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VMware continues to step up pressure against rivals by maturing its partitioning play at a quick clip. The company this week hit out against Microsoft and Xen by releasing a free tool for running virtual machines on Windows and Linux PCs.

Modeling itself on the likes of Adobe or Macromedia, VMware has put out the VMware Player as a kind of free taste of what its partitioning software can do. The package lets customers run virtual machines created by users of the higher-end Workstation, GSX Server and ESX Server products. As you would expect, VMware Player cannot be used to create a virtual machine and lacks a number of other features found in the for profit products.

While limited, VMware Player does make it possible for a company to pass virtual machines around for testing purposes or to run different OSes within an organization.

"VMware Player is ideal for safely evaluating pre-built application environments, beta software or other software distributed in virtual machines," VMware said. "With VMware Player, anyone can quickly and easily experience the benefits of pre-configured products without any installation or configuration hassles."

VMware, a subsidiary of EMC, enjoys a large lead in the server virtualization market over Microsoft and relative newcomer XenSource. VMware claims thousands of large customers, while its rivals remain tight-lipped about users and struggle to match ESX Server's features. Next year, VMware will release Version 3 of the high-end ESX product.

VMware Player could help the company establish an edge against the competition by tempting new customers with a free tool. It's sort of a middle-of-the-road response to XenSource, which gives away its core partitioning product, hoping to sell ad-ons around it.

You can see a comparison of how VMware Player stacks up against the for profit applications here. There's more information on how to download and use VMware Player here. ®

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