Microsoft has released the beta for its 64-bit version of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 for AMD’s forthcoming Opteron and Athlon64 processors.

Beta availability of the 64-bit desktop operating system was designed to compliment AMD's launch of its long-awaited Athlon64 processor (AMD64) in San Francisco. Operating system support from Microsoft is seen within the industry as a key component for the success of AMD's 64-bit chip.

The Athlon64 can run both 64-bit and 32-bit applications on a PC with a 64-bit operating system, and with the Microsoft's Windows on Windows 64 (WOW64) emulation technology, customers can run current 32-bit applications on the 64-bit operating system all without a reduction in performance speeds, the company said in a statement.

Customers investing in 64-bit technology don't have to worry about losing the use of current applications while at the same time opening the door to future upgrades as 64-bit applications become available, Microsoft said.

Final releases of both the Windows XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems and Windows Server 2003 for 64-Bit Extended Systems are scheduled for the first half of 2004, Microsoft said.

Microsoft is aiming the new Windows platform at gamers, promising advanced gaming, digital content creation and video editing all within a "cinematic computing PC experience," the company said.

The Windows and AMD64 platform will also bring increased speed and efficiency to online transaction processing, data warehousing, financial services and computer-aided design along with engineering and scientific projects, it said.