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Microsoft focuses Longhorn and Itanium on the data center

Margie Semilof

Details about Microsoft's next-generation server operating system, Longhorn, will be more abundant as the company's Professional Developers Conference 2005 draws closer.

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In the meantime, Microsoft continues to drop tidbits about its Longhorn strategy. Last week the company revealed that the server OS, which is being developed for Intel Corp.'s Itanium processor, will now be aimed at the types of high-end applications that are commonly running on RISC processors today.

"Since Itanium is 'new' technology -- on Windows 2003 for about two years -- we wanted to assess the adoption curve," said Zane Adams, director of Windows product marketing at Microsoft.

For general-purpose computing, Microsoft's customers overwhelmingly use Windows Server, as opposed to scientific and engineering applications, for example. Their interest would be the x86 chip, said Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash., consulting firm.

Some experts say they see little interest in Itanium-based 64-bit processors, with the exception of those with heavy processing loads who don't worry about running 32-bit programs on those machines. "We are looking at Itanium and Longhorn for databases and for applications like SAP," said David Quine, enterprise integration architect at Fender Musical Instruments Corp., in Scottsdale, Ariz.

While the x86 and Itanium are both 64-bit chips, with Itanium, Intel chose to sacrifice backward compatibility in favor of sheer processing power. "In order to build the chip to make it the best performing chip, [Intel] decided to change some aspects of it so it wasn't able to continue the x86 processing instructions," Cherry said.

"You can still run a 32-bit application, but it takes an incredible performance hit," he added. "If our customers are buying 64-bit machines today, the processors getting their attention are the 64-bit processors that run existing 32-bit software without penalty."

A more significant issue for general-purpose computing is multi-core processors, not just Itanium versus x64, Cherry said. Those are the processors that can have an impact on licensing.


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