64-bit desktop on hold?

64-bit desktop on hold?

Summary: Microsoft is pushing full speed ahead on its plans to convert its servers to 64-bit technology. But the same can't be said on the desktop side. Even though every edition of Windows Vista is available in a 64-bit version, none of the retail boxes will contain those bits. So what's holding back the transition?

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TOPICS: Windows
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Colin Barker of ZDNet UK interviewed Microsoft server honcho Bob Muglia last week. Robert McLaws noticed this bit of news in the transcript:

Looking into the future, we will ship Longhorn (the next version of Windows Server) in the second half of next year, and we will ship a 32-bit and a 64-bit version. That will be the last time we ship a 32-bit version. From that point, the next release, which will be roughly two years later, that product will only be available as 64-bit.

I remember the transition from 16-bit Windows to 32-bit Windows in 1995. As part of a consulting contract earlier this year, I did a lot of research on the years just before and after launch of Windows 95. One thing that I had forgotten until I went back and dusted off books and magazines from those days was how long the installed base of 16-bit programs survived. I continued to use a handful of favorite 16-bit programs for several years, and in fact I just abandoned the last one a few weeks ago. (I wish that FileSync would appear in a 32-bit version, but alas, the Latest News page at FileWare's site has said, "The long awaited new release of FileSync is still under development" for at least four years now.)

During the current beta cycle for Vista, I used a 64-bit version as my main desktop OS for about a month. I was impressed with how smooth and trouble-free it generally was, although that positive feeling was greatly aided by the fact that I was able to find signed 64-bit drivers for all my hardware. My 32-bit programs ran just fine in a 32-bit subsystem, just as my 16-bit programs did back in the days of Windows 95.

This sort of transition is never completely painless, but the presence of side-by-side 32-bit and 64-bit Windows versions, first in Windows XP and now in all editions of Windows Vista, makes it much easier than a complete changeover would be.

With the exception of bargain-basement blowouts based on the last trickle of the Pentium 4 and Celeron product lines, virtually every new PC sold today is capable of running a 64-bit operating system. In fact, it's pretty easy to find a 64-bit system with adequate RAM for well under $1000. But you'll have to jump through a lot of hoops to load a 64-bit operating system on that box. Most PC makers don't offer 64-bit software on their mainstream lines, and Microsoft has decided, sensibly, that it won't include the 64-bit version of Vista in any of its retail boxes; you'll have to order a DVD and have it shipped separately.

The real barrier to wider adoption of 64-bit technology isn't hardware or the OS. It's the lack of compelling software. On the server side, there are great reasons to move to 64-bit technology for scaling databases and handling massive numbers of transactions. But where are the equivalent challenges for desktop users? With the exception of people running workstation-class video editing systems, who needs a 64-bit system?

... Oh, and did you notice the date casually tossed in there? "[T]he next release, which will be roughly two years later..." Wonder if the same applies to desktop operating systems?

Topic: Windows

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  • Actually, the REAL barrier is the hardware drivers

    "The real barrier to wider adoption of 64-bit technology isn't hardware or the OS. It's the lack of compelling software."

    You're right that compelling x64 software is rare for most consumer applications but I don't see that as too big a problem so long as Windows x64 can run 32 and 64 bit applications side by side with no performance impact. But the REAL barrier is the universal hardware driver support. Even if there is 90% hardware driver support for every piece of hardware under the sun for Windows x64, no PC maker in their right mind would preload x64 in to their PC even if that PC fully supported x64. The first time that customer decides to plug in a printer or a scanner or a digital camera that didn't have x64 drivers would scream bloody murder and Tech support phones would ring off the hook with problems that can't be solved. This fact will guarantee that the vast majority of PCs sold will not be x64 for the next few years.

    Servers are different not because there is a compelling reason to be running 64 bit applications for most work loads. The difference is that you don't need to worry about a ton of different hardware accessories on a server. Whatever is sold with that server is pretty much the hardware that will need to be supported and any all the HBA adapters will have x64 driver support.
    georgeou
    • Windows needs more generic drivers

      Or actually more hardware vendors need to comply to standards so that generic drivers will work on their hardware. For instance, most digital cameras are nothing more than flash drives with a CCD, lens, and shutter. And flash drives are generic devices. So if you have Windows set to open your favorite picture editor whenever a flash drive full of JPGs, there's no need for any that extra crap that comes bundled with the camera, including the drivers. But some camera makers refuse to users do that. They make things difficult because they want users to use THEIR software.

