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VMware has officially joined the great virtualization software giveaway. The company this week peeled the "beta" label off VMware Server and put the fully cooked version of the product up for download.

Customers have been able to download the beta version of VMware Server for the last five months. During that period, VMware recorded 700,000 downloads of its software that lets customers run multiple copies of Linux, Windows, Solaris and NetWare on the same server. VMware - an EMC subsidiary - is the clear leader in the server virtualization market and made the decision to ship a free version of its product after rivals Microsoft and XenSource tried the same tactic to gain share on VMware.

VMware Server takes the place of GSX Server - once VMware's lower-end server product. The company still sells the high-end ESX Server as part of its new VMware Infrastructure 3 suite.

The free package occupies a complicated place in the virtualization landscape. Big companies will not run their production or even large-scale test systems on VMware Server. They'll opt for ESX Server instead. By contrast, enterprise customers have picked up the free Xen virtualization product for production work. Microsoft's free Virtual Server product is closer to VMware Server in performance than ESX Server or Xen.

All of that is just fine, according to the VMware brass. They want VMware Server to attract customers curious about server virtualization. The idea is that once you've tasted what VMware has to offer, you'll upgrade to ESX Server land.

For those who prefer to stick with free, VMware offers one-year of Gold support on a two-processor box for $350 and a year of Platinum support for $450.

You can have a gander at the software here. ®

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