Microsofts 64-Bit Moment

Opinion: Microsoft, unique among IT vendors, has shown the ability to shepherd mass movements to new computing technology.

Microsoft, unique among IT vendors, has shown the ability to shepherd mass movements to new computing technology. The most obvious example is the migration to a visual desktop interface. There were alternatives, of course, such as OS/2 or Macintosh, but the visual metaphor became a ubiquitous corporate reality only with Windows 3.0. Similarly, Microsofts implementation of TCP/IP in Windows, even though there were third-party alternatives available, put everyone on the Internet.

We may now be at a similar moment—when Microsofts market clout can foster a mass movement to 64-bit computing. As before, Microsoft isnt the first player, and it does not provide all the technology. Without AMDs AMD64 and Intels EM64T, we wouldnt be at this juncture.

/zimages/6/28571.gifBill Gates says the 64-bit transition will happen rapidly. Click here to read more.

And Microsoft isnt even offering 64-bit technology for the first time; it has been shipping Windows for Intels Itanium microprocessors for two years. But the Itanium is not, and is not likely to be, a mass-market microprocessor.

The radical software rewrite it requires has been too much for the market to swallow. It seems, however, that AMDs and now Intels mostly upward-compatible 64-bit approach is what customers were looking for all along.

Linux proponents will say there is a ready alternative, and theyre right. But the availability of 64-bit Linux support has not been enough to generate the quantities of new applications and drivers necessary for a mass movement—even though 64-bit Linux may have spurred Microsoft to act.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read about the lack of major anti-virus coverage in the newly released Windows XP Professional x64 Edition.

eWEEK Labs analysts have found that Microsoft has done a good job in its x64 implementation on Windows XP Professional and Windows Server—good enough to encourage Windows developers to create the applications necessary for a mass movement.

To be sure, no one should throw out 32-bit desktops and servers just because Microsoft is shipping x64 operating systems. But in the mainstream server market it makes good sense to buy an AMD64- or an Intel EM64T-architecture product. Even if you dont plan to run a 64-bit operating system on it right away, the price difference is not large, and youre creating options for the future.

For 64-bit computing to expand beyond a tiny niche on the desktop, it will require the creation of drivers by third parties. Microsoft officials recognize this necessity, and they understand that this is where Microsofts leadership must be demonstrated, as it was with the mass movement from Windows 3.x and 9.x to Windows XP.

It will be a test to see if Microsoft still has the clout it once did. If it does, the result will be a critical mass of target systems. That, in turn, will finally incite the creation of the applications that will make 64-bit computing the norm, rather than the exception.

Its an exciting moment, and we welcome it. IT professionals need to start planning now for a 64-bit future.

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