Microsoft will release the first publicly available beta preview of its new hypervisor virtualisation technology later this month, company officials have revealed.

The release of the Windows Server Virtualisation (WSV) pre-beta code, called a community technology preview (CTP), will come at the same time Microsoft ships a new beta release of Windows Server 2008 called “Release Candidate 0.”

A release candidate is final beta before the code is considered finished. Microsoft plans to have at least one more release candidate before the server is set to ship early next year.

Microsoft made the announcement at VMWorld, the annual conference of its biggest virtualisation rival VMware.

Microsoft said the CTP will not include all the features that are planned for the final version.

"We expect to be there in the beta time frame and we plan to do considerable work between now and the beta," said Mike Neil, Microsoft’s general manager of virtualisation.

The first official beta of WSV is set to ship early next year when Windows Server 2008 hits its final release stage. The final version of WSV will ship within 180 days of the release-to-manufacturing of Windows Server 2008, which is now slated between 1 January and 31 March, 2008.

Microsoft also made three other announcements at the conference with two of them reinforcing its new spin focused on broadening the virtualisation discussion to include desktops.

Critics have called the marketing strategy a smoke screen to deflect attention away from the fact that Microsoft does not yet have a viable server virtualisation product to compete with market leader VMware.

In the two desktop announcements, Microsoft said that long-time partner Citrix, which just acquired server virtualisation vendor XenSource, will adopt Microsoft's Virtual Hard Drive (VHD) format as a common runtime for both virtualised operating systems and applications. Citrix will add the format to its Presentation Server and Desktop Server. XenSource already supports VHD on the server side.

Microsoft said it will build support for VHD into a future version of SoftGrid Application Virtualisation for both the desktop and Terminal Services.

The second of the two desktop announcements introduced MSI Utility for Microsoft Application Virtualisation. The technology gives users the option of distributing virtual application images via software distribution tools rather than streaming those images to a desktop. The software will use Windows Installer technology to load and configure the virtual applications. The technology is expected to ship before year-end, Microsoft officials said.

Both announcements reinforce Microsoft’s focus on desktop virtualisation and round out last week’s release of System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM). The VMM software is key to Microsoft’s other virtualisation focus using its System Center family of management tools.

In addition, Microsoft Tuesday also unveiled a partner jumpstart programme called QuickStart Get Virtual community.