Microsoft launched a public test of virtualization software ahead of schedule that will compete with offerings from the technology's market leader VMWare.

Microsoft's move is its latest push into the fast growing server virtualization software business. Virtualization saves companies costs by maximizing the use of an existing computer server, allowing them to do more work by running multiple operating systems at once.

Thursday's launch of the technology to testers, called Hyper-V, will run on Windows Server 2008, the next major upgrade to one of Microsoft's largest businesses. Server 2008 is scheduled for release in late February.

Microsoft had previously said that the test of Hyper-V would launch in February. The final version will be release in the second half of next year.

Virtualization technology made headlines earlier this year when VMWare launched as a publicly traded company, one of the most anticipated initial public offerings since Google in 2004.