Microsoft supports Linux with Virtual Server 2005 R2

Redmond (WA) - Running Linux on top of Windows may seem blasphemous, but the new version of Microsoft's Virtual Server 2005 R2 now officially supports the rival OS. Using Virtual Server, customers can now boot up Red Hat inside of Windows Server 2003 or Windows XP. The new version also offers virtual clustering, network booting and 64-bit support.

Virtual Server is meant to run one or multiple 'guest' or client operating systems inside of the host machine. Users install the operating systems as normal, but the files are actually saved into a big file which the guest OS treats as a virtual harddrive. While Microsoft expects users to install other Windows operating systems inside of Virtual Server, Linux is also supported.

Linux support on Virtual Server has been possible before, but, according to Microsoft, R2 officially is the first version to support the open source operating system. With a sufficiently powerful machine, several operating systems can be run simultaneously and switching between them is as simple as flipping between program windows.

While guest operating systems think they are actually installed on a dedicated machine, the OS only sees a virtualization of the underlying hardware. Think of it as running a computer on top of another computer. Graphics, sound and even network hardware are translated into virtual devices. Guest operating systems are even seen by network switches and routers as separate devices.

Why would a company choose to run virtual operating systems instead of buying another machine? The simple reason is cost. Most servers don't use their maximum processing power and usually sit idle. Running several operating systems at once saves space and the cost of purchasing another machine. Application developers also use virtual operating systems to quickly test design changes. If the OS crashes, it's not a big deal and the developer can just restore from a previous OS image.

The R2 release also allows users to hook together several running operating systems and use them as an ad hoc cluster. In addition, Virtual Server supports virtual PXE or network booting. This allows IT administrators, specifically Windows admins, to test unattended application installs. Unattended install is a feature built into Windows operating systems; if it works correctly, an administrator is able to quickly install software just by plugging in a new computer to the network.

Virtual Server 2005 R2 competes against a well-established virtual operating system vendor, VMWare. VMWare offers VMWare Workstation, GSX and ESX virtualization software that can run on top of most operating systems. Virtual Server itself comes from Microsoft's acquisition of Virtual PC a few years ago.

There are two versions of Virtual Server 2005 R2. The standard version sells for $99 and supports up to four processors. The Enterprise version retails for $199 and supports an unlimited number of processors. Both versions must run on top of the Windows operating system.