Disclaimer: Intel and Microsoft are clients of mine.
Intels announcement Friday that it is accelerating its roadmap by about two years to provide 32-/64-bit support and dual core potentially changes the sweet spots for ordering new hardware, while starting the clock for the obsolescence of 32-bit desktop technology and nailing the coffin shut on 16-bit legacy code.
The shift in Intel strategy likely came as the result of a strong Microsoft push, unanticipated by many, toward the 64-bit platform, which in turn was largely driven by an almost rabid desire by that company to secure its platforms against the increasing onslaught of viruses and attacks.
Microsoft knows it cant just patch the code it has, but rather has to get the industry to move to a new generation of secure code, or the work its done to secure its platforms wont bear fruit.
Microsoft simply does not have the capability to deal with third-party code, which remains the strongest reason why much of the market locks in on older operating systems and cant install patches in a timely way.
This also creates an interesting dynamic—Windows XP 64-Bit Edition will be the only complete operating system with all security patches in place until, and unless, the Windows XP version code-named “Reloaded” is released in 2005. This means that for at least a year, the most up-to-date platform from Microsoft will be the 64 bit platform and not the 32-bit platform.
Given that, in this instance, the technology we are referring to has to do with the security of the system and not the performance of it, this is a very important distinction and drives to the conclusion that Longhorn, the next full release of Windows, will largely be a 64-bit platform. This may also result in a series of decisions that will either move the release of “Reloaded” in, or eliminate it altogether as redundant.
Accelerated Sales Ramp
This move to 64-bit technology moves what was thought to be the trigger event for a hardware sales ramp from the Longhorn timeframe, 2006/07, to the Windows XP 64-bit Edition timeframe, 2004/05, or significantly sooner than had been expected.
The combination of a Service Pack 2 (SP2)-based, 64-bit version of Windows coupled with the hardware platform changes expected this year should result in desktop and mobile platforms that are vastly more secure and reliable by the end of 2004 than had been expected.
This also suggests that the life cycle of non-64-bit hardware on the market today will be unusually short because it will support neither the Windows 64-bit platform nor the critical NX extensions needed to fully take advantage of SP2, the most powerful security-oriented patch that has ever been released by Microsoft.
The dual-core aspect of the announcement, while important for performance, has only an indirect impact on security. This indirect impact is that secondary security applications—virus checkers, spyware eliminators and desktop spam filters—should run with substantially reduced performance impact on the end user.
But they will continue to run on single-core systems, and performance hasnt been a market driver for some time, while security is typically No. 1 or No. 2 on the priority list for IT.
Buy plans should, therefore, shift out until this new hardware is available, particularly with desktop systems where service life longer than three years is planned. Laptops, which have a typical two-year service life, are less exposed, but clearly NX support will be critical for them as well.
Overall, you should favor systems with NX support and 64-bit extensions over other hardware for service life and begin considering the 64-bit version of Windows on new hardware in 2005, which suggests trials as early as the second half of 2004 for companies that are aggressive on technology.
The market has made it clear that it will not tolerate the lack of security on current-generation systems. The vendors are stepping up, and it is now up to the IT organizations to cycle out the hardware they have been complaining about.
Rob Enderle is the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a company specializing in emerging personal technology. Full disclosure: One of Enderles clients is Microsoft as well as Advanced Micro Devices, Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Transmeta, VIA and Vulcan. In addition, Enderle sits on advisory councils for AMD, ClearCube, Comdex, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and TCG.