Microsoft Corp.’s beta release Tuesday of a native 64-bit version of Windows XP will mean
little to the average IT manager unless his end users are running complex engineering or
scientific applications, according to industry analysts.
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