Windows IT Pro UPDATE--Microsoft Frees Virtual Server, Supports Linux--April 4, 2006

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1. Commentary
- Microsoft Frees Virtual Server, Supports Linux

2. Hot Off the Press
- Finally, Microsoft Releases Windows Vista Hardware Requirements

3. Peer to Peer
- Featured Blog: Two Third-Party IE Security Patches
- Tip: How can I burn a DVD image from the command line?

4. New and Improved
- Power-Up your Systems Remotely

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==== 1. Commentary: Microsoft Frees Virtual Server, Supports Linux ====
by Paul Thurrott, News Editor, [email protected]

The recent price wars in the software virtualization market remind me of the doomsday predictions about nuclear war: The theory is that both sides will pummel each other into the ground until nothing is left standing. And if this week's virtualization announcements are any indication, Microsoft has just moved to Def Con 1.

It all started back in January when Microsoft lowered the cost of Virtual Server 2005 R2 from $499 for the Standard Edition and $999 for the Enterprise Edition to $99 and $199, respectively. VMware responded by rebranding its GSX Server product to, well, nothing, making the product completely free. (See "With Free VMWare Offering, Virtualization Goes Mainstream" at for details.)

This week, Microsoft returned the volley. At the LinuxWorld trade show in Boston, the company announced that Virtual Server 2005 Enterprise Edition R2 would be free for all comers, in both 32-bit and x64 versions. Additionally, for the first time, Microsoft is now supporting certain Linux distributions running within Virtual Server. And the company announced that 45 partners have signed up to license its VHD virtual hard disk format. Let's examine each of these announcements.

Licensing With Virtual Server matching VMware Server's no-fee-based licensing model, you might think that this is probably a good time to begin comparing both products from a feature standpoint. Microsoft says that Virtual Server and VMware Server are similar but that its holistic, long-term plans for software virtualization will ultimately give it a huge advantage over VMware. Today, Virtual Server and VMware both sit on the application layer of the underlying server. But Microsoft believes that virtualization should be a feature of the underlying OS. And the next version of Windows Server, currently known as Longhorn Server, will include this functionality.

In Longhorn Server, a new feature called Hypervisor will logically sit as a thin layer under the OS. This change has multiple advantages over today's application layer virtualization platforms. For example, this new virtual machine (VM) layer will integrate more tightly with the OS and will perform better because of lower overhead. Furthermore, because Microsoft will use the same VHD format in the Longhorn Hypervisor, customers have a clear migration strategy.

In short, Microsoft's move to zero-cost licensing isn't so much about cost as it is about product positioning. Today, you can get no-cost virtualization platforms that sit on top of Windows Server. In the future, this functionality will simply be part of Windows Server.

Linux Support When Microsoft purchased Connectix back in 2003, it promptly dropped one of the features that made Connectix's products so great--Linux support. Microsoft's versions of Virtual PC and Virtual Server, so far, have supported only various Windows versions, OS/2, and MS-DOS, whereas Connectix also supported a variety of Linux distributions. Since then, customer complaints have driven Microsoft to reevaluate this stance, and as of today, you can now download free VM add-ons for various server-based Linux distributions that make these systems run more efficiently and integrate more closely with the underlying host OS.

But supporting Linux isn't just about providing native support for popular distributions. As part of its move toward supporting Linux, Microsoft will also provide 24-hour support for Linux distributions running under Virtual Server. Supported versions of Linux include Novell SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 and SuSE Linux 9.2/9.3/10.0, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 2.1 (update 6), Enterprise Linux 3 (update 6), Enterprise Linux 4 and Red Hat Linux 7.3 and 9.0. Yep, we're in Bizarro World all right.

VHD Ecosystem Microsoft previously made its virtual hard disk (VHD) VM format available for free licensing and this week the company announced that 45 partners, including ISVs, storage partners, networking partners, management partners, and others have signed up to support the format. This will allow, say, management products to more seamlessly manage systems that are running inside VMs, because they'll be aware of the differences between that environment and a true hardware-based system.

By staking this claim to the VHD format, Microsoft is also giving customers a long-term value proposition, ensuring that virtualization investments today will pay off into the future. This week's announcements are interesting on one level, but the way they play into future plans is perhaps even more important. The next deliverable from the Virtual Server team, incidentally, will be a Service Pack 1 (SP1) release, now due in early 2007, that takes advantage of new virtualization platforms that AMD and Intel are offering. A different team, I'm told, is working on the Hypervisor layer for Longhorn Server, which is due in 2007 as well.

When you combine this week's announcements with previous Microsoft virtualization moves--primarily the licensing advantage of Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition, in which you can host up to four no-cost VM versions--it's clear that Microsoft is serious about virtualization as both a platform and a long term strategy. I expect VMware to meet or beat Microsoft from a capabilities standpoint, at least in the short term, but I'm curious to see how it will respond to Microsoft's moves in integrating the Hypervisor into Windows Server. (Actually, I don't have to wait: VMware's Diane Greene just started a blog, and in her first entry, she discusses the benefits of decoupling virtualization from the OS. See the second URL below.)

Virtual Server 2005 R2 (Free Download)

Diane's Blog (VMware)

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==== 2. Hot Off the Press ====
by Paul Thurrott, [email protected]

Finally, Microsoft Releases Windows Vista Hardware Requirements
Over the years that Windows Vista has been in development, I've been asked one question more than any other about this next-generation OS: What hardware will it require? Microsoft has always been pretty vague about the requirements. A few years back, it specified that Vista systems would require a DirectX 9.0-compliant video card to provide the best experience--that is, to use Vista's Aero Glass UI--but since then, I've heard nothing. But last week, Microsoft finally, if quietly, revealed its own requirements and recommendations. Read more at the following URL:

==== Events and Resources ====
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Expert Ben Smith describes the benefits of using server virtualization to make computers more efficient.

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==== 4. Peer to Peer ====

Featured Blog: Two Third-Party IE Security Patches
Check out Mark Edwards' most recent post to the Security Matters blog at the following URL:

Tip: How can I burn a DVD image from the command line?
by John Savill,

Find the answer at the following URL:

==== Announcements ====
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==== 5. New and Improved ====
by Blake Eno, [email protected]

Power-Up your Systems Remotely
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