      Actually that's one advantage of Linux. You may have to do your homework to find out what hardware works with Linux before you go out and buy, but those that do work usually have generic drivers that will work. They may have manufacturer specific drivers too, but you know that if the generic ones work that if the manufacturer decides to cut support (like nVidia does with older video cards) you can rely on the generic ones and still have working hardware. So if more Windows users bought hardware that worked with generic (MS built) drivers I don't think we'd be having the problem you speak of. They might not be able to use the manufacturer software that came with the hardware, but usually the newer Windows bundled software winds up replacing that (bundled multimedia software especially seems to improve with every new version of Windows).
      Michael Kelly
      • Advantage my ass

        How is that an advantage?

        "Actually that's one advantage of Linux. You may have to do your homework to find out what hardware works with Linux before you go out and buy, but those that do work usually have generic drivers that will work."

        If you do your "homework" with Vista x64 or XP x64 you will get the same results? That is the most ridiculous comment I have ever heard. Have you even used Windows? It comes with plenty of generic drivers.
        Master Tech
        • Drivers I don't need no stinkin drivers!

          I plug stuff in and poof It's there. If I plug in a camera I'm asked if I want the Pic's copied to my home folder. Sound, wifi, Video all pretty much pain free. I admit I've waited a long time for Linux to get this way but its been worth the wait.
          Hrothgar - PCLinuxOS User
          • Big deal that is how Windows has always been

            Funny how Linux users start talking about things that Windows has been doing for years. Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, XP at each release the major hardware at the time all worked out of the box. You guys get a 2 month old build and are trying to compare it to generic drivers from a 5 year old OS? Give me a break. This is a new low for lack of logical thinking even with Linux users.
            Master Tech
          • Actually I have tried both

            Windows and Linux. And I stand by my statement. Have you tried both?

            And yes I am comparing a 2 month old build to a 5 year old Windows XP. Seeing as they are the latest widely available builds for both OSes, that's a fair comparison. And actually, Windows XP does look on an online database, does it not? So the age of the build shouldn't matter anyway.

            If you had tried Linux, you'd know that if the driver is on the system and you use hotplug (and more often than not, both are true), there is no hardware installation wizard, and no waiting a year and a day for the bubble to pop up saying it's ready to go, the thing just works. With Windows even if you do have a generic driver that could work, you're at the mercy of the hardware installation wizard to find it for you, and sometimes even if the generic driver does exist you have to manually select it.

            The big difference is that Windows WANTS a manufacturer's driver upfront and refuses to install a generic driver unless the user initiates it. Whereas Linux will always use the generic driver to insure that the hardware works, even if minimally, then if the user wants to install a manufacturer's higher-powered driver he has to initiate that. I'd much rather have to work to get my hardware to do more than generic stuff than have to fight with my hardware to get it to work at all.
            Michael Kelly
          • Ridiculous!

            Fair comparison? What are you smoking? You want to compare generic driver support for modern hardware between an OS that was released two months ago with one that is over FIVE YEARS OLD!

            Windows doesn't just refuse to use a "generic driver", it simply uses whatever the appropriate driver is! What the hell are you comparing? USB drives or Printers and Scanners? Because Windows XP has generic drivers for USB Drives like Cameras and memory sticks, you just plug it in and it shows up in Windows Explorer.

            This is the most absurd argument I have ever heard about drivers.
            Master Tech
          • Well, this is just OS evolution!

            Windows looks and wants better drivers because it knows they are there. Linux, on the other hand, has had to be happy just finding a generic driver.

            So, all we are talking about here is the natual evolution of different computer OS's, which is based on WHAT is available to them when it comes to driver support - or lack thereof. :)
            mustang_z
          • Wuss!!

            Real UNIX users just type `cat /dev/camera` in the console and decode the RAW images in their head on the fly.
            toadlife
          • Hello...

