It seems about time - after a week that included the release of yet another beta of Microsoft's Hyper-V, Citrix' release of sometimes-free desktop virtualisation, a raft of VMware announcements about desktop virtualisation and announcements from too many other companies to mention - to announce the winner in the David/Goliath pissing match that is the fight for dominance in the virtualisation market.

Despite the claims and counterclaims of superiority by Microsoft and VMware - and now Citrix and VMware - it's becoming increasingly clear who's going to be the winner in the rapidly growing market for server virtualisation: Hewlett-Packard.

Sure, Microsoft and VMware and Citrix are the ones on the front lines, lobbing FUD, lining up industry partners, spending marketing money to convince customers their way is the only way, even though the core of "their way" is a technology so commoditised that even non-virtualisation companies can customise a version for their own customers and give it away free (Hi, Oracle.).

That's a great business proposition, eh? Charging for stuff people can get for free? Of course, Red Hat's doing it with Linux and half the computer industry is doing it with the Xen hypervisor.

None of those companies is going to get rich selling just virtualisation, however.

VMware is certainly making it work right now, of course, if you consider $400 million a quarter and growth rate of 69 percent "good." And, realising its core technology will soon be available at every convenience store and bait shop, VMware is improving its array of high-end datacentre management products for disaster recovery of VMs, automated staging and launch of applications, and lifecycle management - all of which will help it expand and protect its market.

And parent company EMC will undoubtedly help, having demonstrated its own ability to squeeze the occasional dollar out of a market (storage) that's dirt-cheap commodity at the low end, rocket-science at the high end and black art throughout (when connected with backup at least).

Microsoft, of course has frustrated all attempts to bet against it or write it off, even when its technology is late to a market other companies created and built. Right now Microsoft's just hoping to hang onto its operating-system hegemony in the face of competition from not only traditional vendors, but also the entire Internet.

(It's possible, though unlikely, that Microsoft will become the next decade's IBM - immensely rich and powerful, but completely irrelevant in determining the direction of development in the computer industry itself.)

I have no doubt that both companies will do well enough financially as virtualisation becomes as common and commonly used a function as dual-core chips and networked storage. Analyst predictions of the incredible growth of the virtualisation market will undoubtedly peter out, in fact, as virtualisation as a function stops being a discrete function and the "virtualisation market" focuses on advanced management products rather than hypervisors.

All that will pose major challenges for both VMware and Microsoft, and lesser dilemmas for Citrix and more peripheral players.