With the release of Windows NT 5.0 slipping into late 1998 or early 1999, Microsoft is, for some reason, evangelizing a future 64-bit version of Windows NT, to be dubbed Windows NT 6.0. Microsoft will provide developers with an early beta release of NT 6.0 by the end of this year, the company said Tuesday, which may first see the light of day as a Service Pack release for NT 5.0.

The release of Windows NT 6.0 will be timed to coincide with the release of Intel's 64-bit Merced chip, which is expected in 1999. This means that the release of NT 5.0 and 6.0 could be less than a year apart. Though the plan is unclear at this time, it is possible that a 64-bit version of NT 5 would be released first, with NT 6.0 following a year after that. Microsoft says that porting 32-bit code to 64-bit won't be that difficult.

"I don't think there will be big differences in the source code," said Ed Muth, a group product manager in Microsoft's personal and business systems division. "There will be the same source deck, with the choice of generating a 32-bit or 64-bit executable. This will be a recompilation of the NT operating system as a 64-bit application. It will include a flat address space and 64-bit pointers, APIs, and system services and will coexist for many years with a 32-bit version of NT."

Meanwhile, Windows NT 5.0 is wallowing in delays. The first beta was rushed to testers in time for the Fall PDC and most developers are claiming that it is unusable. Beta 2, originally targeted for December or January, is slipping into a June timeframe and Microsoft is still not sure if it will be feature-complete by then. IntelliMirror, originally slated for release with Beta 2, may not be ready by then, says Microsoft's Jeff Price, though "the current plan is to have the IntelliMirror functionality in Beta 2.