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Microsoft Launches 64-bit Windows

Microsoft launched new 64-bit versions of its Windows operating system this week. Bill Gates announced the release of the long-promised, much-delayed OSes during his keynote address at the 14th annual Microsoft Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC 2005) in Seattle.

“It’s a very big deal for us,” Microsoft’s chairman and chief software architect told his audience. “We’re very excited about what AMD and Intel have done.”

The new Windows XP Professional x64 Edition and Windows Server 2003 x64 Edition are designed to run on 64-bit Xeon and Pentium 4 processors from Intel, and Opteron and Athlon 64 processors from AMD. Both operating systems come in standard, enterprise and data-center editions. They support both 64-bit and 32-bit applications, and they’re priced the same as the 32-bit versions, according to the company.

The 64-bit Windows announcement comes just a week after AMD’s launch of its new Opteron dual-core x86 64-bit chips for servers and workstations. The Sunnyvale, CA-based chipmaker also announced an upcoming dual-core Athlon 64 processor made for desktop PCs (the “X2”). AMD also plans to introduce a dual-core version of its Athlon FX processor sometime in the future.

Hardware was way ahead of the software on this one. Intel’s 64-bit Itanium processor was available in 2001 for high-end servers, and Microsoft created a version of Windows specifically for that chip.

AMD was first to market with 64-bit processors for x86-based servers two years ago, and it has had a desktop chip for 18 months. Intel entered that market recently with its EM64T-enabled Pentium 4s.

Microsoft has been working on a 64-bit version of Windows for two years, and originally promised a release in the first half of 2004. The Redmond, WA-based software maker did release a beta version of 64-bit Windows in the fall of 2003, about the same time AMD released its first Athlon 64 processors. Microsoft reportedly plans to offer its upcoming Longhorn operating system in both 64-bit and 32-bit versions.

“Sixty-four-bit computing is the next big step for the desktop,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group, in a statement issued with the launch. “It promises a substantial improvement for graphically intensive applications and the inherent improvements in reliability and security that we’ve come to expect with moves like this. It also will do amazing things for games, which will, when written to it, provide a vastly more realistic virtual reality then we have ever seen before.”

As all techies know, a 64-bit chip can process twice as many bits as a 32-bit chip in the same number of compute cycles. But what counts in system performance is the number of combinations of bits. A 32-bit chip can address 4,294,967,296 possible combinations--that’s 4GB of data. A 64-bit chip, on the other hand, yields 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 possible combinations, or 16 exabytes of data--that’s two orders of magnitude beyond a terabyte.

The Microsoft news was accompanied by a veritable stampede of announcements from industry partners and supporters. Hewlett-Packard and Dell lead the charge on Monday, announcing business desktops and workstations that will run Microsoft’s 64-bit operating system.

The list of hardware vendors announcing or planning to announce 64-bit Windows-capable offerings includes Acer, Alienware, Fujitsu, Hitachi, IBM, NEC, Unisys, Broadcom, Brother, Canon, Epson, Lexmark Nvidia, Ricoh, Samsung and Xerox, among others.

iAnywhere got out front with 64-bit Windows support for SQL Anywhere Studio V9.0.2, including a free 64-bit Windows version of the SQL Anywhere Studio Developer Edition.

Other software vendors that have or are in the process of developing applications for Windows x64 include Adobe, Avid Softimage, BMC Software, Citrix Systems, Computer Associates, IBM, McAfee, Oracle, Symantec and Veritas, among others.

“The release of Windows Server 2003 x64 Editions will be the gun that starts the race to 64-bit computing,” said Insight 64 analyst Nathan Brookwood. “Once there is a generally available 64-bit version of Windows, we’ll start to see all the utilities and infrastructure applications moving to 64 bits. By the end of 2006, I anticipate that Windows Server 2003 x64 Editions will be the default operating system for most new Windows Server shipments.”

Both x64 editions of the Windows OS are available now. For more information, visit: www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/howtobuy/licensing/pricing.mspx.

Some Microsoft customers who acquired a qualifying 32-bit version of Windows with x64 hardware are eligible to exchange it for the x64 version. More information is available at: www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/64bit/x64/upgrade.mspx.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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