Microsoft Releases 64-Bit Windows to Developers

Microsoft Corp. and Intel Corp. are making sure developers can create software for Itanium machines today, even though the hardware is proving slow to come to market.

The recent developer's release of 64-bit Windows is not the first Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) has put out, but it will more closely resemble the final release than previous versions. In addition, Microsoft and Intel (www.intel.com) released software kits and driver kits for developers to take advantages of the system's new features.

"This will keep us right on track for 64-bit development," says Ron Curry, IA-64 product marketing director at Intel. For applications to take full advantage of Itanium's new architecture, developers may have to make changes that enable parallel processing and other features of the processor. In addition, 64-bit Windows has a few related changes developers may need to account for.

Intel and Microsoft had expected 64-bit machines to hit the market in the second half of this year, now Intel says Itanium will not begin production until the fourth quarter. Itanium machines may not ship from OEMs until the beginning of 2001.

Some reports speculate that Intel was unable to create Itaniums with fast enough clock rates to generate excitement about the new chip. Intel is shipping Itanium-based test machines to hone the hardware before the processor ships.

Intel released 5,000 Itanium machines to software development houses, including Microsoft. Intel has been aggressive in promoting development for the machines, striking partnerships with Linux organizations, in addition to Microsoft.

Months ago, Microsoft created a Web farm of multiprocessor Itanium servers for developers who do not have Itanium machines on hand to test IA-64 applications. Microsoft and Intel expect developers to create and compile applications on 32-bit machines, then test and deploy on 64-bit machines. "All of the development can be done on existing Windows 2000 machines," Curry says.

Itanium machines are expected to be too expensive to be used as development platforms. Organizations that purchase the machines will likely reserve them for live applications, rather than keep a few on hand for developers to test on. The 32-bit development strategy may remain in place even after the Itanium is shipped.

Intel expects many early adopters of Itanium to be interested in high-end scientific applications, thus creating demand for both servers and workstations. Consequently, Microsoft released both workstation and server flavors of 64-bit Windows to developers.

"Users who are using Windows 2000 today will have no problem migrating to 64-bit Windows," Curry says. Microsoft claims 90 percent of 64-bit Windows is the same as other versions of Windows 2000. The code changes were made to accommodate the IA-64 architecture, with no changes to the interface or the functionality.

The companies also expect enterprises needing high performance databases to deploy Itanium. Michael Stephenson, lead product manager at Microsoft for 64-bit Windows enterprise servers, says Itanium machines will be able to store considerable quantities of database information in RAM, rather than disk storage. This will increase the availability and performance of databases.

In addition to the wider 64-bit architecture, Itanium sports a third level of memory cache, allowing instructions to be stored close to the chip, inside the bus. The L3 cache and a new memory bus improve the accessibility of application instructions, which are often held in disk storage, improving the overall database availability.