The executive in charge of delivering Windows 7, the next version of Windows, made an appeal this week to developers to put in extra effort to write 64-bit versions of their applications as well as 32-bit programs to run on the new operating system.
"Please, please develop for 64-bit ... we think a lot of people are going to run in 64-bit with Windows 7 So do everything you can to bring your code up to speed on 64-bit," Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft senior vice president of Windows and Windows Live engineering, told attendees at the company's Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles.
The majority of new PCs sold today have 64-bit processors but are still running 32-bit operating systems, including Windows Vista x86. That looks as if it may be about to change.
Indeed, some analysts, and definitely Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) officials, are anticipating a point around the scheduled delivery of Windows 7 in late 2009 or early 2010 when the move to 64-bit desktop applications may reach a tipping point.
However, predicting when exactly such a tectonic shift will occur is dicey.
"It's too hard to determine when the tipping point is going to be, but if you look at the roadmaps for both [the PC vendors and Microsoft], I would say it will happen over the next three years," Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, told InternetNews.com.
Chipmakers Intel and AMD, Bajarin added, have been pushing to move the industry to 64-bit computing for several years already and today that manifests itself in the latest crop of new PCs for sale. The advent of quad-core and eight-core CPUs is likely to accelerate that shift, accompanied by the continuing decline in RAM prices.
The Anecdotal Evidence
In late July, for instance, Chris Flores, a director on the Windows client communications team, wrote a post on the Vista Team blog, to the effect that Microsoft is seeing an upsurge of users connecting to Windows Update who have both 64-bit PCs and are running Vista x64.
"The installed base of 64-bit Windows Vista PCs, as a percentage of all Windows Vista systems, has more than tripled in the U.S. in the last three months, while worldwide adoption has more than doubled during the same period," Flores wrote.
"Put more simply, usage of 64-bit Windows Vista is growing much more rapidly than 32-bit. Based on current trends, this growth will accelerate as the retail channel shifts to supplying a rapidly increasing assortment of 64-bit desktops and laptops," Flores continued.
In point of fact, the major PC vendors, including Dell and HP, are selling Vista x64 with increasing numbers of PCs and notebooks, particularly ones used for imaging applications.
Microsoft has had 64-bit editions of Windows for some time. In 2005, the company released Windows XP x64 and followed that up with Windows Vista x64 when it shipped Vista in early 2007. Windows 7 will come in both 64-bit and 32-bit editions as well.
However, XP is scheduled for gradual extinction with a few exceptions such as for use on ultra low-cost laptops dubbed 'netbooks' beginning in April 2009 when mainstream support runs out for XP. (Microsoft will continue to provide "extended" support, which includes critical security patches and fee-based support, for XP until 2014).
Meanwhile, by most reports, Vista has been a slow seller, although with as many as 180 million units shipped so far, it's hard to call Vista a flop. Throughout, enthusiasm for 64-bit releases of XP and Vista has been growing, mostly unnoticed until recently.
"The reason we're focusing on 64-bit is the market is moving so rapidly in that direction developers should optimize for it and pursue that opportunity," Debby Fry Wilson, senior director for Windows product management, told InternetNews.com.
None of the major analysis firms have yet compiled any tracking data to indicate how many units, or what percentage of overall Vista sales, have been x64 installations, partly because it is often one of multiple OS options that users have to choose from when they buy a new PC.