Microsoft is keen to stir up enthusiasm for Windows Vista, but when it comes to the 64-bit edition of the recently released operating system, the software giant is sending decidedly mixed messages.
Vista is available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions, with the latter targeted at owners of recent computers with 64-bit processors. However, customers who purchase the retail version of Vista Home Basic, Home Premium or Business don't have the option of buying the 64-bit version directly.
Instead, they have to purchase the 32-bit version and then order a replacement CD from Microsoft, for which they are required to pay a postage charge. The charge is described as "minimal" by Microsoft.
The online ordering scenario is not straightforward either. To ensure that people don't try to order upgrades based on unlicensed copies, or install the 32-bit OS on one system and the 64-bit OS on another, users have to provide the software product key. Credit card payment is the only option offered.
The issue doesn't apply to the top-of-the-line Windows Vista Ultimate release, which does include 32- and 64-bit releases in the same package. Enterprise customers on subscription arrangements can also download the 64-bit versions directly.
Where is the 64-bit version?
Despite those complications, Microsoft is keen to talk up the 64-bit edition. "If your system features a 64-bit processor, you can take advantage of its advanced design by ordering 64-bit software media", its upgrade site proclaims.
"You'll get the same interface, features, and functions, but you'll get them in an operating system that takes advantage of access to vastly more memory.
One irritated user who contacted ZDNet Australia was shocked to discover that the 64-bit version had not been included. "Why didn't [Microsoft] just put it in the box or even on the same DVD as the 32-bit version?" asked the user, who did not want to be named. "It isn't even clearly written on the outside of the box that it is only the 32-bit version inside — it is written in very small print on the bottom."
Such a strategy wouldn't be tolerated in other market segments, according to the user. "Imagine going into a shop and buying a music CD only to get it home and open it up and find a bit of paper inside telling you to go online to pay to have the actual CD mailed out to you at an additional cost."
Microsoft did not respond to questions from ZDNet about why it had pursued this strategy, or its expected level of demand for 64-bit packages. Its upgrade site confirms take-up may be limited. "The 64-bit version of Windows Vista is not for everyone. Please confirm that your system, applications, and devices are compatible with a 64-bit edition of Windows Vista before installing."