Microsoft fleshed out its road map for switching customers to 64bit computing and unveiled updates to several of its management and server products at its IT Forum 2005 conference in Barcelona on Tuesday.

The server version of Microsoft's Windows Vista OS (operating system) will come in both 32bit and 64bit versions, but Release 2 of Vista, scheduled for 2009, will be 64bit-only, Bob Muglia, senior vice-president of Microsoft's servers and tools business, said in a speech.

Another product currently known as 'Centro' - a set of server software aimed at mid-size businesses - will also be available only in a 64bit version when it comes out around 2007, and the Vista version of Small Business Server will be restricted to 64bit, Muglia said.

Microsoft is working with the industry to switch to 64bit computing, Muglia said. "We are on the verge of a major platform transition in the server marketplace," he said.

Muglia and Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's business division, gave a 90-minute presentation at the conference, expanding on the company's stated goals to reduce the cost and complexity of IT systems.

Raikes previewed Office 12, the code-name for the software firm's next major release of its productivity suite. The first beta version of Office 12 will be released next week, Raikes said, followed by a larger beta release in the second quarter of 2006. The official launch is scheduled for next autumn.

"Consistency and delivery: that's really the theme of what we are talking about today at IT Forum. We're focusing on providing you with a long-term view of where the industry is going - things like 64bit - while at the same time delivering on the commitments that we have," Muglia said.

The speech heralded two products, both of which are interim upgrades: Windows Server 2003 R2 and Virtual Server 2005 R2. Virtual Server 2005 R2 has gone to manufacturing and will be released in December. Windows Server 2003 R2 will be released to manufacturing before the end of the year and should be available early next year.

In August, Microsoft changed the name of Virtual Server 2005 Service Pack 1 to Virtual Server 2005 R2. Virtual server technology allows multiple OSs to run on one physical machine with a single host OS. Microsoft has been eager to catch up in this area with competitors such as VM Ware Inc.

Microsoft has priced the Standard Edition of Virtual Server 2005 R2 at $99 (about £57), Muglia said. It was previously $499 (£288)

Windows Server 2003 R2 builds on Windows Server 2003 SP1, which was released in March. It's intended as a gap filler until the release of the Windows Vista server, scheduled for 2007. It adds features such as the Active Directory federation services and new replication technology so only changes move along the network, and incorporates the company's .NET framework.

Muglia reiterated Microsoft's intent to alter its licensing model from one focused solely on software installations, which he said no longer makes sense in a virtualised environment. For the Enterprise Edition of Virtual Server 2005 R2, "your licence applies to a device," Muglia said. Microsoft has reduced the price for that from $999 (£576) to $199 (£115). The new pricing takes effect on 1 December.

The company also recently changed the licensing for Windows Server. Now, for example, those who are running Virtual Server 2005 R2 can run four virtual instances of Windows Server at no additional licence cost.

Virtual Sever 2005 R2 will ship in both 32bit and 64bit versions, Muglia said. Also, the software code-named Exchange Server 12 will ship only in a 64bit version, as messaging services can take advantage of the addressable memory available with 64bit computing, he said.

Microsoft had already shipped a 64bit version of Windows Server 2003 for x86-type processors earlier this year, and recently released a 64bit version of its SQL Server 2005.

With its 64bit server software, Microsoft will not allow patching of the OS kernel, eliminating what has proven to be a vexing problem with the emergence of rootkits. "We've eliminated a whole major attack vector with the worst kind of virus that exists," Muglia said.

The company also previewed Microsoft Operations Manager 3.0, an update to Microsoft Operations Manager 2005. That software enables system administrators to monitor servers. The new version can also troubleshoot applications and services across a network.