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Microsoft confirmed Wednesday that 64-bit versions of WinXP have been released for beta testing.

There are, predictably, two great beta flavors - the 64-bit Windows Advanced Server Limited Edition, and 64-bit WinXP for workstations. Rollout is 'scheduled' for early next year, assuming all goes well.

The new OSes will be loaded on systems primed with Intel's 64-bit Itanium processor, which, due to continual launch delays, has ended up as little more than a beta chip for its successor, McKinley.

Compaq, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM have all obediently released Itanium boxes in recent weeks, playing their appointed roles in Wintel's developing-cool-things scheme.

The mighty power combo is aimed at budget-minded customers unwilling to cough up for a deluxe SUN or IBM *nix command center, and at e-commerce computing dilettantes who take comfort in Microsoft's point-and-drool user friendliness.

Of course there are no applications to run on these spiffy new boxes except for a 64-bit version of SQL Server due out in beta this Summer; but Wintel has more money than God, so the fact that the machines will remain mildly-interesting artifacts for the foreseeable future should hardly raise an eyebrow among Wall Street analysts.

For a while, anyway. ®

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