Microsoft opens up 64-bit Windows

SEATTLE — Microsoft ushered in the upcoming third decade of the Windows platform with the release of 64-bit versions of Windows operating systems Monday.

At its 14th annual Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, Microsoft chairman

and chief software architect Bill Gates announced the general availability of Microsoft Windows XP Professional x64 Edition and Windows Server 2003 x64 Editions. The long-awaited release will be available to customers who purchase a new server or desktop with the 64-bit chip or to existing 64-bit users as an upgrade.

“”This is the decade where we can have the most impact of all,”” said Gates in his keynote address to 2,800 developers attending this week’s conference. “”The kinds of capabilities we’ve finally achieved have been talked about for decades.””

Gates added that the transition to 64-bit computing for developers and end users will be easier and faster than previous moves from 16-bit to 32-bit computing with the launch of Windows NT 3.1 in 1993, for example.

Performance benefits include large memory support, an enhanced layer of hardware protection, single PC for workstation and productivity, platform for the next generation of software and better reliability.

Eddie Chan, research analyst for mobile and personal computing, IDC Canada, said memory is a key focus area. “”Really what it boils down to is x64 in terms of addressing memory requirements,”” said Chan.

These benefits improve users’ experiences with processor-intensive applications like databases, terminal services and Web hosting on the server side and video editing, gaming and engineering applications on the client side.

In addition to computing power, x64 Windows features architectural changes like “”no execute security”” to help block some of the most destructive worms and viruses of recent years. “”(Microsoft) has got the fundamentals and that’s key,”” said Chan. “”You don’t want to put more feature sets without nailing down the fundamentals.””

Monday’s announcement comes two years after Advanced Micro Devices was first to market over Intel with the launch of 64-bit server chips followed by 64-bit desktop processors shortly thereafter. Microsoft shipped a test version of 64-bit Windows with AMD’s debut of Athlon 64 processors in fall 2003.

Gates stressed the importance of partnership in the industry. “”We’re very excited about what AMD and Intel have done,”” said Gates. “”There’s really great co-operation there.””

Gates added support for the 64-bit computing is also dependent on what goes on with the hardware drivers. Microsoft announced it will train over 10,000 system builders this year. “”The time is now and the benefits are dramatic.””

While 64-bit computing is here to stay, adoption won’t happen over night, said Chan. “”Part of (WinHEC) is focused on working with the builder community ensuring driver support for x64 and Longhorn,”” he said. “”You can’t think in isolation. It’s a complete solution set.””

While AMD, Intel and Microsoft are pushing ahead with 64-bit computing, others aren’t so sure about how it will change their lives, especially when it comes to the desktop. “”AMD, Intel and Microsoft seem to be very bullish on it,”” said Michael Cherry, who analyzes and writes about Microsoft’s operating systems for Directions on Microsoft. “”I think they’re all thinking there’s going to be a very rapid adoption. I tend to be a bit more pessimistic.””

Cherry added that he agrees with the vendors on the server side as 64-bit computing offers up large amounts of raw processing power that wasn’t available in 32-bit but is still skeptical on the desktop side. “”I do a lot of e-mail, a lot of browsing on the Web and I use word processing. I’m not convinced that 64-bit is going to do a thing for me.””

Microsoft also gave a glimpse of some of the much talked-about new features in Longhorn, which the software giant plans to release a client version by year-end 2006 and a server version in 2007. Even Gates himself is feeling the pressure of the platform’s deadline woes. “”Whenever I see (Longhorn) demos, I think, ‘Gosh let’s get Longhorn done.'””

New features include vector-based graphics that make the windows transparent and visualization tools that bear a resemblance to those in Apple Computer’s next OS X release, Tiger, which launches later this week. Under the “”Start”” menu, for example, there will be a search box where users can enter information to locate a document anywhere on the desktop.

Chan said visualization and organization are key tenets of Longhorn. “”The user experience, we’re visually oriented. HD is a compelling value prop for migration. Once you go HD it’s hard to go back.””

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