A Microsoft representative told me that the company will issue an updated beta version of Windows Server 2003 for 64-Bit Extended Systems, which targets the 64-bit x64 AMD and Intel platforms. In addition, the company will offer users a free trade-in program so that they can exchange 32-bit Windows 2003 products for the final version of Windows 2003 for 64-Bit Extended Systems, which is now expected in early 2005.
"We've had a customer preview program for Windows Server 2003 for 64-Bit Extended Systems since January, and it's been extremely successful, with over 20,000 downloads," Dennis Oldroyd, a director in the Windows Server group, told me Friday. "We are on Monday revving that beta to a new version that will support both Intel EM64T Xeon and AMD Opteron chips." Oldroyd said that the January preview was officially available only for AMD because AMD had the only available x64 platform at the time. Since then, Intel has announced its intention at sell x64-based variants of its Pentium 4 and Xeon processors, which will be compatible with the 64-bit AMD Athlon 64 and AMD Opteron processors. Intel's first x64 chips could arrive as early as this week, sources tell me.
Oldroyd also discussed Microsoft's plans to let customers who purchase AMD64 or Intel EM64T systems now exchange their existing 32-bit Windows 2003 CD-ROMs for 64-bit versions when the OS becomes available. "We haven't figured out all the details yet," he said. "But we're going to have a technology exchange program. We're going to offer to customers who purchased an X64 system with a 32-bit version of Windows Server an exchange for an x64 version of Windows Server when that becomes available in 2005. The price to \[PC makers\] is the same, so it will be an even exchange." Customers can start ordering the x64 Windows 2003 beta from the Microsoft Web site today.
Oldroyd said that he sees the exchange program as a customer benefit because people who evaluate new 64-bit hardware today won't be locked into using the 32-bit version of Windows that now ships with those systems. "We see the \[64-bit\] market as being in the evaluative stage right now," he said. "A lot of people running 64-bit hardware will continue running 32-bit software by choice. But the appearance of 64-bit drivers and applications will drive people to make the decision to upgrade to 64-bit Windows over time."
Functionally, the 64-bit Windows 2003 will be identical to the 32-bit version of Windows 2003, Enterprise Edition. But as more hardware makers begin shipping x64 systems, Oldroyd and other Microsoft executives I've spoken with expect the 64-bit products to become mainstream. After that happens, applications developers will exploit the platform's unique features to deliver solutions that will further differentiate x64 systems from today's 32-bit platforms.