The updated desktop operating system is designed to support 64-bit Extended Systems. That includes platforms based on AMD64 technology, which led to Microsoft making the announcement at AMD's launch of its Athlon 64-bit processor in San Francisco Tuesday.
Despite the jump from 32-bit to 64-bit, some analysts say the boost won't raise much excitement or efficiency in the IT world. They say 32-bit has the legs to be around for another good five years or so.
''There aren't going to be millions and millions of customers, corporate or otherwise, waiting with bated breath for this release,'' says David Freund, an analyst at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata, Inc., an industry analyst firm. ''If all your desktops are business desktops, you could watch this with detached interest... But there certainly could be some folks engaged in CAD-CAM applications or scientific-type computing who would benefit.''
Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of system software research at IDC, an analyst firm based in Framingham, Mass., says the 64-bit operating system will be important to a small niche.
''The majority of people will see little or no difference,'' he says. ''Most desktop applications are not heavily computationally bound... People involved in complex calculations -- like engineering, architecture, very graphically oriented simulations or gaming -- they might need the extra speed. But the average user doesn't need all the power of a 32-bit chip most of the time.''
The beta version of Windows XP 64-bit Edition for 64-bit Extended Systems is now available to MSDN subscribers. A final release is expected for the first half of 2004, according to Microsoft. Windows Server 2003 for 64-bit Extended Systems also is available in beta, and also is expected to have a final release in the first half of next year.
The updated operating system contains Microsoft's Windows on Windows 64 (WOW64) technology. That is designed to enable users currently running Windows XP-compatible 32-bit applications to run those programs on the new 64-bit operating system.
One of the main motivators for jumping from 32-bit to 64-bit is the ability to add more memory to a computer. The bit measurement refers directly to the amount of memory a chip can access at any given moment.
Illuminata's Freund says companies are bound to outgrow 32-bit applications and 32-bit speed and power, but that isn't happening anytime soon.
''Our history is replete with examples of thinking like, '8 bits is enough,' and '32 bits is more than you'll ever need,''' says Freund. ''We keep running up against those barriers. But particularly in the commercial space, 32 bits is plenty right now. It's going to have legs for a long time yet on commercial desktops. It's the scientific and engineering world desktops that will run out of gas sooner.''
Both Freund and Kusnetzky say it's the gamers and gaming developers that will be eagerly waiting for 64-bit desktop operating systems.
''The makers of the gaming engines, as well as the hardcore gamers, are the ones who can never get enough power,'' says Freund. ''The bigger the better for them. The more the merrier.''