I, and most people use, a 32-bit (x86) version of Windows. "So what?" you may think, and rightly so. I've been looking into 64-bit (x64) Windows for a while now and I cannot see any advantages. Ed can, and his article has certainly made me think twice, but I can't help think we're not ready for it yet.
Many have said that Windows 7 will be a 64-bit only operating system, supporting only 64-bit systems. This is untrue, as Microsoft said they're keeping 32-bit up until 2012 which gives us a while to prepare for these changes (
although can't find where it originally said that luna22, thankyou!). As far as I can tell from research and running a separate x64 system, with Windows XP x64 and Vista x64 in two virtual machines, there is only one advantage. x64 registers more than 4GB of RAM, where x86 doesn't. That's it.
Not many people really need more than 4GB of RAM, but if you were to buy a x86 machine, like you normally would, you could plonk in 8GB of RAM but it'd only register half of that, a quarter with 16GB and an eighth if you had 32GB, and so on. If I'm honest, most 32-bit systems don't even top registering more than 3GB of RAM - the 4GB limit seems to be a technicality rather than anything else.
On the downsides of x64, there isn't a full set of drivers out for x64 systems yet; you'll still have a few missing, and if you use x86 drivers, it won't offer the full 64-bit support, which defeats the point altogether. Not many applications are x64 compatible yet anyway, so why would you want to buy a brand new x64 machine and realise half of your essential applications don't work?
I have a 64-bit processor on my primary desktop computer, and I chose to run a 32-bit version of Windows Vista Ultimate on it. No driver issues, no compatibility issues, it's fast, it works, and I don't have or need more than 4GB of RAM.
Students run many high-end programs and applications; graphics, sound, processor intensive applications and suchlike. There is no doubt in my mind that by the time Microsoft switches over to releasing 64-bit software only, using x64 machines and software will be fine. For a single desktop or laptop computer, x86 is perfectly suitable for the time being.
64-bit machines at this moment in time and the very near future are there for high-end servers and mega-computers (one less than super-computers), and not really designed for home use yet. Once the bugs have been ironed out, such as getting the drivers to the hardware, x64 computing will transform our lives, our work and our computers, without a doubt.
x64 is amazingly powerful, and will make things faster, easier to do, better looking and better sounding. This will be a revolution in computing, similar in scale to "the computer mouse", but for home/student use, we're not ready just now.
For the time being, I think x86 is perfectly fine. In comparison, "64-bit" is still in "beta" as far as the hardware manufacturers and driver writers are concerned, and it's up to them to iron out the bugs with them.