Microsoft on Wednesday announced two versions of Windows that will support Intel's upcoming Itanium 64-bit processor. The company also detailed 64-bit plans for its SQL Server database.
Microsoft's 64-bit Windows Advanced Server Limited Edition is scheduled for final release in the third quarter of 2001 to coincide with general commercial availability of Itanium-based systems from hardware manufacturers.
Also, a workstation version of Windows XP built for 64-bit processing will ship on Oct. 25, when the company's 32-bit Windows XP desktop systems are slated to launch.
Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash., will fully support Windows XP 64-Bit Edition through the Early Deployment Program before its final release, according to company officials.
"Microsoft is fully committed to the Itanium program and is working closely with Intel, our customers, and industry partners to ensure that Windows provides unmatched support for 64-bit computing and that the best of the industry's hardware and software is available when we launch," Brian Valentine, senior vice president of Microsoft's Windows Division, said in a statement.
Valentine pledged Microsoft's help in getting software vendors to write to the Itanium processor. Microsoft said its applications, such as the SQL Server relational database, eventually will be written for 64-bit processing, although company officials did not offer a timeframe for that effort.
"The problem any potential clients of IA-64 have been facing is a really high reluctance to put any operating system into production that doesn't have full support," said analyst John Enck, a senior research director at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner. "Microsoft's support, though, does open the door for very small opportunities for Itanium to go into production."
"This certainly shows a better working relationship between Microsoft and Intel than they've shown in the past year," Enck said. "Microsoft's got the SQL Server 64-bit version on the way. Will people rush to put all of this into production? Probably not. But it will serve as an infrastruture to drive the next wave of [64-bit] applications."
Mike Stephenson, lead product manager for the Windows 2000 Server Group at Microsoft, said that databases are one of the key technologies customers want to run in a 64-bit environment, and so Microsoft would start with SQL Server when building its applications for the 64-bit platform.
A beta version of 64-bit SQL Server will be available in the summer, Stephenson said, with a final release slated for "shortly after the Whistler [servers] are released to manufacturing." Other Microsoft server applications will be ported to a 64-bit architecture as well, Stephenson said, but he would not elaborate.
"We wanted to make it as easy as possible early on to support [64-bit architectures]," Stephenson said. "In order to do that, we didn't change our programming model. The APIs are the same. What changed is the amount of addressable memory."
Although some customers, such as The Nasdaq Stock Market Inc., have expressed interest in Itanium and a 64-bit version of Windows, Stephenson acknowledged that there likely would only be "limited deployments by early adopters" of a Windows-based 64-bit architecture.