Microsoft Ratchets Up its 64-Bitness

It doesn't matter how powerful of a processor is, it won't catch on unless there's software that can take advantage of it. To that end, Intel Corp.'s ( 64-bit Itanium microprocessor got a shot in the arm in late February. In conjunction with Microsoft Corp. (, the semiconductor giant announced a series of initiatives aimed at porting software to and creating software for the 64-bit platform. Intel and Microsoft announced the opening of a 64-bit Windows Developer's Lab on Microsoft's Redmond campus to support the porting and tuning of software applications to 64-bit Windows running on Itanium. The software giant expects the lab to provide remote access -- through virtual private network or terminal services and by means of 64-bit Windows' remote command capabilities -- to the Itanium-based systems that developers need to build and test their applications. The Itanium chip is scheduled for release later this year.

The partners also announced the delivery of an IA-64 SDK for 64-bit Windows that is slated to provide the latest operating system release versions, compilers, and software libraries to hardware and software developers.

Microsoft indicated that it would release a beta version of 64-bit Windows this quarter. A source close to the software giant confirms that despite the firm's 32-bit Windows 2000 delays, Redmond still expects to release 64-bit Windows concurrently with production of Itanium. The same source says Microsoft has been developing 64-bit builds of Windows 2000 in conjunction with 32-bit builds of the operating system for sometime.

How important is Itanium to Microsoft? According to Rob Enderle, senior analyst with Giga Information Group (, Microsoft has committed in the past to shipping 64-bit Windows 2000 in conjunction with Itanium. As a result, the software giant must do its part to make sure that a reasonable number of ISVs and developers are ready to begin developing on the new platforms.

"Microsoft has a commitment to have Windows 2000 and related applications ready when Itanium ships, and the only way that can possibly happen given the nature of technology today is if they spearhead the development effort," Enderle explains. "What they've got to do is to try to accommodate the developer community as best as they can, because they need these applications available when Itanium and 64-bit Windows ship."

And that's the point of these latest moves, says Stephen Smith, vice president and general manager of Intel's IA-64 processor division: "With the addition of these new tools and capabilities by Microsoft and Intel, IA-64 applications developers will be able to accelerate the development of optimized e-business and technical computing solutions."

Michel Gambier, product manager for Windows 2000 enterprise marketing at Microsoft, says 64-bit Windows 2000 will probably be deployed on a limited basis, primarily by early adopters or other organizations looking to host very large or in-memory databases. Consequently, Microsoft does not expect much overlap between 64-bit Windows 2000 and its 32-bit cousin, Windows 2000 Datacenter Server. Windows 2000 Datacenter Server is expected to be deployed as a platform for OLTP applications. Its release is scheduled for June.

On the whole, anticipation for 64-bit Windows on Itanium is beginning to build. Several major hardware OEMs used the occasion of February's Intel Developer Forum (IDF) to showcase their Itanium-related efforts. Compaq Computer Corp. (, Dell Computer Corp. (, Hewlett-Packard Co. (, and IBM Corp. ( were some of the manufacturers with Itanium-related technologies on display at the IDF.

In addition to accommodating developers and partnering with Intel, Enderle says Microsoft is working closely with many of these same OEM to help enhance its 64-bit Windows development efforts.

"The vendors that they've partnered with to date -- Compaq, HP, and others -- also have their own 64-bit Unix operating systems, their own labs, and their own hardware guys," Enderle points out. "Because it's primarily a software vendor, Microsoft requires a different approach, so it needs to work with these folks because of the huge reengineering effort involved in moving from 32- to 64-bit Windows."