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Microsoft has told users they've got "nothing to lose" by checking out the company's Azure cloud and hosted applications before committing to a deal with archrival VMware.

In an open letter in the national news comic USA Today on Tuesday, Microsoft claimed a three-year contract with VMware would tie customers into a deal with a company lacking both the applications and flexibility needed for the transition to a cloud-based IT infrastructure.

The letter, timed to drop with the opening of VMware's annual VMworld in San Francisco, tried to draw a distinction between using virtualization to consolidate a customer's data center and going further by delivering online services and applications.

The corporate vice president for Microsoft's $14bn server and tools business, Brad Anderson, urged:

VMware is asking many of you to sign three-year license agreements for your virtualization projects. But with the arrival of cloud computing, signing up for a three-year virtualization commitment may lock you into a vendor that cannot provide you with the breadth of technology, flexibility or scale that you'll need to build a complete cloud computing environment.

If you're evaluating a new licensing agreement with VMware, talk to us first. You'll have nothing to lose and plenty to gain... As you build out the next generation of your IT environment we can provide you with the scalable worldwide public cloud computing services that VMware does not offer.

He boasted that Microsoft already offers the "brands you know, use and trust today as cloud computing services," meaning Microsoft Office, Exchange, SharePoint, and SQL.

He also highlighted Windows Azure's support for different languages with the ability to run new and — he claimed — legacy .NET, Java, Ruby on Rails, and PHP applications on Azure. Also, Anderson pointed to the lower price of Microsoft's Hypervisor versus VMware's.

The virtualization giant is one of the companies identified by Microsoft as the reason for a major reorganization of its server and tools business earlier this year. VMware has put Microsoft under intense competitive pressure, according to leaked emails seen by The Reg.

Microsoft believes it has an "opportunity to grow significantly in the Tier-1 Enterprise," but VMware is standing in its way. Server and tools is home to some of the products Microsoft is promoting as being cloud-ready, as Redmond hopes to convert users who are familiar with server versions of Exchange and SharePoint into users of the hosted editions.

These are early days, though, and Microsoft is desperate to sign up genuine customers and partners along with flagship accounts. It's paying partners to convert customers from rivals' services such as Gmail from Google, while wins on hosted versions of Exchange are coming from Lotus Notes and Novell email converts. These are an extension of Microsoft's existing collaboration battles rather than brand new cloud-services wins.

VMware, meanwhile, is assembling its own applications and a middleware stack on top of its virtualization code with Zimbra and SpringSource, while it plans its own developer cloud service based on SpringSource. The company has also announced infrastructure and security tools to help service providers deliver their own cloud services. ®

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