A few months ago when VMware released a free VMware Player, I challenged Microsoft to do the same. Not only has Microsoft answered, but they've gone a step further and made their Virtual Server 2005 R2 Enterprise Edition FREE! I received the following note from a Microsoft spokesperson.
Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 was first launched in September 2004; the cost was $999 for Enterprise Edition and $499 for Standard Edition. In December 2005 Microsoft began offering Virtual Server 2005 for $199 Enterprise Edition and $99 Standard Edition. As of today, Virtual Server 2005 R2 Enterprise Edition is free to download here. Standard Edition is no longer being offered. Additionally, the availability of virtual machine add-ins for Linux and a technical product support model for Linux guest operating systems running on Virtual Server 2005 R2
Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 Enterprise edition will allow you to run production environments when it's installed on Windows 2003 server but you can run it on Windows XP with SP2 for lab testing purposes. As the virtualization battle heats up for control of the virtualization world, things are getting even more interesting. Now if only Microsoft will make it possible to distribute preconfigured application servers based on the 90-day demo version of Windows, they might actually close in on VMware's lead with their virtual machine download center which has made it easier than ever to try out FreeBSD and Linux based solutions. Currently there is no way to legally distribute complex Windows-based virtual machines because of Windows licensing and this gives Linux and FreeBSD a huge advantage in getting in to the door of companies who want to preview a technology before they deploy it. Allowing the distribution of virtual Windows appliances based on the 90-day demo license would solve this problem.