The 64-bit Windows effort passed a key milestone Wednesday when Microsoft released a pre-beta version of Windows 2000 64-bit Edition at its Professional Developers Conference (PDC). Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates told show attendees that moving from 32-bit to 64-bit development will be much easier than the previous move from 16-bit to 32-bit. The "16-bit model that Intel blessed us with (included) tricky things forced on software development," Gates said. "There is a new instruction set here, an instruction set that Intel and partners like HP poured billions of dollars into," Gates said. "Microsoft has been very supportive of this effort every step of the way." Intel has been working on a 64-bit chip for years, and Gates repeated the assertion by both members of the Wintel duopoly that 64-bit Windows will be a reality by the end of 2000. At the PDC, Microsoft is demonstrating machines running the Intel's 64-bit Itanium chip. "Taking a 32-bit application and porting it to the 64-bit Itanium, you'll find, is dramatically easier than going from 16-bit to 32-bit," Gates said. "But 64-bit computing is not a replacement strategy for 32-bit," stressed Ron Curry, Intel's marketing director for IA-64, the company's 64-bit operating environment. Curry said both the 32- and 64-bit environments continue to operate together, just as some 16-bit code still runs in present 32-bit environments. "What this really is all about is the next major milestone in Itanium development," Curry said of Intel's next-generation 64-bit processor. "We have shipped over 5,000 Itanium prototypes," Curry said. "They have gone to software and operating system developers to allow them to accelerate the development of applications for Itanium. And today's release from Microsoft will also help users of those 5000 systems to develop for Windows on Itanium." Intel is on schedule to deliver production silicon for Itanium in the third quarter of this year, with system releases beginning in the second half of 2001, according to Curry. Smoothly transitioning Windows to 64-bit computing is key for the Microsoft, which hopes to further push Windows 2000 into the enterprise and show that it can compete with rival high-end systems. "One of the key milestones for Microsoft is showing the world that this high-volume Windows-based platform can scale beyond even the low-volume expensive platforms," Gates said.