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Windows 2003, XP leading the way to 64-bit

In April, Microsoft expects to release two versions of Windows that support 64-bit computing architecture, although many IT administrators say there's little reason for them to retire their 32-bit systems.

The 64-bit versions of Windows Server 2003 and XP are inching their way to completion, even though many IT managers are not exactly shouting out for more processing power.

Both 64-bit versions of Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP Professional are in the release-candidate

Maybe some of our scientific people will find some interest, but we are not lacking for processor speed.

George Defenbaugh, Amerada Hess Corp.

stage of testing and should be available in about one month, according to Jim Allchin, Microsoft's senior vice president of platforms, speaking Tuesday at the Intel Developer Conference.

Although 64-bit computing has been around for a long time for Unix, it's new to the world of Intel and Intel-compatible computing. Gamers and scientific computing wizards aside, it's still unclear whether there is a volume market for 64-bit computing today. Many IT shops appear happy with their current 32-bit systems.

"Maybe some of our scientific people will find some interest, but we are not lacking for processor speed," said George Defenbaugh, manager of global IT infrastructure at Amerada Hess Corp., New York. "Most of our machines are underutilized. We are actually more interested in virtualization technologies."

How much value does 64-bit add?

Defenbaugh said he saw advantages in moving to 32-bit from 16-bit technologies, but at 32-bit, he found the computing power to be just right. "The pain went away," he said, adding that he didn't think the leap to 64-bit would add that much value to everyday computing.

This is something that Intel runs into each time it upgrades its architecture. The fact that 64-bit

For more information

Learn more about when and why to use 64-bit Windows


Read about the recent Intel-VMware virtualization partnership

computing architectures for volume users will be coming out way ahead of demand runs counter to the golden rule of IT, which is, if it's not broken, don't fix it, said Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of system software research at International Data Corp., a Framingham, Mass-based consulting firm.

Indeed, if a company likes what it has, why adopt something new? It's unlikely that 64-bit Windows and hardware won't be getting any attention anytime soon from Clyde Johnson, a senior network and systems administrator at Olin Corp., a Norwalk, Conn., sporting ammunition and metals company.

"We are lucky to have 32-bit machines," Johnson said. "The only reason we got rid of NT 4.0 is because Microsoft stopped supporting it. Here, we run our machines to death."

Software support needed for adoption

IDC's Kusnetzky said it's always a challenge when any new computing architecture is introduced because it's hard to tell what will come first -- the volume market or the software that creates the volume market.

"But the truth is that organizations will seldom adopt a new platform if there is no software support," he said. "Long gone are the days when people develop their own software. Today, organizations rely on packaged development tools, middleware, server software and applications."

What's good about the 64-bit architectures today at Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Sunnyvale, Calif., and Intel Corp., Santa Clara, Calif., is they can also efficiently support 32-bit codes, so companies that want to try the new hardware can do so with little risk.

The vendors hope this may generate the market, and once there is a sufficient number of machines, there may be similar uptick in the world of Windows, Kusnetzky said. Only when there is enough 64-bit technology deployed, will customers begin to see 64-bit software from more of Microsoft's partners.

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