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Microsoft continues to redefine the notion of a software striptease with the 64-bit version of Windows XP, kicking off yet another early access program for the OS.

Rabid 64-bit computing fans can now pick up a trial version of Windows XP 64-bit Edition via CD or download off this Microsoft site. The pre-release software is good for 360 days and gives customers with an AMD64-based PC or laptop a chance to test the OS. The bra has come off, but you'll have to wait to see the pasties hit the floor.

Microsoft promised Windows XP 64-bit Edition for both AMD's Opteron and Athlon64 chips many moons ago. The software, however, has repeatedly been pushed back - surely a sore spot with AMD. Microsoft has been gracious enough to put out a beta version of the OS for developers - tuck your $1 bill in here, please - and has promised an AMD-ready version of Windows Server 2003.

A proles-ready version of Windows XP 64-bit Edition won't actually arrive until the second half of the year, along with a service pack for the 32-bit code. This gives SuSE, Red Hat and even Sun Microsystems with Solaris x86 a few months to lead the Opteron/Athlon64 charge on 64-bit systems, while Microsoft adjusts its undies for the big dance.

Customers not in need of extra memory can, of course, run 32-bit Windows XP on the AMD chips.

So what's the point of the preview program?

"This program provides an opportunity to preview the next generation of Windows XP 64-Bit Edition while the product is still under development. This product is intended for testing and evaluation purposes only. It should not be used for production purposes, and should not be placed in a production environment," Microsoft says on its Web site.

"As a Windows XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems Customer Preview Program (CPP) subscriber, you may be entitled to upgrade to future pre-release versions of Windows XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems when they become available."

Sweet.

Microsoft already supports Intel's 64-bit Itanium processor, but, like most, is staying quiet about its plans for an x86-64-bit chip from Intel. Intel will be demonstrating such a processor later this month at its developer conference. ®

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