VMware is continuing its effort to make it as easy and risk-free as possible for customers to adopt virtualization technology by introducing a free version of its server-partitioning software called VMware Server.By offering the free product, which will enable companies to slice and dice physical systems into virtual partitions that can support a variety of operating systems, VMware hopes to drive broader interest in its virtualization technology. It's a tack a growing number of vendors are taking: Sun, for example, has released the source code for its Solaris operating system to the open source community and is in the process of making all of its enterprise software free. Just last week, IBM released a free version of DB2."What VMware is doing here is similar to what many companies are doing," says Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata. "By lowering the bar to getting developers and users into the VMware universe, VMware increases the base of people that it can up-sell to."VMware says it expects users to get a taste of virtualization with VMware Server and then look to the more robust ESX Server, along with Virtual Center and Vmotion management tools, to expand their use of virtualization to more important business processes."Base-level virtualization products are going to commoditize eventually anyway," Haff says. "VMware is using its market position to get ahead of the curve and, not incidentally, make life miserable for Microsoft in the process. Microsoft [just has Virtual Server 2005 and] doesn't have products to up-sell to. It's a very smart, proactive move."While ESX Server is geared for large-scale virtualization, VMware Server is targeted at smaller projects, such as those for test and development.Unlike VMware's first free offering, VMware Player, which allows companies to play virtual machines on the desktop but not create them, users can create and manage virtual machines with VMware Server. It's the first offering from VMware to support 64-bit guest operating systems and Intel's hardware-based VT virtualization technology, features that will be available soon in ESX Server. In addition, VMware Server can support virtual machines spanning two processors.The software is loaded onto a server like any application to simplify deployment, while ESX Server is deployed on bare metal.Craig Liess, administrator at Central Transport International in Warren, Mich., uses VMware GSX Server and ESX Server. He plans to transition from GSX Server to VMware Server, provided he can continue to get the support he needs. Today, he uses VMware Player to run NT4 virtual machines on Windows XP desktops."This gives us another year or so to finish other projects without having to address the issue of upgrading those old applications now," he says.The VMware Server beta is available now. The product is expected to be generally available in the first half of 2006.