Microsoft and Intel have opened a developers' laboratory and released an updated toolkit to support the planned release of a 64-bit version of the Windows 2000 operating system later this year, the companies announced today. Microsoft is expected to release a version of Windows that will support Intel's 64-bit Itanium processor when it is released by midyear, Marion Koehler, an Intel spokeswoman, said today. In the meantime, both companies are taking several actions to prepare for the release of the OS. Microsoft has opened the "64-bit Windows Developer's Lab" in Redmond, Washington, to enhance the porting and development of software applications for the OS, the companies said in a statement. Both companies also said they have released an advanced version of an IA-64 Software Development Kit for software and hardware developers who want to create applications and computer systems for 64-bit Windows. A beta version of 64-bit Windows 2000 will be released within the next four to five months. "Essentially, these steps are helping developers, independent software vendors and original equipment manufacturers gear up for a 64-bit Windows," Ryan James, an executive with Microsoft's public relations firm, Waggener Edstrom, said. Microsoft has not announced which version of Windows 2000 will run the Itanium processor, James said.