If Our Software Cant Come, We Wont Go

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2003-02-10 Print this article Print

I would not have wanted a 32-bit laptop if it ran only software yet to be written.

I didnt buy my first 32-bit PC to run 32-bit applications. The year was 1989, I spent most of my workday in DOS and my decision to consider only 386-based laptops narrowed the field to two high-priced machines—but products such as Qualitas 386Max made it seem like false economy to buy a 16-bit system that wouldnt let me arrange my memory and other resources as I pleased. Ive never regretted my subsequent choice of a 12.5MHz GRiD: Its 386 CPU gave it the headroom to do a huge amount of work until its hard disk finally died in 1996, and I didnt think it worth the cost of repair.

But now, its 2003; were all running 32-bit applications, except for a few special cases; and were looking at the prospect of x86-64 chips from AMD appearing in servers in April—and in desktop-oriented configurations before the end of September. And people are asking me, "Why do I need a 64-bit PC?"

I could offer you three numbers that answer the question directly. The parts of the human genome can barely be counted with 32-bit numbers. The bytes in a 20-minute video clip cant quite be indexed with 32 bits. The people of the world cant, by a long way, be given individual network addresses in a 32-bit address space. Applications, especially those enabled by explosions in processing power and bandwidth, are ready for more.

I could also remind you that no one has ever correctly anticipated what people would do with the next wave of processor power. The 286-based PC AT was introduced by IBM as a multiuser machine. The 386 was likewise supposed to be a chip for departmental servers. I dont believe weve found a ceiling yet.

Whats most important to note, though, is that I would not have wanted a 32-bit laptop if it ran only software yet to be written. It ran my old software better. That was the immediate benefit. So will it be when the wizards at V Communications or VMware or Connectix get their hands on the x86-64.

Im expecting the flexibility and power to run any of several 32-bit operating systems, giving me access to all their applications and in some cases making them more powerful as well. I know Ill want what the 64-bit PC will offer.

Send your 64-bit wish list to me at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at salesforce.com, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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