Microsoft’s 64-Bit Push May Be Premature

Although it is far from ready for the mainstream — and not even ready for application developers, according to some — 64-bit computing was a major topic of discussion at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) taking place in San Francisco this week.

Microsoft announced its 64-bit versions of Windows — both for server and desktop computing — and endorsed Intel’s approach to the technology. AMD had had an edge in the 64-bit market until Intel unveiled its own designs last week.

Industry analysts, however, have downplayed the advent of 64-bit computing, indicating that the operating systems and applications for it — not to mention the demand — are still lacking.

The 64-Bit Question

About a year after it launched a beta version of its 64-bit Windows operating system, Microsoft announced at IDF that the final version would be released for servers this month and for desktops by next month.

Gartner research Vice President Martin Reynolds told TechNewsWorld that 64-bit capability was more of a feature than a market at this point.

“There are places where it works well — big databases, scientific [computing], design and simulation, but it is irrelevant to most users,” he said.

Meta Group Vice President Steve Kleynhans echoed Reynolds, telling TechNewsWorld that 64-bit computing has been mostly about marketing.

“For the most part, this is going to be a dormant feature,” he said. “The biggest advantage of 64-bit is the large memory, and the vast majority of users are a long way from tapping all of their current memory.”

Call to Port

Officials from Intel and Microsoft also called on software developers attending IDF to begin porting their applications to the 64-bit environment, but analysts such as Reynolds downplayed the immediacy.

Reynolds said that when PC memory configurations are 4 GB or greater — which should happen in three to four years — there will be a need and demand for 64-bit operating systems and applications.

“Bottom line: no need to port most applications, but expect to be using a 64-bit OS on new systems in 2008 or 2009,” Reynolds said. “This means that most developers will ignore 64-bit.”

Innovation Assailed

The IDF — which also included significant announcements on dual-core and virtualization technology — was turned political by Intel’s chief executive officer Barrett, who criticized U.S. policy makers for dragging their heels on broadband and underfunding education and university-level R&D.

Reynolds indicated that Barrett made some good points, particularly considering the high number of people in other countries, such as China, who are embracing technology and are willing to work for far less than U.S. employees.

“The future of the U.S. economy lies in innovation and flexibility, and we need to get U.S. citizens educated to a higher level to compete in a global economy,” Reynolds said. “A burger flipper in McDonald’s in Ohio makes way more money than a computer builder in Shanghai. The only way to stay ahead of the steamroller is to find new things to do, and that requires education as the raw material of innovation.”

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