            Fellow Mac user.
            Graham Fluet
        • He has a point

          [i]"Have you even used Windows? It comes with plenty of generic drivers."[/i]

          If I have to reinstall a Windows box from a customer I usually have to get copies of the drivers to complete the reinstall. Many Windows generic drivers are awful and limit you to 800x600 (or 640x480) or cr*p sound quality, etc.

          With Linux the generic drivers work well particularly with SuSE and Redhat. Our desktops use Nvidia cards and they are working quite happily with the generic driver at 1280x1024 in full colour and acceleration. If I plug in a device then it gets recognised. I have never needed a manufacturer's driver disk under Linux. The only likely exception is the well known WiFi problem but since our systems all use Cat5 cable......
          bportlock
          • How old is the Linux Build vs the Windows Build?

            How old is the Linux build and how old is the Windows Build you are comparing. I suspect a few years difference? You would think a Linux build with 5 years on XP would have newer drivers?

            I remember building systems when XP came out and you didn't have to load drivers to get most hardware to work either but that was five years ago.
            Master Tech
          • Nice attempt to dodge the fact

            that has been pointed out time and time again. Windows is always in catch up mode. They are either catching up to Macintosh or to Linux. And age really doesn't matter here. I can install an old version of Linux get the same basic function as Windows with generic drivers then update as I go.

            New piece of hardware hits the arena. No problem, within a month or less someone somewhere will have a generic driver for Linux. This is the point of contention and what Linux users have been saying. Microsoft is a dinosaur, slow and dying. over 5 years to get a new OS out the door and many are still waiting. Problem is that new OS is even bigger and slower than the last!
            Linux User 147560
          • In your dreams

            "Microsoft is a dinosaur, slow and dying. over 5 years to get a new OS out the door and many are still waiting."

            That is why within the first year of it's release Vista will have more users the Linux and OSX combined.

            "Windows is always in catch up mode."

            That little gem really takes the cake. Linux has been playing catch up for years.
            ShadeTree
          • Nice rebuttal Shadey ~

            And I really, really, really believe you! Really. I just KNOW you are NOT a Microsoft only shiller. I really believe you! I am running out now to throw away all my Mac's, Linux and older Windows boxes and buying all NEW stuff with ONLY Microsoft warez on them! That will bring me into the future!

            Blechh..
            nomorems
          • Re: In your dreams

            Actually Linux itself has been caught up for years. Linux desktop applications on the other hand... well some of them have got some work to do. Most are just fine, but "most" is not enough for the masses. Plus Linux has yet to produce a killer app that everybody needs to be convinced to change the status quo.
            Michael Kelly
          • What is a "generic driver for Linux"?

            I'm not sure that I would use "generic" to describe many Linux drivers at all, with the possible exception of USB class drivers such as "USB Mass Storage". And even [u]that[/u] driver has a multitude of configurable options for different chipsets.

            The point is that Linux drivers are targeted at the underlying hardware rather than the widget manufacturer's brand name on the box. Not only that, but getting drivers included into the master kernel tree should be considered the ultimate goal of all Linux drivers. Proprietary binary drivers are only tolerated. So if you're praising the "out of the box" kernel drivers, then I really should point out that these are [b]the[/b] primary Linux drivers anyway, many of which have been written against the underlying chipsets' data sheets.

            Hardly surprising they work, really ... ;-).
            Zogg
          • The Linux build in question ...

            ... was SuSe 9.1 so it's a few years old. We've since upgraded to OpenSuSE 10.1 and it was a seamless upgrade that went very nicley indeed. Once again , no need for any drivers.
            bportlock
          • How old is the Linux build vs the Windows version?

            How old is the Linux build and how old is the Windows Build you are comparing. I suspect a few years difference? You would think a Linux build with 5 years on XP would have newer drivers?

            I remember building systems when XP came out and you didn't have to load drivers to get most hardware to work either but that was five years ago.
            Master Tech
          • XP-SP2 is a lot younger than 5 years old.

            Didn't SP2 contain [b]any[/b] new generic drivers, or even bugfixes to existing ones?

            Anyway, until Vista is officially released on the desktop, XP is the "most recent Windows" to compare Linux to. If you feel that XP has not been sufficiently updated over time then you should raise this with Microsoft.
            Zogg