Microsoft’s No. 1 rival is a household name, Google. But a strong candidate for No. 2 is a company that is scarcely known outside the technology industry, reports the New York Times: VMware, the leader in so-called virtual machine software, which allows a computer to run two or more operating systems at once. "VMware is definitely a threat," said Gary Chen, an analyst at research firm IDC. "After Google, it is the company Microsoft fears most." Google and VMware pose a broadly similar challenge to Microsoft, by potentially undermining the dominance of its most lucrative products, desktop software and operating systems. While Google represents the attack from above, VMware is the assault from beneath. VMware’s software resides on top of the hardware and beneath the operating system. But as VMware’s technology becomes more powerful and it adds more features to its products, it can start to supplant the operating system from below–just as the browser can from above. VMware is used mainly to cut costs in data centers, but that is changing. Now, companies, school systems, and other enterprises are starting to use it to manage software that is delivered on desktop PCs across the network…

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