Microsoft makes Virtual PC free; changes SA benefit

Microsoft's Virtual PC is now being offered for free. Software Assurance customers, who once received Virtual PC as a benefit, will now get four free instances of Vista for one virtual machine.

Microsoft made changes to its volume licensing program last week that involve how it will offer PC virtualization.

The company said it will eliminate the price on Virtual PC 2004 Service Pack 1. Customers can now obtain the software as a free download. Also, customers can expect to see Virtual PC 2007 in early 2007.

Now, customers with Software Assurance (SA), the maintenance portion of Microsoft's licensing agreement, can run four copies of Vista in a virtual machine on their desktop, said Sunny Charlebois, product manager for worldwide licensing and pricing at Microsoft.

Only customers with SA will be receiving the Windows Vista Enterprise operating system, which offered as its perks a multilingual user interface, free Virtual PC Express, BitLocker Drive Encryption and the Subsystem for Unix-Based Applications.

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Microsoft had published these benefits last year before its competitor in the virtualization market, VMware Inc., said its own equivalent of Virtual PC Express would be offered for free. So, in essence, something that Microsoft was offering as a benefit was being given for free by a competitor, said Alvin Park, an analyst at Gartner Inc., a Stamford, Conn., consulting firm.

Microsoft's response is to give away Virtual PC and to let SA customers run four virtual guests under the Windows client host operating system without having to pay for the additional Windows licenses, Park said.

"The question will be how many people will need to make use of a virtual machine on their PC," Park said. "If they do need to make use of a virtual machine on their PC, how many will they need to run in addition to the host OS? I agree that it's a positive thing, but we'll have to wait and see just how big the requirement will be."

Separately, Microsoft said Windows Server 2003 R2 Datacenter Edition will be available through Microsoft Volume Licensing for the first time as of Oct. 1, 2006. Servers with Windows Server Datacenter will have license rights to run an unlimited number of virtualized Windows Server instances.

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