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Windows 7 May Trigger 64-bit OS Adoption

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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

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

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

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

Thanks for more memory

For early adopters, the attraction has been the 64-bit edition’s
ability to address more than 4 GB of RAM – the maximum limit for
32-bit operating systems, Vista x86 included.

Among the factors that have kept many users from switching to
64-bit Vista to date has been a shortage of 64-bit device drivers. Vista x64 cannot run 32-bit device drivers, which relegates older
printers and other hardware to the scrap heap.

Added to that, writing
device drivers is a significant investment on the part of hardware
makers. To this point, many hardware vendors have not been willing to
ante up to write 64-bit drivers, especially for older hardware

While that situation has improved significantly in the nearly two
years since Vista x64 first shipped, there is still a shortage of
large numbers of true 64-bit applications. Vista x64 runs 32-bit
applications like Office 2007 in an emulation mode.

Although there are many applications that have no driving need for
more memory than a 32-bit operating system can provide – Office, for
example – there are application areas where the more memory, the
better, such as computer-aided design (CAD) and video editing.

To be sure, there is a growing list of applications written to take
advantage of Vista x64. These include high-end graphics and photo
processing as well as video and audio editing and streaming.

“Over time we’ll see more 64-bit-optimized programs hit the market,
which promise dramatic performance and experience improvements,”
Flores’ post said. An additional area that tends to drive adoption of
new technologies is, of course, games, he added.

Where’s the ‘Killer App?’

The question is, what will be the so-called “killer app” that will
finally trigger the shift to 64-bit OSes, and Windows 7 x64

“When you get into the type of applications that really profit from
having more than 4 GB of memory, most are related to graphics,”
Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told For business customers, that could also
include running multiple virtualized environments, he added.

Creative Strategies’ Bajarin agrees but suggests that another
possible killer app may be the evolving vision of integrated media and
content based networks such as that envisioned by Microsoft chief
software architect Ray Ozzie. This week, Ozzie announced new pieces of
the company’s software-plus-services, cloud-based computing
initiative, such as the Azure
development platform
and Live Mesh.

This article was first published on

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