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Microsoft preempts Hyper-V release with virtualization vision

Citrix, Calista and Windows lead the hypefensive

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Microsoft knows rule number one in the software game better than any other company: Never let a missing product get in the way of marketing.

The software colossus has unleashed its most vocal assault to date on the virtualization marketing, revealing an acquisition, a much tighter relationship with Citrix and some licensing changes that include running versions of Vista inside virtual machines. These virtualization bits and bobs arrive ahead of a Tuesday meeting in which Microsoft plans to unveil its "vision and strategy to accelerate virtualization adoption" via a customer meeting and webcast. Microsoft actually plans to offer a competitive server virtualization package later this year after Windows Server 2008 ships. But ignore the missing product for now, please.

Microsoft has acquired Calista Technologies for an undisclosed sum. According to its web site, Calista specializes in virtualized desktops, sending out the virtual systems from blade servers via RDP (remote display protocol). While this is a common approach, the company claims an edge over rivals through patent pending "virtual GPU technology" that apparently gives users a richer client experience than often jerky over-the-network, virtual PCs.

"Calista software improves the user experience of 3-D and multimedia delivery for Microsoft multimedia applications, virtualized desktop deployments, and server-hosted virtualized desktops or applications using Windows Server Terminal Services," Microsoft said. "The addition of Calista technology to Microsoft’s virtualization portfolio will enable people to watch video and listen to audio, and will enable remote workers to receive a full-fidelity Windows desktop experience without the need for high-end desktop hardware."

Calista works with Microsoft's major operating systems and virtual machine software from Citrix and VMware.

Building on that Citrix love, Microsoft strengthened ties with fellow VMware warrior Citrix/XenSource.

Before being bought by Citrix, XenSource already had a deal in place with Microsoft to work on sharing virtual machines across the companies' various virtualization products. Microsoft re-upped that agreement following the Citrix acquisition and is now re-upping it again with some specifics. Okay, one specific. Microsoft plans to offer a Citrix tool for moving virtual machines between XenServer and Windows Server 2008 with Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor in beta form during the second quarter. It will ship the final product with the final Hyper-V. One day.

In addition, Microsoft and Citrix will co-market desktop virtualization packages that include the use of Windows Server 2008, Windows Optimized Desktop, XenDesktop and Citrix Presentation Server all managed by Microsoft's System Center.

Microsoft has enjoyed a long, fruitful partnership with Citrix around running remote applications on Windows clients, making today's announcement more of the same. Still, Microsoft's numerous plugs for Citrix do stand out as unusual and demonstrate the lengths that Redmond will go to in a bid to slow VMware's virtualization dominance.

Over in licensing town, Microsoft announced that it will sell an annual subscription to Windows Vista Enterprise Centralized Desktop for $23 per desktop "for rich clients covered by Software Assurance for Windows Client," which is down from $78.

And, in a reversal shocker, Microsoft will now let consumers run Windows Vista Home Basic and Vista Home Premium as guest operating systems in virtual machines.

Microsoft will talk more about all of these moves during this virtualization event tomorrow in Washington.

We imagine that Microsoft will confirm that virtualization is a reality that the company would like to take part in - a change in stance from the existing position that not all that many people are doing virtualization yet because it's too expensive and complicated. (This stance requires that you ignore VMware's more than $1bn in revenue and stranglehold on just about all of the Fortune 100.)

Microsoft will even leak an e-mail message from SVP Bog Muglia about its virtualization program. Such leaks are Microsoft's way of confirming that it's ready for a late but bold entry into a market. ®

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