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Microsoft: Buy 32 bits, get 32 bits free

Firm says buy a 64-bit server with 32-bit Windows Server OS, and you can upgrade free to 64-bit Windows when it arrives.

Although server customers may have to wait a little longer for a version of Windows that supports their 64-bit systems, they won't have to pay for an upgrade when the software does ship.

Microsoft said Friday that customers that buy a 64-bit Opteron or Xeon server and pay for a license to Windows Server 2003 will be able to exchange that license for one that covers the 64-bit edition when it ships next year. Earlier this week, Microsoft announced it was pushing out the launch of that product until next year, the latest in a series of delays for the 64-bit edition.

So-called x64 chips--64-bit processors that build on the existing x86 instruction set--have been on the market since April 2003, when AMD introduced its first Opteron. Some analysts had expected that Microsoft would have a 64-bit version of Windows out by the end of 2003, and the company itself first promised the software would make its debut in the first part of this year. It pushed that date back to the end of this year before the latest delay.

Part of the reason for the timing is that Microsoft has tied the release of both the desktop and server versions of 64-bit Windows to the release of Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1, which has itself been pushed back.

The software maker said the "technology exchange program" will allow customers to feel secure in buying x64 servers today, pointing out that such servers can offer a 10 percent to 30 percent performance enhancement running existing 32-bit software.

"We see (that) the x64 architecture is, over time, going to become the dominant platform for the server market," said Dennis Oldroyd, a director in Microsoft's Windows Server unit. Oldroyd said the technology-exchange program announced Friday was only for the server OS.

Oldroyd also said Microsoft plans to make an updated beta version of the software available Monday. The latest test version, part of its

Oldroyd said he doesn't think Microsoft is holding up adoption of 64-bit technology.

"Given where customers are in the evaluation phase, we don't think we're holding back that adoption," he said.