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VMware Player 3.0: The Desktop Virtualization Wars Begin

Windows 7 marks the shift of desktop virtualization programs from a tool for IT pros to a standard program on every desktop.  Virtualization software enables users to run additional operating systems, such as XP or Ubuntu, as a program right inside their standard desktop, which enables users to test new programs or run legacy programs in a separate OS.  Microsoft has offered a free desktop virtualization solution for Windows 2000 and newer ever since 2006 with the release of Virtual PC 2003, but still it was only commonly used by IT pros and computing enthusiasts.  However, with the release of Windows 7, Microsoft has made XP Mode, a virtual copy of XP running in Windows Virtual PC, a standard feature for Professional and higher editions.  Additionally, Windows Virtual PC is available as a free download for users of all editions of Windows 7, and any user can add their own operating system or migrate their old computer into it for free.  Finally, in the range of products that affects consumers without most knowing it, Microsoft has added hypervisor-based virtualization, Hyper-V, as a free component of Server 2008 and Server 2008 RT that can also be downloaded as a free standalone product.

While these moves are great for consumers, it has increasingly made Microsoft at odds with a company who has built their entire business around virtualization solutions: VMware.  Many consumers know VMware for their Fusion software, which allows Mac users to run Windows programs seamlessly in Mac OS X.  But that is far from their only product; VMware offers a wide range of desktop and server virtualization products.  Most of their products cost, and are often fairly expensive; this immediately puts them at odds with their larger rival who is giving away their virtualization products for free.

However, today VMware has struck back at Microsoft with this week's release of VMware Player 3.0.  Although VMware Player formerly only let users run existing virtual machines, this new release allows users to create and run their own virtual machines, just like Windows Virtual PC does.  VMware Player also supports video acceleration, including Aero desktop effects, inside virtual machines.  And this product is totally free, which puts it in the same market as Microsoft's Virtual PC.

It also puts VMware in closer competition with Sun's VirtualBox, another free desktop virtualization offering which works on Windows and Mac OS X.  VirtualBox, while lacking the polish of their competition, offers advanced features such as Remote Desktop Protocol and snapshots of the virtual machine.

This competition has heated up over the past couple years, and now that consumers are starting to use virtualization on a daily basis, it only appears that the competition will increase.  So while Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, Opera, and Apple compete in the Browser Wars 2.0, a new tech war is brewing.  Consumers have benefited greatly from the competition in web browsers, as companies have worked harder to make their browsers faster, stable, and user-friendly.  It will be exciting to see what the competition in virtualization does to this exciting new branch of software!

Check out my comparison of desktop virtualization solutions at Digital Inspiration -

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