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IBM started shipping pilot systems of its Itanium workstations, codenamed Rattler, this week.

Around 40 of the Z-Pro workstations have gone out to two IBM customers in what is Big Blue's first rollout of the 64-bit technology. Later than some of the other vendors -- but IBM said it wanted to wait for at least a few of the bugs to get ironed out first.

IBM is working with "about a dozen" software companies to test 15 applications on the machines -- not 209 as previously quoted by InfoWorld (refering to 32-bit technology, not 64-bit), according to Rich Rudd, product manager for IBM Intellistation Z-Pro.

The companies IBM is working with include Side Effects Software and its 3D animation package "Houdini", two Autodesk applications, a software development tool from CGS2 called VTree SDK, and finance application RiskManager from RiskMetrics.

"Once the platform is in production we'll most certainly go back to all the others certified for 32-bit and start developing them for 64-bit," said Rudd.

Rudd also confirmed that the Itanium launch date, according to "the most recent Intel roadmap, is around the March timeframe."

IBM's workstation will, as previously reported, run on the 64-bit version of the Windows 2000 OS, as well as on Linux and IBM's own AIX 5L. The timeframe for this is expected to be: AIX 5L, available on the Itanium launch date, Linux in Q2, and Windows in Q3, according to Rudd.

"So it's going to be a bit of a strange environment. It's unusual for the hardware to be there before the software."

Rudd anticipates that IBM customer shipments in March, April and May will be "on the limited side".

"We expect shipments to be substantially less than (Intellistation shipments) now".

Other vendors have also revealed their Itanium systems. Dell has had "a handful" of pilots of its Itanium-based Precision workstation with customers for a while now, and is working with around 30 vendors including MSC.Software, NewTek and SolidWorks on applications. Like IBM, Dell said it expects to start shipping systems when Intel launches.

Its systems will run on Windows and Linux.

Hewlett-Packard is making its recently-launched SuperDome server monster Itanium-friendly and aims to start shipping as soon as Intel gives the green light. The company also says it wants to put the technology into its Netserver PC server line and HP workstations. The machines will work with Linux, Windows and a 64-bit version of its own HPUX OS.

HP has sent out "a number of Itanium-based servers to customers", according to Brian Cox, HP product line manager for Itanium servers, who couldn't be more specific on the number shipped than "between one and a hundred".

"Basically, all the new servers that are like the SuperDome....all are going to be upgradeable to the Itanium processor," added Cox. ®

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