Microsoft may be the last out of the starting gate with a stable operating system for servers based on Intel's forthcoming 64bit processor.
The release of a 64bit version of Windows 2000 will be put on hold until the autumn delivery of servers featuring the 64bit architecture (IA-64). However, analysts said it could take a further six months to stabilise the product.
Meanwhile, IBM expects to ship Monterey/64, the result of its efforts to make its AIX Unix variant source code compatible with the Santa Cruz Operation's Unixware, at the same time as Intel releases its 64bit Itanium processor. Analysts also expect Linux for IA-64 to beat 64bit Windows to market - albeit as a beta release.
Releasing a 64bit version of Windows is a key part of Microsoft's ambitions to provide a viable alternative to Unix in the corporate data centre.
However, Rob Enderle, research director at Giga Information Group, said the final version of a 64bit Windows might be delivered as long as six months after hardware becomes available. "It's hard for Microsoft to do beta tests without a final version of a 64bit processor," he said.
The delay is necessary to properly test what will be radical change involved in moving from a 32bit to 64bit version of Microsoft's operating system, said Enderle.
"Microsoft is changing the architecture of the kernel. If there is a problem with the code it will fail catastrophically as opposed to resulting in degraded performance, so [Microsoft] will have to do three to six months of beta tests," he added.
"The kernel is a critical component and touches everything. As a result, the consequences of breaking are higher."
Enderle said that Unix vendors, which already have 64bit operating systems running on Risc (reduced instruction set computer) chips, would not have this problem, and that a version of Linux for IA-64, most likely a beta product, would also beat Microsoft to market.
Simon Moores, chairman of the Windows User Forum, said Microsoft lost momentum in 64bit development when Compaq decided to discontinue support for Windows NT on its Alpha chip.
Stuart Okin, e-platform practice manager at Microsoft, said there is a lot of 64bit code in Windows 2000 already.
However, he admitted that development of a 64bit version of Windows 2000 would only come after the release of Windows 2000 Datacenter. With the development of a 64bit Windows allied to the forthcoming Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, currently in beta 2 release, Microsoft hopes to provide a credible offering for demanding line of business applications, including ecommerce, data mining and online transaction processing.
Microsoft's Datacenter offers all the features found in Windows 2000 Advanced Server, and includes 64Gb of memory and support for 32 processors. It also claims to provide reliability features such as four-node clustering, process control and network load balancing.
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