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Longhorn will appear in 32- and 64-bit editions

Microsoft is to release versions of its next major operating system release, codenamed Longhorn, for Itanium and 64-bit extended systems as well as a 32-bit edition.

"We plan to continue to support the currently supported 64-bit architectures," said Greg Sullivan, lead product manager for Windows at Microsoft, at the company's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Seattle.

Microsoft has said it will deliver server and client editions of Longhorn. A first beta of the client version is due early next year, and the final version is expected out in 2006.

While Microsoft has delayed the release of its first 64-bit version of Windows XP for the desktop, the company said it expected rapid adoption of 64-bit systems. Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates said that by the end of 2005 he expected that all of the processors shipped by Advanced Micro Devices would support 64-bit computing and most of the processors Intel ships.

Gates noted that previous transitions were sometimes "messy", but predicted the move from 32 to 64 bits will be easier. "This will be a smoother transition than those that came before, and this will happen faster, too," he said.

At WinHEC, Microsoft announced it will deliver the 64-bit editions of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 for 64-bit extended systems in the fourth quarter. Before release, Microsoft will give both products simpler names, Sullivan said. The official names are Windows XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems and Windows Server 2003 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems.

The 64-bit platform processes more data per clock cycle, allows greater access to memory and speeds numeric calculations. AMD offers Athlon and Opteron chips, which also support 32-bit applications.

Athlon is meant for use in desktop computers, Opteron for server systems. Intel's Itanium processor is 64-bit only and meant for server use, but the company has announced it will add 64-bit extensions to chips that also work with today's 32-bit applications, catching up with AMD.

Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service


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