Microsoft has this week released a free, low-footprint version of its Hyper-V virtualisation software as it continues to chase the virtualisation market leader, VMware.

Hyper-V Server 2008, which includes only the Windows Hypervisor, Windows Server driver model and virtualisation components, is now available online.

Microsoft has also unveiled new ways for IT professionals to get training and certification on virtualisation for desktop, server and management environments. More details about the programs are available on Microsoft's website and the Microsoft Learning Community Blog.

Microsoft said on 8 September that it would give away its Hyper-V hypervisor about a month after VMware released a free version of ESXi, its own hypervisor technology. VMware is feeling pressure from Microsoft and other vendors that are bundling virtualisation with server OSes.

Microsoft's Hyper-V also is available as part of different editions of Windows Server 2008, the latest version of Microsoft's server software. Microsoft released Hyper-V in June following the release of Windows Server 2008 in late February. Originally, Hyper-V was meant to be a part of that Windows Server release but it was delayed.

Virtualisation is becoming a key way companies are driving costs out of the datacentre by running OSes in virtual machines rather than physically on servers.

Microsoft aims to catch up to VMware in providing this technology for hardware systems not only running on Windows, but also Linux and other operating systems. It also is tying the technology to its system-management family of software, System Center, and promoting management as a differentiator.

Like VMware, Microsoft is also expanding beyond server hardware into desktop and application virtualisation, which are still in the early phase of adoption by companies.