Microsoft Lifts Covers on 64-bit Windows

NEW ORLEANS -- Long mum on the subject of 64-bit Windows, Microsoft Corp. opened up a little bit last month about its next-level operating system to help its hardware partners figure out where Redmond is headed.

At the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) here, Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) demonstrated 64-bit Windows, discussed the next step in its 64-bit roadmap, and showed how 64-bit technologies will fit into the next version of Windows 2000, code-named Whistler.

No hints were dropped about when Intel Corp. (www.intel.com) will deliver its first 64-bit chip, called the Itanium. Microsoft officials only referred to the well publicized broad timetable of the second half of 2000.

Microsoft is sticking to its objective that Windows will be ready when the chip ships. "We’ll be releasing the first 64-bit release of Windows 2000 Server in conjunction with the release of Itanium," said Carl Stork, general manager of Microsoft’s Windows Hardware Strategy Group.

A demonstration during the keynote address of Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect, tapped the TerraServer database (www.terraserver.com), the global satellite image collection Microsoft first built as a proof point for the scalability of a prerelease version of SQL Server 7.0 in 1998.

The TerraServer available on the Web holds about 3 TB of data, but Microsoft took a 1 GB slice of the database for the demonstration and ran it entirely in memory on a Compaq Computer Corp. (www.compaq.com) four-way ProLiant server designed for Itanium and code-named Blazer.

The Blazer server is one of only a handful of 64-bit-capable, Intel-based servers publicly demonstrated to date. Others include a 16-way machine from NEC Computers Inc. (www.neccsd.com) and the 32-way cellular multiprocessing ES7000 from Unisys Corp. (www.unisys.com), which runs both 32-bit and 64-bit processors.

The WinHEC demonstration database was relatively small, and the satellite images came up no faster than they might have appeared on a well-configured 32-way system. Valerie See, Windows 2000 Hardware Platforms group manager, highlighted the mix-and-match quality of the demonstration.

"We’ve got a 64-bit back end, a 32-bit front end, and a 32-bit client, and it just worked," See said. "It’s an amazing amount of choice that you can scale to fit your needs."

During a speech on strategic direction for hardware developers, Stork displayed a 64-bit timeline showing August 1999 when Windows first booted on Itanium; February 2000 when Microsoft and Intel announced a 64-bit software development kit; the March software design review; and an upcoming hardware design review tentatively set for June. He urged hardware developers to begin porting 32-bit device drivers to 64-bit Windows using the 64-bit driver development kit.

Stork also displayed the Windows server roadmap, which includes Microsoft’s plans for 64-bit Windows. Without showing exact dates, the roadmap has 64-bit Windows 2000 Server coming out after Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, but still shipping this year. Another section of the slide labeled "In planning, available 2001," shows the products to come under Whistler. Microsoft is currently planning to offer both a 32-bit and a 64-bit version of Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2000 Advanced Server, and Windows 2000 Datacenter Server.