MS Delay Hinders Itanium Software Upgrade

Intel confirmed that an update that will improve the performance of 32-bit Windows software running on its 4-bit Itanium processors has been pushed back until the second half of 2004.

Intel Corp. officials confirmed that a software update designed to improve the performance of 32-bit Windows programs on its 64-bit Itanium processors has been pushed back until the second half of 2004.

Intels IA-32 Execution Layer (IA-32 EL) software was tied to the official release of Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1, which Microsoft in October said had been delayed until the second half of the year. The code is designed to assist users who wish to run Outlook and other 32-bit "legacy" office applications on new Intel-based 64-bit Windows servers.

However, the code is "operational," an Intel official said, which means that Linux vendors wishing to ship it may do so long before Microsoft releases the service pack for Windows Server.

"Its really not that big of a deal for us," said Scott McLaughlin, a spokesman for Intel. "The code is really healthy."

The IA-32 EL software assists the move of 32-bit customers into the 64-bit space. Intel designed the IA-32EL as a means to accelerate the performance of 32-bit code on the 64-bit Itanium, which maintains only a limited amount of backward compatibility and thus less performance with older applications.

At the same time, Intels marketing strategy has consistently pointed customers who are interested in 32-bit applications to invest in Xeon-based servers, and those who wish to run 64-code to buy its Itanium-based machines. Intel sees the IA-32 EL software as a transitional tool designed to assist customers interested in 64-bit systems, but who must support some older 32-bit applications.

"IA-32 EL is not designed for somebody looking for a 32-bit solution," McLaughlin said. "If youre looking for a 64-bit solution, youre going to go with Itanium. IA-32EL is for those 64-bit users who are going to run Office or Outlook now and then."

Linux vendors, however, could benefit from the delay. McLaughlin said both Red Hat Inc. and SuSE Linux AG are expected to use the IA-32EL code. The software package comprises of a number of components, including libraries and other data objects, and Intel has not released a formal version number for the EL software, or otherwise characterized the status of the code.

Representatives from both Red Hat and SuSE were unavailable for comment.

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