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Microsoft: Use virtualization to try software

Microsoft "test drive" program lets customers try out software in unobtrusive virtual machines.

Microsoft has followed a rival in advocating virtualization as a way to try out software painlessly.

Microsoft's Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) format can be used to collect an operating system, higher-level software and specific configuration details into a single package. A particular VHD image can be loaded into a virtual machine software such as Microsoft's Virtual Server product.

The VHD Test Drive Program mirrors an idea developed by virtualization leader VMware, an EMC subsidiary that for years has argued that virtual machines will ease software installation. The idea is that a virtual foundation means software experts, not customers, can worry about specific configuration and tuning details. Companies planning to provide trial software through the program include Symantic, Citrix, BEA Systems, Hewlett-Packard and Dell.

Microsoft released the VHD format under its Open Specification Promise, under which the company pledges not to sue others for patent infringement if they're using particular Microsoft technology covered by the promise.

Microsoft announced the test drive program on Monday--the day before EMC's VMworld conference begins in Los Angeles--and is one of several companies trying to drum up attention.

XenSource, which is commercializing the open-source Xen virtualization software, announced availability of a beta, or test version, of XenEnterprise that can now run Microsoft Windows as a guest operating system. The first version of the software, released in August, could run only Linux guests.

The Windows version of XenEnteprise will be generally available in December, XenSource said. The company charges $488 for an annual subscription license for a dual-socket server, and $750 for a perpetual license on a dual-socket server.

Also Monday, VMware and VMLogix, a competing start-up, made separate announcements of products that use virtualization to aid software development.

Virtualization, for example, can be used to test numerous combinations of operating system and higher-level software, and to test software in safe partitions where crashes don't cause permanent damage. Test environments also can more easily simulate the interaction of multiple computers.

VMware's product, Lab Manager, is in public beta testing and will be generally available in December, the company said. It competes with VMLogix's product with a nearly identical name, LabManager.