Microsoft Corporation announced Wednesday that the 64-bit version of Windows 2000, Windows 2000/64, will soon ship to developers with access to prototype Intel Itanium hardware. This sudden and dramatic release, which refutes rumors from the Linux community that Windows 2000/64 is behind schedule, is "about 95 percent complete," according to the company. Windows 2000/64 will ship in both Professional and Server editions and, as reported previously in WinInfo, it will be available the day that Intel officially releases its first Itanium chips. With the preview release of Windows 2000/Microsoft is targeting the 5000 customers to which Itanium hardware has already been shipped.

"The 64-bit Windows platform is a native 64-bit operating system based on Windows 2000," says Jim Ewel, the vice president of Microsoft's Windows Hosting and Infrastructure Group. "The platform utilizes the advanced architecture of the Intel Itanium processor to provide enterprise customers with the next generation of scalability and reliability for mission-critical enterprise computing."

In addition to the release of the Windows 2000/64 preview, Microsoft is also giving developers an updated Software Development Kit (SDK) and Device Driver Development Kit (DDK). These tools run on existing 32-bit versions of Windows 2000, so that the widest possible audience can get up to speed developing 64-bit applications and drivers. And Microsoft is opening up a farm of 64-bit servers so that developers can access them over the Internet. Developers interested in access to the company's Windows/64 server farms should contact Microsoft at drgwin64@microsoft.com and explain their requirements. "Taking a 32-bit application and porting it to the 64-bit Itanium, you'll find, is dramatically easier than going from 16-bit to 32-bit," says Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.

Windows 2000/64 will be of most interest to those organizations that need to work with massive databases and other resource-intensive applications. "The 64-bit Windows operating system running on Intel Itanium-based processors allows extremely large amounts of data to be processed more efficiently," Microsoft says. "Memory-intensive applications can preload substantially more data into memory for rapid access by the IA-64 processor. This reduces the time for loading data into virtual memory or for seeking, reading and writing to data-storage devices, making applications run faster and more efficiently." Microsoft was able to get up to speed on 64-bit development early by targeting Compaq's Alpha chip until those plans were dropped last fall. Initial Itanium chips, which are due by the fall, will run at approximately 800 MHz.

Final pricing and packaging for Windows 2000/64 has not yet been announced. If you're interested in more information about this product, please visit the Microsoft Web site