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With an IPO and a major server virtualization battle looming, VMware has turned aggressive in its fight with Microsoft.

The EMC subsidiary has published a white paper detailing its issues with Microsoft's virtual server software. Microsoft has restrictive support policies that make it difficult for customers to move virtual machines between competing platforms and has been reluctant to open up its APIs, according to VMware. The end result is that Microsoft limits customer

choice - a familiar charge against the software maker.

It's unusual for VMware to be so upfront about its issues with Microsoft. The company used to complain in private about Microsoft's refusal to support customers using its GSX and ESX Server products. But it never made a big deal about this issue, and a couple of years back, Microsoft agreed to give VMware's customers a helping hand if they were on Premier-level support.

Now, however, VMware is letting the whole world know just how unsatisfactory Microsoft's support for rival virtual server technology is.

For example, VMware spoon-fed the New York Times an early version of its anti-Microsoft white paper to bolster a feature story on the software maker. The analysis piece comes as VMware prepares to go public and as the company prepares to face off against Microsoft's revamped virtualization technology - code-named Viridian - which will ship one day as an update to Longhorn Server.

More to the point, VMware has gone after Microsoft on its website with the white paper that lists seven major gripes.

"Microsoft does not have key virtual infrastructure capabilities (like VMotion), and they are making those either illegal or expensive for customers; Microsoft doesn't have virtual desktop offerings, so they are denying it to customers; and Microsoft is moving to control this new layer that sits on the hardware by forcing their specifications and APIs on the industry," the paper starts in sweeping fashion.

On point one, VMware begins where it used to leave off by saying that Microsoft's agreement to support Premier-level folks is inadequate. Microsoft often forces those with less impressive support contracts to replicate their virtual server problems on a physical server. If Microsoft can support the Premier crowd, why can't it help out the plebs too, VMware wonders.

A number of the other complaints center on difficulties moving virtual machines around competing platforms. VMware argues that in a truly virtualized world, customers will need to shift virtual server images around myriad platforms. So, Microsoft should support such mobility. "Without the ability to use other formats with virtualized versions of Microsoft software, other virtualization products and technologies are kept out of the market," the company said.

VMware also complains about a lack of desktop virtualization support on Windows Vista and, of course, closed virtualization APIs in Longhorn Server. See points 6 and 7.

The so-called white paper reads more like a blog entry penned by a disgruntled user. It brings up a number of valid points, but we're not sure it's VMware's finest hour.

After all, VMware is the dominant force in the x86 server virtualization market. To counter VMware's might, Microsoft has been forced to give away its server virtualization software, to open up its VHD virtualization spec and to form ties with other rivals such as XenSource and SWsoft. The XenSource deal highlights Microsoft's desperation, as it's an open source, "cancer-riddled" software maker.

Microsoft's partnerships and shift to give away Virtual Server for free make it rather obvious that the company hopes to keep as many customers as possible away from VMware until it can finish off its hypervisor technology for Longhorn Server. It's a strategy that IBM has used well in the past.

But with VMware enjoying triple-digit revenue growth year-over-year, Microsoft's play so far seems ineffective.

So why should Microsoft open up and help another proprietary software maker out? Customers do deserve choice, but Microsoft is in this software thing to make money - not to hand VMware one of the most prominent positions in customers' data centers.

"To encourage interoperability, we openly share technology and have published a set of APIs for all our commercially available virtualization products today and provided documentation on APIs for the hypervisor that will be part of the next version of Windows Server, codenamed Longhorn," Microsoft said in a statement. "We desire open dialog among industry vendors and will talk with any company wishing to discuss licensing for future products."

Customers know better than to take the openness talk from VMware or Microsoft too seriously. There's a fierce battle on for hundreds of millions of dollars in server software revenue and serious data center leverage.

But maybe that's just our skepticism coming through.

Who is making the stronger case here? Let us know. ®

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