Microsoft Waffles on 64-Bit Computing Push

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2005-05-06

Microsoft Waffles on 64-Bit Computing Push

Microsoft officials are aggressively pushing 64-bit computing across their entire product line, but there are a number of issues that may significantly slow customer adoption in the short-term.

Microsoft Corp. server executives are also stepping back from recent comments that the next version of Windows SBS (Small Business Server) will be 64-bit only.

Bob Muglia, Microsofts senior vice president for Windows Server, recently said at WinHEC (the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference) in Seattle that while the company intends to ship both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of its Longhorn Server software sometime in 2007, it plans to only release a 64-bit version of Small Business Server in that time-frame.

Click here to read more about Microsofts plans to release a 64-bit-only version of Small Business Server.

That statement raised eyebrows, particularly as many workloads today do not need 64-bit computing—especially those for small businesses—a point that many Microsoft officials have themselves conceded.

Also, having 32-bit versions for the Longhorn client and server and not for SBS made no sense, analysts told

The major benefit of 64-bit computing for small businesses is that it will allow many of their applications to run faster, even those that are 32-bit.

Click here to read more about Microsofts call for developers to start building 64-bit device drivers.

But many customers, especially those in the SMB (small and midsize business) space, will likely only be willing to incur the expense involved in migrating workloads to 64-bit unless the costs and benefits could be proven, said Stacey Quandt, an analyst at research company Robert Frances Group Inc. of Westport, Conn.

She said these users were also most likely to move across only when they replaced existing hardware.

Currently, only those niche, vertical market segments such as oil and gas, digital animation and life sciences needed 64-bit capabilities, she said.

But the markets where 64-bit computing is an advantage "have largely eluded Microsoft because it did not have a 64-bit operating system for the target hardware or the customers in that market segment were predisposed to deploy Linux because of familiarity with Unix and cost advantages of large Beowulf clusters," she said.

Microsoft was late with 64-bit capabilities for Itanium, and customers would not migrate workloads to 64-bit unless the costs and benefits could be proven.

"The hurdle Microsoft faces is similar to its introduction of Active Directory, which required customers to upgrade their systems and new skills," she said.

Click here to read what Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates told about the challenges and opportunities of 64-bit computing.

While Guy Haycock, the senior product manager for Windows SBS in Redmond, Wash., told that no firm decision had been made with regard to a 64-bit only version, despite what Muglia said last month, he did further indicate Microsofts desire to have all its customers embrace 64-bit computing.

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Microsoft "is encouraging customers and partners to begin thinking about the transition to 64-bit computing and preparing for migration of applications, etc., to the Windows x64 platform," he said.

Users of Windows SBS 2003 who installed the recently released Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1, have also been having issues, including the Remote Access Wizard failing to create a Connection Manager configuration package and the Change Server IP Address tool also failing.

Some users who then uninstalled that service pack had the Fax service fail to start and the Fax Configuration Wizard fail to complete.

Haycock said Microsoft is on track to deliver Windows SBS SP1 within the next month, adding that Microsoft is encouraging customers to wait for SBS 2003 SP1 before installing Windows Server 2003 SP1 on to their SBS 2003 networks.

"SBS 2003 SP1 is built with customized integration capabilities, so customers shouldnt have compatibility issues between the many components of SBS 2003," he said.

Further muddying the Windows 64-bit adoption waters is that fact that there is a limited number of device drivers available for that software at this time, though Microsoft expects that to change fairly rapidly.

Greg Sullivan, the lead product manager for Microsofts Windows team, has said that a significant number of PC components do function under the 64-bit operating system, and that some 16,000 devices currently supported the Windows XP Professional x64 Edition, while several PC component manufacturers have also started publishing their drivers.

Read more here about 64-bit device drivers.

"The release of Windows XP Pro 64-bit client is the start of mainstream 64-bit client side computing," Sullivan told recently, before admitting that the catch with this 64-bit release was that there were still many devices for which 64-bit drivers have not yet been written.

While a number of OEMs will be offering Windows x64 pre-installed on workstations and servers, including Acer, Alienware, Dell, FSC, Fujitsu, HP, Hitachi, IBM, NEC and Unisys, and others, such as Alienware, Dell, Fujitsu and HP, are already offering PCs pre-loaded with Windows XP Professional x64 Edition, Microsoft is warning customers who plan to upgrade from XP Pro rather than buy a new machine that this may "void any support with your PC manufacturer."

To read more about Microsofts warning to PC customers, click here.

Asked this week if Microsoft had plans to ask those OEMs not pre-loading and supporting 64-bit Windows to continue to support those customers who upgrade to 64-bit, Jon Murchinson, Windows Group Product Manager, said, "We are leaving it to the discretion of the OEMs to support customers who upgrade to Windows XP Professional x64 Edition.

"The installation of Windows XP Professional x64 Editions may void OEM support, but it is up to PC manufacturers whether or not they will support upgraded PCs.

"Microsoft will provide one free support call for any installation-related issues. Additional calls to Microsoft support will be available on a pay-per-incident basis," he said.

Users who want to upgrade will also have to accept that their 32-bit version of Windows XP Professional will no longer be licensed, while installing Windows x64 requires the hard drive to be formatted.

"You must back up your files and settings prior to the installation or they will be erased. Microsoft is not liable for any loss of data as a result of this installation," the Microsoft Web site says.

In addition, 32-bit drivers are not supported.

Drivers for 64-bit Windows "are created at the discretion of hardware manufacturers and may not be available for some of your hardware components," and "the installation of Windows XP Professional x64 Editions will void any support with your PC manufacturer," Microsoft says.

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