On May 22, 2001, I attended a technical preview of Microsoft's 64-bit Windows products at the company's campus in Mountain View, California. The location was chosen because of its proximity to Intel and its hardware partners, such as Hewlett-Packard, which have been working on a new 64-bit hardware platform called IA-64 (Intel Architecture 64-bit), which will see its first rendition with the Itanium processor, being released in June, 2001. Itanium will be followed by a slew of new products in the IA-64 family, beginning with the next generation chip, code-named McKinley, which is due next year. But in the meantime, Intel and Microsoft have 64-bit products ready today, and in this showcase we'll take a look at what I learned that day in Mountain View.


The 64-bit Windows roadmap includes products for both the client and the server. These products are being developed alongside their 32-bit brethren, Windows XP and Windows 2002 Server, and will be released at the same time. "They target different markets," said Brian Marr, the Product Manager for Windows XP 64-bit edition. "The 64-bit products are targeted at the technical workstation market, while the 64-bit servers target the high-end of the server market. They are not overlapping with the 32-bit line."

So the 64-bit products are almost identical, feature-wise, to their 32-bit counterparts, but they're really not part of the same family. "There is no upgrade path from Windows XP Pro to Windows XP 64-bit Edition, for example," Marr noted. "But they are being developed in tandem, and will be launched together." <% ' Added so can inventory as Connected Home articles. kw = "CH" %>

64-bit Server releases will include Windows 2002 Server 64-bit Edition and Windows 2002 Advanced Server 64-bit Edition. This summer, Microsoft will release a pre-final version of Advanced Server, awkwardly named Windows Advanced Server Limited Edition Version 2002 (LE), that will accompany initial shipments of Itanium hardware from a variety of PC makers, including Hewlett-Packard (HP), Dell, IBM, and others. When Windows 2002 is finalized late this year, this pre-final product will be replaced by the final versions of Advanced Server and Datacenter Server 64-bit. Customers that purchase Itanium servers before the final release will get a free upgrade to the final code.

On the client, Microsoft is offering Windows XP 64-bit Edition, which is roughly equivalent to the 32-bit version of Windows XP Professional. Like Server, a pre-release version will be available on Itanium hardware that ships this summer, and the final version of Windows XP 64-bit Edition will ship on October 25 with the 32-bit Home and Professional Editions. "It's not for everyone," Marr said. "Technical workstation users that need advanced memory support and better floating point performance will be well served by Windows XP 64-bit Edition. It provides the highest performance and scalability for those customers that are pushing today's 32-bit capabilities. But we're recommending that most users stay on the 32-bit platform for the foreseeable future."


Windows XP 64-bit Edition
Windows XP 64-bit Edition will ship in English, Japanese, French and German versions during the beta and a multiple language version, with support for 23 languages, will be available when the product is finalized in October.

Microsoft summarized the key benefits and features of this 64-bit platform as follows:

  • Additional Performance and Scalability
    • Large memory support gives faster performance and ability to handle more complex tasks
    • Optimized for Itanium platform
    • Increased floating point performance
    • Multiprocessing capabilities
  • Single Desktop for Technical and Business Applications
    • 32-bit application compatibility and integration
    • Common management tools
    • Breadth of applications, Windows partners
  • Best Platform for the Next Generation of Applications
    • Windows programming model ? single code base
    • Robust development tools (Visual Studio.NET support)
    • Microsoft .NET


Windows 2002 Server 64-bit
Windows 2002 Server will ship in two 64-bit editions, and like Windows XP 64-bit Edition, Microsoft is recommending that most customers stay with the 32-bit products for now. "Again, it's not for everyone," Marr said. "Most companies should stay on the 32-bit platform. But if you have advanced needs for performance and scalability, we're here today on Itanium."

Windows Advanced Server Limited Edition Version 2002 (LE) supports up to eight processors and 64 GB of RAM. It includes 25 Client Access Licenses (CALs) and will only be available through the OEM channel. That is, you will only be able to obtain this release with Itanium workstation hardware. Support is directly through Microsoft only, and customers will receive a free upgrade to the final release when that is made available. Support for LE ends 90 days after Windows 2002 is finalized.

Also, LE will be an English-only release.

Key 64-bit Server features include:

  • Additional scalability and reliability for memory-intensive applications
    • Breaks the 4GB/64GB memory limit
    • 16TB (terabytes) of flat virtual memory space
    • Greater physical memory capabilities
    • Hardware error detection and prediction
  • Extends the investment customers have made in Windows
    • Leverage existing Windows skill set
    • Native support for 64-bit Itanium hardware
    • Complements Windows servers on Intel x86
    • Completely Interoperable with 32-bit Windows
  • Best Platform for new generation of scalable 64-bit server applications
    • Broad 64-bit application support
    • Same Windows programming model
    • Easy to migrate existing 32-bit Windows applications
Microsoft sees 64-bit Windows being used in scientific computing, large database, data warehousing, business intelligence, and large Web serving and caching environments.


