for download free, after reducing its price to $199 last year. Microsoft no longer offers its standard version.

Although Microsoft has offered its virtual software and virtual format royalty-free--and will offer a free hypervisor in the future--the company will face an uphill battle against VMware and Xen, observers say.

"This is a classic Microsoft version 3.0 game. When they finally get their act together, I believe that the hypervisor will be a primary driver for users to upgrade to Windows, especially for servers," said one ISV, who requested anonymity.

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