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MS Win64 bacon to be saved by Intel downplaying Itanium?

Plenty time for Redmond to get it right by McKinley, apparently

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The Wintel alliance appears to be moving towards a converged story on Itanium and 64-bit Windows. Neither of them looks capable of shipping a product to spec and to schedule but - ahem - maybe neither of them cares, because it's not important after all.

A Fort Redmond-related source claims that a few days ago Intel reps tipped Microsoft off that Itanium was never going to be a volume processor. This isn't necessarily radical news, because Intel has been downplaying the speed of the move to 64-bit for a couple of years, and a consequence of that is that at least the initial versions of Itanium will be no big deal. Just a few huge, expensive toys for developers to kick around. But if what our mole has to say is true, Intel is now upping the ante - instead of just carefully managing down expectations, it's sandbagging them to the floor.

Which would be highly convenient for Microsoft. Officially, the hardware has only slipped a quarter, albeit with nasty rumours about clock speeds attached. But the Win64 situation currently looks worse than anything Intel will admit to. Although Microsoft got a preview release of Win64 out of the door a couple of weeks ago, its chances of actually producing shipping code by whenever the final Itanium ship arrives look slim.

But its capabilities of getting some kind of Win64 development platform out in time for Itanium, and then getting it right for the next rev, McKinley, look a lot better. And by happy chance, this appears to be what the folk from Intel are telling Redmond is the right approach. There will be an official release of Itanium, but it will be expensive and low volume, and it'll stay that way.

Says our informant: "Itanium will primarily be a dev tool for McKinley. I heard someone jokingly say 'The Itanium will be delivered on time and at clockspeed... in hundreds.' Its not too far from the truth."

Indeed not - Intel roadmaps from as long as two years ago make it clear that there's plenty life in 32-bit, and that the company doesn't expect a big switchover until McKinley (and indeed, until the 64-bit software is there). Microsoft is pretty much in step with this already, having said last year it expected to be producing both 64-bit and 32-bit software for at least another ten years.

But Itanium being downgraded into a development platform certainly throws Redmond a substantial lifebelt. We note that the Win64 FAQ on the Microsoft site currently includes an unfortunate link to a ZD story from last August, headed "Microsoft: 64-bit Windows is on track." And isn't Microsoft just the greatest company for self-inflicted wounds?

"Company officials reiterated Microsoft's commitment to ship a 64-bit NT release before the end of 2000," it says here. "The first beta of 64-bit Windows will hit some time in the first half of 2000, says Keith White." As it's not in beta yet, we're clearly talking late here, and that would be a serious issue if Itanium were important; the spectre of Linux and the Unices grabbing all the mission critical 64-bit server business while Win64 staggered would no doubt be haunting Microsoft.

But if it's not important, Microsoft can make up lost ground by McKinley, which won't be an issue until 2002, and as an added extra it can cheer itself up at the thought of all that misplaced development effort by SCO, Trillian et al. Curiously, Sun was also letting it be known last week that it didn't see Itanium as a big deal - if it weren't for the fact Sun and Intel have been arguing so much about Solaris for Itanium, you'd think Intel had tipped Sun off as well as Microsoft...

Incidentally, delays to Win64, Itanium or both might give Microsoft the opportunity to make Win64 fully 64-bit, rather than the mix of 32-bit and 64-bit it was planning a while back. If anybody out there has got the preview edition and is able to comment on the 64ness of Win64, we'd be pleased to hear from them. ®

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