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Microsoft ships final high-end Windows 2000

The software maker releases Windows 2000 Data Center to manufacturers, bringing to a close the longest-running development project in the company's history.

Microsoft today released Windows 2000 Data Center to manufacturers, bringing to a close the longest-running development project in the software maker's history.

As previously reported, Data Center is the last new flavor of the Windows 2000 family of high-end operating system products. The desktop and lower-end server versions of Windows 2000 were released to much fanfare in February.

The basic version of Windows 2000 is designed to run corporate desktops and servers, as well as the computers that power Web sites. Data Center supports the highest-end computers powering data warehouses, e-commerce Web sites, and large-scale science and engineering applications, according to Microsoft.

Unlike other versions of Windows 2000, Data Center supports 32-way processing and up to 64GB of memory.

Systems preloaded with Windows 2000 Data Center will be available Sept. 26. The lag between the time the manufacturers receive the software and actually ship systems loaded with the OS reflects the lengthy process of creating support services and infrastructure.

As is common with Microsoft, however, the software is late. The software had been expected 90 to 120 days after the first versions of Windows 2000, which means it's about two months behind its most recent schedule.

Microsoft is positioning Data Center to compete with midlevel and high-end Unix servers, according to group product manager Michel Gambier--a market in which Microsoft hasn't made much of a dent.

"We're looking at two classes of customers," Gambier said. "The more traditional high-end customers, and we're also looking at the hosting market, hosting applications. Application service providers need a large infrastructure that's very reliable and very scalable."

Last month, Windows 2000: The next generationthe software maker released the first service pack, or collection of bug fixes, for Windows 2000. Many large organizations prefer to wait to upgrade to a new operating system until the first service pack has been released, in case of any major unexpected bugs. Analysts expect sales of Windows 2000 to pick up now that SP1 has been released.

Microsoft does not discuss the pricing of Data Center, Gambier said, leaving it to the manufacturers to determine the price of the entire system, with software and support. "The pricing of Data Center is confidential between Microsoft and the OEM (original equipment manufacturer)," he said.

Microsoft will release its next consumer OS, Windows Me, in September.

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