Data Center is the highest-performance version of Windows 2000 and is designed to run on complex multiprocessor servers that sit at the heart of corporations and e-commerce sites. Versions of Windows 2000 for desktops and midrange servers came out in February.
The first Release Candidate, or nearly complete version, of Windows 2000 Data Center was shipped to hardware manufacturers and early customers yesterday, the company said. A final version is slated to come out four months from now, the company added.
Similarly, the first Windows 2000 service pack, or collection of bug fixes, was also expected in early summer. Windows 2000 SP1's release is expected imminently, according to beta testers. So far, Microsoft has shipped about 3 million copies of Windows 2000.
In the software development process, there are typically one to two Release Candidates or nearly ready testing versions of an application before the official release of a "golden master," or final version.
Microsoft's Windows Me consumer operating system, for example, hit Release Candidate status earlier this summer. A final version will arrive in September.
Last month at PC Expo, John Frederiksen, general manager of Microsoft's PC Experience group, said Data Center would be released to hardware manufacturers this month.
Windows 2000 is designed for large companies and organizations, while Data Center, which supports 32-way multiprocessing and up to 64GB of memory, is designed for use in large data warehouses, science and engineering applications. It also is designed for use by large-scale e-commerce companies or application service providers (ASPs).
"ASPs are a huge opportunity," Frederiksen said last month. "There's a lot of momentum among hosters."
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates last week announced the near-completion of the 64-bit version of Windows 2000.