Microsoft is coming -- this much virtualisation market leader VMware knows. But the company, led by Diane Greene, seems to know exactly how to stave off the software giant. But is it enough?

At the launch of Virtual Infrastructure 3, the theme throughout was openness. That's the weapon the EMC subsidiary hopes will armour it against the threat that Microsoft poses. The openness ethic is about building an ecosystem of partners and developers, with the aim of putting VMware's market share and mindshare so far ahead that Redmond cannot catch up.

To buttress its position, to expand its range of partners and increase the use of virtualisation generally, VMware has made three crucial industry-related moves.

Last August it launched an initiative, which included partnerships initially with Dell, Emulex, HP, IBM, Intel, Novell, QLogic and Red Hat, to advance open virtualisation standards. The scheme is open to vendors that share a common goal of accelerating the adoption of open standards for virtualisation -- that is, it doesn't -- so far -- include Microsoft. At the same time, it also provided access to the ESX Server source code and interfaces.

VMware made its second move last December when it announced it would be giving away Player, aimed at developers, and then, later, what used to be called GSX Server but is now just called VMware Server. The latter is aimed at smaller enterprises and gives them a foothold on the virtualisation ladder.

And finally, it also launched the Virtual Appliance Challenge, which encouraged its commercial partners and community developers alike to come up with neat idea for virtual machines.

By all accounts, the three moves have proved popular among the intended audience, with IBM, HP and Red Hat -- among others -- launching products based around the VMware product set. Others in that list include Symantec, BMC and Linux distributor Ubuntu.

Additionally, VMware has just launched Virtual Infrastructure 3 (VI3), which offers the ability to run an entire data centre stuffed with VMs from a single console. It should, says VMware, boost productivity, and extract maximum use from both processor cycles and virtualisation generally.

Microsoft can offer little of this and looks unlikely to do so for some time; it'll be about two years before it manages to produce software that contains just a fraction of the functionality that VMware already has available today.

As we've seen before however, that may be enough to slow the VMware bandwagon.

But that doesn't stop it spreading fear uncertainty and doubt -- some of the industry's most fearsome weapons - in its path. The effect is -- whether planned or not -- to slow the growth of competitors as enterprise buyers start to ponder the advantages that sticking with the Microsoft product might have. These will be pointed out in detail by the Microsoft rep chewing the ear of the finance director at the golf course. The advantages of buying the Microsoft alternative, especially to big customers who already spend thousands if not millions on licences for Office and Windows, will no doubt be highlighted.

But then, the Redmond giant doesn't have things all its own way at the moment. Google, in the throes of launching online applications that compete directly with those of Microsoft, is now big enough to spread its own FUD -- and the only company that needs to be worried is Microsoft.

And what both Google and VMware have in common is their advocacy of open standards. Both are attacking Microsoft's heartland but from different directions. Microsoft is unlikely to be deeply worried yet: sadly for those with a religious hatred of Microsoft, the company's bottom line is still looking pretty healthy with the last quarter's results seeing revenues increase by 13 per cent over the previous year to $10.9 billion; net income for the quarter was $3.89 billion, up 17 per cent over the same quarter of the previous year.

What you can expect though is that Microsoft won't take this kind of attack lying down. It never has in the past, taking one or more of a number of routes, including: buying the competition; delivering its own, me-too products just about good enough to capture the mainstream market; or turning the company around to embrace the strategy that worked for its opponents.

As Greene said at the VI3 launch: "We're pushing standards in an open industry. There's no end in sight." Could we see Microsoft delivering the same mantra in five years' time?