Microsoft has made its virtualisation hypervisor Hyper-V available as a free product. The software, which will be downloadable from Microsoft's website will be available within 30 days.

In a flurry of announcements, cheekily timed just before VMware's VMWorld event in Las Vegas, Microsoft has also launched of System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008,and Microsoft Application Virtualization 4.5.

Neil Sanderson, head of virtualisation for Microsoft UK said that the company had previously announced Hyper-V as part of Microsoft Server 2008 but that is was now launching it as a standalone product. In addition, he said, the company was dropping the $28 (£16) fee that had been previously been announced for the standalone version.

Sanderson acknowledged that Microsoft was some way behind VMware but said that there was a low user base. "We're still in the early days of virtualisation - IDC is predicting 25 percent of the market by 2010 - and there's still everything to play for."

"Over the next few months, we'll see a lot more customers looking at virtualisation and seeing how they can benefit. We think that they'll see the benefits of Hyper-V because it will be seen as part of Windows and something that they're familiar with.

But it's not just Hyper-V itself; Sanderson highlighted Virtual Machine Manager as a product that will have quite an impact. The management product will offer users support for VMware in addition to Microsoft and Sanderson believes that is this interoperability that will be key. "Microsoft has been working closely with the likes of Novell and Citrix to ensure support for non-Microsoft technology."

Answering criticism that the absence of a live migration feature would hinder the take-up of Hyper-V, Sanderson said that this was being addressed and that a demo version of live migration would be featured at the US launch. "We expect it to be included as part of Windows Server 2008 R2 next year," he added.

Sanderson said that there are had been several early adopters of Hyper-V in the UK, including Slough Borough Council, who had adopted the technology to save on physical power and space and the Gartmore Group who had used it to radically improve the time it took to provision a server.

In addition to the Hyper V and Virtual Machine Manager launches, the company also introduced Application Virtualization 4.5, which allows users to harness Vista by streaming resource-heavy applications to the desktop to eliminate potential software conflicts driving desktop stability and performance, while simultaneously enabling IT managers to centrally control key applications and their use. Application Virtualization 4.5 will be included as part of Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack 2008 R2, which is due for general availability in the coming weeks.