Update: Microsoft Will Have 64-bit Windows Ready for Itanium

Microsoft Corp. declared Wednesday that it will have 64-bit operating systems ready for systems built on the Itanium processor, which Intel Corp. is expected to launch next week.

Microsoft will come out with a server version and a workstation version. Both will be pre-release versions of the Whistler generation of operating systems, but Microsoft says they will be fully supported.

Microsoft calls the server operating system 64-bit Windows Advanced Server Limited Edition. The workstation version will be named Windows XP 64-Bit Edition.

Michael Stephenson, Microsoft's lead product manager for the Windows 2000 Server group, says the release is "in order to meet a commitment that we've made to have a server OS ready for Itanium." The server version will ship in Q3 at the same time as OEM systems based on Itanium.

IDC analyst Al Gillen describes Microsoft's 64-bit releases as "a supported late beta" for people who really want to get started with IA-64. "What is clear is at this point they're not planning to release Windows 2000 in a 64-bit version," Gillen says.

Microsoft's Stephenson says a major reason Microsoft decided to go with the Windows 2002 code rather than Windows 2000 code was to simplify development. "Instead of dividing our development team into two teams – one working on 64-bit and one working on 32-bit – there's one source code base."

The decision also means the 64-bit code will benefit from problems discovered in the far more broadly deployed 32-bit code, Stephenson says. "It's much like in the NT 4 days when we supported multiple platforms," he says.

The workstation version will be supported through Microsoft's Early Deployment Program prior to the Oct. 25 release of Windows XP. The server version is apparently built on Windows 2002 Beta 2 code that is a little less mature, because Microsoft doesn't intend to deliver Windows 2002 until several months after Windows XP. However, Stephenson says Microsoft has been doing 64-bit server builds ever since the Windows 2000 development cycle.

There won't be a 64-bit version of SQL Server 2000 to accompany the early 64-bit OS release, a Microsoft spokeswoman said. Microsoft is working on a beta version of 64-bit SQL Server, but it hasn't been released yet, she said.

Current company plans call for the production version of 64-bit SQL Server to follow the release of 64-bit Windows 2002, the spokeswoman said.

According to Microsoft, the 64-bit server product will support "server consolidation, increased availability of scalable mid-range Windows 2000-based servers, and 64-bit application development." The 64-bit workstation version will support technical and scientific applications and will run 32-bit business applications, Microsoft said.

IDC's Gillen doesn't expect a big rush of people trying to get 64-bit systems right away.

"The systems that are going to get put into use are going to be systems that are going to be used for early testing for verification," Gillen says.

Stephenson agrees that demand won't be huge: "The 32-bit platform is going to remain the volume platform now and even in the McKinley timeframe. But there's specific scenarios out there where the 64-bit platform will help businesses do things faster."

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.