Microsoft has made an interesting announcement at the Boston LinuxWorld conference. The company has decided not only to shed the pricing on its Virtual Server 2005 R2 virtualisation software, but also open it up to run Linux.

Enterprising techies have been running Linux on Virtual Server since Microsoft acquired the underlying technology from Connectix in 2003, but this is the first time Redmond has announced that it will specifically provide support. Prior to the announcement, those running Linux were on their own.

On the surface it looks like Redmond is beginning to wake up to the fact that many businesses run Linux and that opening its virtualisation software to work with the open source OS is a move towards keeping customers happy.

I take a more cynical view. Microsoft isn’t the only player in the virtualisation space — in fact, it’s one of several — but it was just about the only one blinkered to the existence of Linux. The other players have long supported Linux, so I suspect that Microsoft realised it was alienating and limiting its market by not providing assistance.

What’s more, I suspect ditching the price is actually reflecting the same issue: there are a number of excellent, free virtualisation technologies, and I’m sure a number of Redmond’s customers were starting to ask questions of Microsoft — or even worse — switch to alternate technologies.

Microsoft has a history of swinging into action when its chips are down — just look at the Windows Live push in response to Yahoo! and Google — and this is Redmond trying to keep up with the Joneses.