64-Bit Linux Is Already Here

Opinion: While 64-bit Windows is taking its first baby steps, 64-bit Linux has been running in the enterprise for years. To which would you rather entrust your business?

In Bill Gates WinHEC opening keynote address, he talked about the third decade—the 64-bit decade—of Windows computing and the problems it faces with a lack of software and 64-bit drivers. What I want to know is why anyone who wants a 64-bit operating system today is bothering with Windows in the first place, when 64-bit Linux has been around for ages?

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read more about Gates keynote address at WinHEC.

The usual excuses for wanting Windows—familiar applications and better device-driver support—dont hold water this time. There are more native 64-bit Linux programs than there are Windows programs, and 64-bit drivers for the two operating systems are running neck-to-neck.

Heck, Linux has been running on 64 bits since the summer of 1994, when Linus Torvalds ported Linux to the Alpha chip.

Dont think for one second that 64-bit Linux is some kind of stunt, like the recent porting of Linux to the Nintendo DS portable game device. 64-bit Linux has been running on the AMD Athlon 64 and Opteron, IBM POWER, and Intel EM64T (Extended Memory 64 Technology) and Itanium families for years.

For that matter, you can even run 64-bit Yellow Dog Linux on your Apple G5 Power Mac instead of Tiger.

These 64-bit Linuxes come from top Linux vendors such as Red Hat and Novell/SuSE and have been shipped for years by top-tier companies such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM and NEC.

In particular, 64-bit Linux is being put to work in the oil and gas, automotive, pharmaceutical, manufacturing, life sciences and aerospace vertical industries (PDF file).

As you might imagine, much of that work is being done on midrange systems such as Silicon Graphics Altix 3000 and IBMs pSeries and iSeries. But 64-bit Linux is also available on more lightweight platforms such as IBMs new eServer OpenPower 710 and Penguin Computings Relion 2U dual Xeon server with EM64T.

Or you can roll your own server with your pick of 64-bit AMD or Intel hardware. Novells SLES (SuSE Linux Enterprise Server) 9 runs on AMD64, EM64T and Itanium. RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) 4 also supports these platforms.

For that matter, you also can run a 64-bit Linux desktop. Now, most of the pre-Linux-equipped production systems are like Silicon Graphics Prism workstation, which is to say theyre extremely high end in both price and performance. But, like the servers, if you can get your hands on a 64-bit, hardware-powered desktop, you can run either SuSE or Red Hat.

Novell supports both the AMD Athlon 64 and the Intel EM64T with its SuSE LINUX Professional 9.3 desktop. RHEL WS (Work Station) will run on AMD64, EM64T and Itanium families.

You dont have to go with one of the two big Linuxes if you dont want to. Ubuntu Linux 5.04, for example, supports the AMD64 and POWER. Many other popular Linuxes support one or more of the 64-bit processors.

Of course, being able to run is only part of the problem. While you can run most 32-bit applications (Windows or Linux) on a 64-bit platform, you wont really see the benefits unless youre also running 64-bit applications. Here, Linux, for once, actually has the advantage over Windows.

For example, if you want to run Oracle 10g on 64 bit, you can currently run it on either the EM64T or Itanium with Linux, while you can run it only on Itanium with Windows.

Besides, if you run open-source software, its a relatively simple task to port the program to Linux, whereas porting proprietary, 32-bit Windows applications to 64-bit Windows is a job that only ISVs should attempt.

Linux also holds the whip hand when it comes to hardware drivers. "There have been 64-bit Unix implementations for over 10 years, which gives the Linux camp a bit of an advantage," said Peter Glaskowsky, former editor of The Microprocessor Report and now an analyst.

In addition, Linux, as I mentioned earlier, has already been 64 bit for years. OEMs have been making drivers for it since the early 2000s.

When you take everything into account, theres really no doubt about it. Linux, not Windows, is now—and will be in the future—the premier 64-bit operating system.

Ziff Davis Internet Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been working and writing about technology and business since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.

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