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Microsoft to 'host' Linux virtually

The Windows giant will support customers that run Red Hat and Suse Linux in Virtual Server 2005 R2, now offered as a free download.

Microsoft will support customers who choose to run Linux with Microsoft's Virtual Server 2005 R2, which is software for running multiple operating systems on one machine.

In addition, the company on Monday said that it has now made Virtual Server 2005 R2 a free download. The company had charged either $99 for up to four physical processors or $199 for an unlimited number of processors. The announcements were made in conjunction with the LinuxWorld conference in Boston this week.

LinuxWorld Boston 2006 roundup

Virtualization, an emerging technology that is garnering growing interest from corporate customers, allows a server to run multiple instances of an operating system. This makes it easier for corporations to consolidate many applications on a single hardware server and provides a level of reliability.

At the LinuxWorld conference, virtualization is an important theme. Start-ups Virtual Iron and XenSource, which sells support for open-source software Xen, this week are expected to discuss their strategies to go after market leader VMWare.

Similarly, Microsoft's decision to offer a free download of its Virtual Server 2005 R2--which cost as much as $999 in December--reflects the heated competition among virtualization software providers.

"What choice did (Microsoft) have? People can now download VMware's competing hosted virtualization product, VMware Server, for free. That leaves little place for a less mature Microsoft product that also costs more," said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata.

"That upcoming versions of Xen will support Windows guests on x86 processors with VT (from Intel) and Pacifica technology (from Advanced Micro Devices) adds an exclamation point," he said.

In addition to facing off against EMC subsidiary VMWare, Microsoft is increasingly seeing competition from Xen, which is being built into forthcoming versions of Suse Linux Enterprise Server and Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Microsoft said that it has developed software to simplify the installation of Linux distributions from Red Hat and Novell Suse, so they will run on Virtual Server 2005 R2 on Windows. In addition, Microsoft will provide technical support to customers running Windows and Linux side by side.

The company said it has written "add-in" software for nine recent versions of Red Hat's server and Novell's Suse Linux.

Zane Adam, director of Windows Server product marketing, said Monday that Microsoft intends to deepen its investments in virtualization. Windows Hypervisor, which he said will be released in the "Longhorn server wave," will allow multiple operating systems to run on a single machine.

"We've said that our Hypervisor will be part of the operating system. If you take that view, we signaled the ability for virtualization to be free," Adam said.

Longhorn Server is slated to be completed in 2007, and the company is expected to have a follow-on service pack and then a more substantial update, called "R2." Adam said Windows Hypervisor would be included in one of those three releases.

He added that Microsoft has changed its licensing practices to better address several instances of an operating system on one machine. And Microsoft has published, royalty-free, a specification called Virtual Hard Disk to let third parties write management and security products for all of its virtualization software.

To provide support for customers running Linux and Windows on the same machine Microsoft has contracted with Indian service company Wipro Technologies, which will handle calls, Adam said.