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Ballmer: Microsoft Will Virtualize Linux

Microsoft plans to take a hard-charge at the burgeoning market for computer virtualization, including offering greater Linux support, its chief executive said today.

Amid jokes about cooperating with rivals such as Sun Microsystems , Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the company would boost support for its Virtual Server 2005 software to run on non-Windows machines.

This includes Linux, he said during his keynote address Wednesday at the Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas. To prove the point, Microsoft official Bill Anderson demonstrated how Red Hat Linux could run on Virtual Server 2005.

The stance marks a departure for a company that has shied away from supporting Linux, which Redmond has often sworn off as threatening.

Ballmer said the company had to soften its stance based on customer demand for virtualization, which helps multiple instances of a piece of software, such as an operating system, run on one single machine.

This technology helps customers cut down on the number of computers or servers they need to power their businesses, a cost-cutting measure that most enterprises crave.

To that end, Ballmer said Virtual Server 2005 Service Pack 1 (SP1), which is now in beta, offers developers the ability to put the company's new 64-bit compatibility and improved performance to the test on editions of Windows Server 2003 x64.

Ballmer promised better support for Linux when the Virtual Server 2005 SP1 is complete.

The SP1 also features a new MOM 2005 management pack to help administrators manage the performance of both physical and virtual machines through a single console. Virtual Server 2005 SP1 beta is available now and the final version will arrive by the end of 2005.

Virtual Server 2005 is a component within the company's Dynamic Systems Initiative, a wide-ranging strategy for system management that will help Microsoft go for the jugulars of similar products from IBM , HP and Computer Associates .

Microsoft Corporate Vice President Kyrill Tatarinov updated the DSI roadmap during his keynote at the show Tuesday.

But one of the key ingredients to drive system management for Microsoft is WS-Management, a Web services specification written by Microsoft, Intel , Sun and others. WS-Management lays out a common way for disparate systems to exchange and access management information across the infrastructure.

In a bid to prove the company's commitment to interoperability, Ballmer and Anderson showed how MOM can leverage WS-Management to manage interactions between Windows Server 2003 software and a Sun Solaris server.

Ballmer extracted cooling fans from the server, causing warnings from MOM to pop up as the machine whirred and hummed like a jet engine.

Ballmer said he repeatedly tells customers that Microsoft in fact offers interoperability, only to be regarded with "quizzical looks." He also surmised people continue to be surprised by Microsoft's willingness to work with long-time foe Sun.

Ballmer said the demonstration, unthinkable in years past, was a testament to the settlement Microsoft and Sun inked last year. He promised that he and Sun CEO Scott McNealy would have more interoperability news in a few weeks, when it is rumored the two high-tech giants could bridge the gap between their single sign-on technologies.

In the meantime, WS-Management is scheduled to be included in Windows Server 2003 R2, available later this year.

Peace and prosperity comments aside, virtualization was the high point of the keynote.

Looking forward, Ballmer said Microsoft will build virtualization capabilities into the Windows platform based on the company's hypervisor technology, which will virtualize Windows and other operating systems.

Hypervisor is slated to appear in the Windows "Longhorn" operating system in 2006, supporting Intel virtualization technology and AMD's Pacifica virtualization specification.

With its more open approach to virtualization, Microsoft may be taking a page from the book of VMware. That company has successfully virtualized all types of x86-based systems, including Windows, Linux and NetWare. VMware parleyed this approach into excellent revenue growth that made EMC sit up, take notice, and scoop up the company in early 2005.

Microsoft recognizes it must do the same if it wants to do battle with VMware, which has promised to accelerate its pace of innovation.