64-bit product rollout plan
"We're now in phase four of our 64-bit rollout," Marr said. "In this phase, customers are evaluating the beta versions of Windows 64-bit." In phase five, which will begin this month (June 2001), the Itanium will become available and Microsoft will allow OEMs to ship two pre-release versions of the product with their Itanium workstations and servers. On the client end, customers will receive the Release Candidate 1 (RC1) version of Windows XP 64-bit Edition with Itanium workstations. And on Itanium servers, customers can get Windows Advanced Server LE Beta 3.

In phase six, the Windows XP products will be released to manufacturing and Microsoft will ship the final version of Windows XP 64-bit Edition to OEMs so that they can upgrade existing customers and include the product with new sales. Phase seven occurs in late 2001, when the Windows 2002 Server products RTM. At that point, LE will be canceled and two new editions, Windows Advanced Server 2002 and Windows Datacenter 2002, will become available.


Windows 64-bit architecture and feature-set
Clyde M. Rodriguez, the Lead Program Manager for Windows Server 2002, described his actual title as "64-bit butt on the line." Clyde makes sure that the feature set for the 64-bit products stays in line with the 32-bit products and that the 64-bit line is as close in functionality as possible the wider 32-bit versions. "The goal is to have a 64-bit system that has a solid foundation and extends Windows to 64-bit computing," Rodriguez said. "We need to eliminate the limits of the 32-bit products and harness the power of Itanium to take full advantage of 64-bit computing. It's a new realm of applications and scenarios that must interoperate seamlessly with 32-bit deployments. The 64-bit products should be transparent in a heterogeneous environment."

Microsoft has one team building all Windows products, not separate teams for the 32-bit and 64-bit products, so a showstopper bug on one platform is a showstopper for the other. Rodriguez noted that over 3000 companies are participating in the 64-bit beta, providing OS testing and product feedback. Many of these companies were culled from the successful Windows 2000 Joint Development Program (JDP).

Realizing that applications compatibility was going to be a key goal for its customers, Microsoft made the 64-bit versions of Windows compatible with existing 32-bit applications through a new Windows On Windows 64-bit (WOW64) compatibility layer. "So we're compatible with 32-bit apps out of the box, and it run most Win32 apps, though 16-bit installers won't work for the most part. This compatibility layer is not recommended for server apps, but it works well for desktop apps and administrator utilities." Microsoft has teams working on native 64-bit applications and servers, including SQL Server, Visual Studio, Services for UNIX and the like. And of course, numerous ISVs are working on 64-bit applications as well.

Regarding the feature-set, Microsoft says it has achieved general parity between its 32-bit and 64-bit products. But the following features will not be included in the 64-bit versions of Windows XP and Windows 2002:

  • DOS and 16-bit subsystems
  • Windows Product Activation ("We don't have the same piracy concerns now on the 64-bit platform," Rodriguez noted)
  • NetMeeting
  • Windows Media Player
  • Remote Assistance
  • Power management sleep states
  • Infrared
  • Native support for CD burning
Some of these will show up in the future, probably as free Web downloads. Microsoft specifically mentioned NetMeeting and Windows Media Player as products that would be released after RTM.


Conclusions
Since our NDA event in Mountain View, Microsoft has announced its 64-bit products, Intel has announced the impending release of the Itanium, and a variety of PC makers have announced the 64-bit hardware products they will have on hand this summer. The first generation of Itanium solutions is pretty straightforward: Workstations will ship with single or dual processor Itaniums running at 733 or 800 MHz, and will feature at least 1 GB of RAM. Server solutions will support up to four processors and use at least 2 GB of RAM, while offering support for up to 64 GB RAM. A base workstation is going to run about $7000, putting the Itanium out of reach for most enthusiasts.

I haven't discussed any of the technical details of the Itanium processor or Windows 64-bit editions, but both Intel and Microsoft have worked to ensure that today's developers can transition to 64-bits as easily as possible, while the end user experience should be virtually indistinguishable from the popular 32-bit lines. While it's unlikely that this first generation IA-64 processor will be a runaway sales success, it is at least a stunning preview of the platform we will all be moving to in the near future. But today, the future is here now in the form of Itanium hardware and pre-release versions of 64-bit Windows. For customers that simply must have the most powerful hardware and software combination available, Windows is finally the obvious choice.