The 64-bit versions of Whistler Server and Windows XP will ship when the Intel Itanium ships, and a version for the next-generation Itanium, currently code-named McKinley, will be available when that processor ships in 2002. At yesterday's Intel Developer Forum (IDF), Intel Executive Vice President Paul Otellini demonstrated Whistler running on four four-processor McKinley-based systems--the first time anyone has demonstrated Microsoft's 64-bit Windows OS running on McKinley-based systems. I spoke with Michael Stephenson, Microsoft's lead product manager of Windows Enterprise Servers, about the demonstration.
  
"Today's demonstration was significant in that it demonstrates progress on Itanium and future generations of Intel microprocessors," Stephenson said. "Microsoft is investing heavily in the enterprise space, and we're committed to Itanium and the 64-bit Intel architecture." Stephenson noted that 64-bit versions of Whistler Server and Windows XP Professional will be ready when Intel ships the Itanium later this year. "We're shipping code right now," he said, referring to beta versions of the 64-bit software, which customers are now testing. "We will have a customer-ready release when Itanium systems become available." This statement sharply contradicts comments from the open-source community, which has been claiming that only Linux will be ready when the Itanium ships. "We'll have a 64-bit version of SQL Server ready as well," Stephenson said. "On the 64-bit platform, the database market is key."
  
For application compatibility with today's 32-bit software, 64-bit versions of Windows XP and Whistler Server will include a "Windows on Windows 64" (WOW64) subsystem that will let legacy applications run within the new environment. This system is similar to the 16-bit subsystem Microsoft provided in Windows NT for Windows 3.1 compatibility, Stephenson said. "Customers can run existing versions of applications through the WOW64 32-bit subsystem," he told me. "The advantage of the IA-64 platform, however, will be seen when running 64-bit \[applications\], especially on Server. On the client side, for example, Microsoft Office won't show any performance degradation \[when running in this subsystem\]. Server \[applications\] will degrade, however. We recommend sticking to the correct version for Server."
  
Stephenson also sought to correct some of the misconceptions about the 64-bit platform. "64-bit is not the end-all," he said. "In the initial offering, we will address certain market segments, such as database servers and high-end workstation applications \[including\] CAD/computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), engineering and design, scientific computing, and digital content creation. Applications that need large amounts of RAM--more than 4GB on the desktop or more than 64GB on Datacenter--will benefit from the 64-bit platform." Stephenson noted that the 64-bit version of Whistler is comparable to earlier versions of NT, which ran on different processors, such as the MIPS and PowerPC platforms. "With Whistler, we'll support two platforms," he said. "The Itanium and McKinley processors will support additional capabilities \[such as\] more RAM and a new Machine Check Architecture, which is a way to detect, predict, and prevent hardware errors." 
  
Microsoft, however, also will continue to support the 32-bit Intel and compatible chips for some time to come, and neither Intel nor Microsoft sees this market going away anytime soon. Indeed, this week Intel also announced a mobile version of its 32-bit Pentium 4 chip, which will be available some time in 2002