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Microsoft fetes heavy-duty version of Windows 2000

The software giant is throwing a coming-out party for its high-end Windows 2000 operating system and e-commerce software.

Microsoft today will unveil a new version of Windows 2000 aimed at eroding the dominance of companies such as Sun Microsystems and Oracle in running the computers that power the Internet.

At a press conference in San Francisco, Microsoft will announce the release of Windows 2000 Datacenter, the latest flavor of the Windows 2000 family of operating systems for businesses. Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer will headline today's event with a 90-minute keynote speech.

As previously reported, Datacenter runs on the highest-end computers, e-commerce Web sites, and large-scale science and engineering applications. The desktop and lower-end versions of Windows 2000, released to much fanfare in February, are designed for corporate desktop PCs and servers as well as for computers that power Web sites.

The company will also unveil its family of new software aimed at helping businesses create e-commerce Web sites. As previously reported, the products include SQL Server 2000 database for storing and collecting corporate information; Exchange 2000 messaging software; and BizTalk Server, the company's XML-based software for linking different computing systems across the Net.

A Microsoft representative said the company also expects to announce new wireless software that will allow Web sites and large corporations to move their Web content and services--originally intended for display on PCs--to mobile devices such as cell phones and handheld computers.

The products, dubbed .Net Enterprise Server, serve as the foundation of Microsoft's new Internet strategy to drive the Windows operating system more fully onto the Net.

Microsoft's entry in the wireless market will compete against the likes of Oracle, IBM, Sun-Netscape Alliance and Sybase, which previously have released wireless software that translates existing Web information into a format readable by handheld devices.

While Microsoft's rivals shipped their wireless software first, it's not too late for Microsoft to capture a large piece of the wireless market, analysts say.

"It is a very early stage of the market. There's more talk about deploying wireless applications than action at this point," said analyst Dwight Davis of Summit Strategies.

Windows 2000 Datacenter, expected this summer, is several months late.

The operating system, which can handle up to 32 processors and 64GB of memory, is being positioned by Microsoft as competition to midlevel and high-end Unix servers, a market in which the software giant has yet to make much of a dent. IBM, Compaq and Hewlett-Packard today are expected to announce servers that run Datacenter.

Microsoft is also working on another high-end version of Windows, one that will run on Intel's upcoming 64-bit Itanium processors, which can accommodate much larger databases than today's 32-bit Intel CPUs.

This new version, however, is likely to be adopted at an even more leisurely pace than Datacenter, since it uses a completely new chip and therefore requires much more extensive revisions.

Microsoft doesn't sell Datacenter as a standalone product. Only computer manufacturers can sell Datacenter on systems that have been certified to work with it. This method of tightly controlling the hardware has long been used with high-end computers such as mainframes but is new to the Windows and Intel world, with its myriad of different network cards, memory modules, disk drives and other hardware.

In July, Compaq said its eight-processor Proliant server had been certified to work with Windows 2000 Datacenter. Certification will come later this year for a 32-processor computer from Unisys that Compaq will sell under its Proliant brand.

News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.