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Microsoft Corporation said Tuesday it would delay the release of its 64-bit operating systems for computers based on x86-64 processors to the first half of 2005 from this year citing necessity for additional “tuning and testing” time for the systems.

“We now anticipate Windows Server 2003 SP1 and Windows Server 2003 for 64-bit Extended Systems will ship in the first half of 2005, whereas we previously estimated the release timing for both to be the end of 2004. Additionally, given Windows XP 64-bit for 64-bit Extended Systems is also tied to Windows Server 2003 SP1, it will also ship the first half of 2005,” a Microsoft spokeswoman told eWeek.

Microsoft originally planned to release its operating systems for systems powered by x86 processors with 64-bit capability in late 2003 or early 2004. However, in mid-October 2003 the world’s largest software maker said it would only be in a position to ship the new products only in Q4 2004.

“Microsoft wants to allow sufficient time for tuning and testing of [Windows Server 2003] SP1 and x[86-]64, particularly for the server-relevant security enhancements from Windows XP SP2, which is due to release to manufacturing in August,” the spokeswoman for Microsoft said.

Currently Microsoft offers beta versions of its operating systems for 64-bit Extended Systems to those who want to preview capabilities of the new software. However, publicly available beta versions of Windows for x86-64 computers cannot be installed on systems based on Intel’s x86-64 processors, it was recently discovered.

Transition to 64-bit Inevitable

“The shift to 64-bit computing on the desktop is nearly here… This is going to be a really wonderful transition,” Bill Gates promised during an hour-long talk at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Seattle earlier this year.

Right now the software giant is making tremendous efforts to convince hardware manufacturers to develop drivers for forthcoming 64-bit operating systems for desktops. The necessity for the move is very high, as with no drivers for the majority of hardware, personal computers with 64-bit processors with 64-bit OS will not become popular among end-users.

Microsoft Corporation is projected to deliver a version of Windows XP for 64-bit x86 processors by the end of the year and it means that at least some hardware used in personal computers should function properly with such operating system.

Microsoft and its products have historically been a major driving force for technology progress. In the past, the new versions of the company’s operating systems encouraged customers to switch to newer hardware, including Pentium 4 processors from Intel. But as Intel keeps away from desktop 64-bit chips right now, its arch-rival AMD is gaining momentum with its Athlon 64 and Opteron processors for mobile, desktop and server applications that can work in both 32-bit and 64-bit modes.

By the end of next year nearly all CPUs from Advanced Micro Devices will be 64-bit capable, according to estimations. With hundreds of thousands and millions of AMD64 chips shipped in 2003 and to be supplied in 2004 respectively, there is a huge target market for Microsoft’s new operating systems that take advantage of the x86-64 technology.

Intel promised to deliver its desktop processors with 64-bit capabilities when there is a right infrastructure to support such chips, e.g. operating system and enough drivers for various types of hardware. With Windows XP for 64-bit desktop machines coming later this year, Intel should address the emerging market.

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