The (Very) Slow Rise of 64-Bit Computing

I was working with a client recently and I noticed a wall full of 64-bit desktop computers all stacked in a row. I began questioning my colleague, and learned a great deal about Windows Vista 64-bit computing on the desktop.

As I listened intently, I couldn’t help but to chuckle at his predicament (on the inside of course): A room full of 64-bit desktop computers and a purchase order in for a dozen duo core 32-bit Intel processor machines. You might be wondering why at this point anyone would abandon 64-bit desktop computing. The main reason is largely due to inadequate drivers and a technology that is still being sold with 32-bit operating systems installed.

Here’s the scenario: You have a good budget for new, cutting-edge computers. You talk with your sales rep. or shop Dell or Gateway online to get a purchase order for a batch of new computers. You have the choice of x86 32-bit or x64 64-bit. So of course you choose the 64-bit right? That’s the wave of the future. But wait!!

The major flaw in this scenario is that all 64-bit desktops come loaded with 32-bit operating systems. Ouch! If you can’t even get the appropriate operating system on your 64-bit system, what makes you think you are going to get your plethora of applications to work, especially proprietary programs that only exist for your company?

Additionally, there is no incentive from Microsoft partners to produce. Adoption of 64-bit desktop computing is very slow and until numbers increase, you will not see the driver support. In fact, we still have drivers that aren’t ready on the 32-bit platform of Windows Vista. What makes you think Microsoft vendors and partners are itching to spend money to support 64-bit drivers when the industry is still slapping the 32-bit operating system of Windows Vista on all 64-bit desktop machines.

There is a Catch-22 here. Most businesses will not adopt 64-bit desktop computing if they know there is no driver support, and vendors and partners won’t provide drivers if the demand is not there. The situation sounds very similar to trying to get your first job with no experience.

Beyond the issue of driver support is software compatibility. You do have down-level support of 32-bit applications and software. While you can get the 64-bit operating system working on 64-bit hardware with no problem, an issue arises when you run into several peripherals or devices that just will not work. Vendors are aware of this situation and I believe this is the main reason they are not slapping the 64-bit version of Windows Vista on 64-bit machines.

By doing this, they do not have to support you. They know it is a support center’s worst nightmare. Imagine how many calls they would get when a printer or wireless card driver will not load on 64-bit. By not loading the operating system, vendors and partners have an out. If you load it yourself and things do not work, they can just say go back to the preinstalled version. Can you see the game?

Adoption of 64-bit desktop computing will be very slow but there will be an advantage to using it when all the hardware support and software support is available. The idea that you can boost your RAM all the way to 128 GB from 4GB is astounding. Imagine how many virtual machines you can run on a single high-powered 64-bit desktop. The future is 64-bit computing, but that future is still way off.

Steven Warren is an IT consultant for the Ultimate Software Group and a freelance technical writer who has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic, TechProGuild, CNET, ZDNET, and CIO Update. He the author of “The VMware Workstation 5.0 Handbook” and holds the following certifications: MCDBA, MCSE, MCSA, CCA, CIW-SA, CIW-MA, Network+, and i-Net+.