A 64-bit version of Microsoft's Windows operating system is up and running on prototype systems built around Intel's forthcoming Merced chip.
Intel yesterday demonstrated 64-bit Windows running on a Merced system at its Intel Developer Forum, which is taking place this week in Palm Springs, California. Referring to Merced as "the new engine for e-business," Intel's President and Chief Executive Officer Craig Barrett hosted the demonstration that featured the first Merced silicon.
Merced will be the first 64-bit processor in Intel's IA-64 series of chips, and is set to go into production next year. Intel, together with Hewlett-Packard Co., has been developing Merced for the past five years and positions the chip as a cheaper alternative for servers than today's RISC (reduced instruction set computer) processors.
Microsoft is hoping that companies will use 64-bit Windows-based applications to run memory-intensive tasks such as electronic commerce, data mining, high-end graphics and multimedia, the vendor said in a statement issued yesterday.
The 64-bit version of Windows will be backwardly compatible with Microsoft's next 32-bit operating system -- Windows 2000, formerly codenamed NT 5.0 -- because the two operating systems share a common source code base and programming model, Microsoft said in the statement. Software developers can therefore start work on creating applications for 64-bit Windows on Merced by using the Windows 2000 SDK (software developer kit) and Windows 2000 DDK (device driver kit) which are already available, the company added. Applications written with either of the two kits can be recompiled to run optimally on 64-bit Windows, according to Microsoft.
A beta version of 64-bit Windows should appear in the first half of next year, Microsoft said. The commercial release of the OS along with that of developer tools and 64-bit versions of the company's BackOffice applications, including Microsoft's relational database SQL Server, should occur later in 2000, the software vendor said.
However, Microsoft's forthcoming Windows 2000 OS is well behind schedule and the company has made a point of saying that Windows 2000 should ship some way in advance of 64-bit Windows. The software giant is still not fully committing to an exact shipping date for Windows 2000. Microsoft Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bill Gates said last week that he is "pretty sure" that the OS will become generally available by year-end. Should the OS ship then, it will be more than a year later than originally promised.
Late last month, vendors of Windows rival Unix announced that they will have IA-64 versions of their operating systems ready for delivery when Merced ships. However, the vendors warned that applications which can make best use of the new chip architecture may lag a year or so behind. This has been a problem consistently faced by vendors of 64-bit processors, notably Digital Equipment with its Alpha chip.
Microsoft did not release any details on pricing, packaging and system requirements for 64-bit Windows yesterday, promising to do so some time in the future.
Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington, can be reached at +1-425-882-8080 or via the Internet at http://www.microsoft.com/. Intel, in Santa Clara, California, can be reached at +1-408-987-8080 or via the Internet at http://www.intel.com/.