Microsoft plans to release versions of its next major operating system release, code-named Longhorn, for Itanium and 64-bit extended systems as well as a 32-bit edition, a company spokesman said Wednesday.

"We plan to continue to support the currently supported 64-bit architectures," Greg Sullivan, lead product manager for Windows at Microsoft said in an interview at the company's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Seattle.

Microsoft has said it will deliver server and client editions of Longhorn. A first beta of the client version is due early next year – the final version is expected in 2006.

While Microsoft has repeatedly delayed the release of its first 64-bit version of Windows XP for the desktop, the company says it expects rapid adoption of 64-bit systems. In a keynote address Tuesday, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates said he expects that by the end of 2005 about all of the processors shipped by Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) to support 64-bit computing and most of the processors Intel ships.

Gates noted that previous transitions were sometimes "messy," but predicted the move from 32 to 64 bits will be dramatically easier. "This will be a smoother transition than those that came before, and this will happen faster, too," he said.

At WinHEC, Microsoft announced it will deliver the 64-bit editions of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 for 64-bit extended systems in the fourth quarter. Before release, Microsoft will give both products simpler names, Sullivan said. Currently the official names are Windows XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems and Windows Server 2003 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems.

However, industry observers gathered at WinHEC observed that Microsoft continues to lag behind Apple in terms of user interface and emotional attachment to its users.

"Some of the compelling user interface features found in Mac OS X, such as the underlying graphics foundation, won't be available in Windows until Longhorn ships in the second half of this decade," wrote Dan Farber.

Farber reports that Microsoft has "a way to go" before it truly delivers computing that is easy to use, observing: "Without getting the fundamentals under control, the Microsoft platform will fall flat on its face. Longhorn represents the biggest bet in the company's history, and it's no sure thing."

The report adds that Microsoft hopes to "become more emotionally attached to its users", but that it must lose its reputation as a company with virus and worm-infected code to do so.