x64, also known as x86_64, has been around in consumer-level computers for a little over 5 years, having been introduced to the public by AMD in their famous K8 lineup back in 2003. The x86-64 instruction set, which AMD had presented in 2000, had for a goal to extend the existing x86 achitecture in order to be able to address more physical and virtual memory, use newer SSE instructions sets, and eliminate some of the older, archaic 16 bit instructions. 64 bit would also bring many more advantages than just the ability to use more memory, it would also give computers the ability to deal with bigger chunks of data in one cycle, making 64 big machines faster than their 32 bit counterparts clock per clock.
Back in the early 2000's, 64 bit computing was seen as the way of the future by all the major players in the computing sector: AMD had K8, which offered a smooth transition from x86 to x64, while Intel had originally planned a more brutal transition with their Itanium 64 server offerings, which never really took off due to it's total incompatibility with the previous x86 standard. Very soon after the release of the first 64 bit processors, the K8 Opterons marketed for server/workstation use, 64 bit processors made a debut in the consumer segment, first with K8 Athlons, then with offerings from Intel. The latter had admitted it's failure with Itanium and introduced Intel 64 in the late models of the Netburst lineup, Prescott 5x1 and beyond.
Ever since, both AMD and Intel have been offering 64 bit compatibility on all their processors. At first, running an x64 system was considered an extraordinary feat: while getting a compatible processor was easy, getting software to run on it was quite difficult. Linux had of course adapted to this new technology fairly quickly, but it took a while for Microsoft to introduce their first x64 operating system, Windows XP Pro x64. The initial releases had tons of compatibility issues which still dirty the name of 64 bit today, from software refusing to work to drivers not being available.
However, in the recent months, things have changed. 64 bit is a reality now, with OEM computer makers shipping out computers with 4, 6, 8 gigs of RAM, and most of the software vendors/makers have adapted to this reality by offering at least decent 32 bit compatibility in a 64 bit environment, or recompiled their products in x64 to work with 64 bit Vista.
Despite this, some people stubbornly refuse to upgrade. For some, it's the fact that it's Vista... for others, mainly mainstream consumers who have no idea what they're talking about, 64 bit is just another stupid standard that they don't need. Being an in-store technician for Futureshop, I've seen tons of machines come back with 32 bit Windows XP installed on hardware that was shipped out with over 4 gigs of RAM and Vista Home Premium x64. When questioned about why they decided to install XP on their machines, these customers usually mention software compatibility as their main reason for the switch. "Sir, ma'am, have you tried installing and running your software as an Administrator?" The question gets me blank stares.
Most people who buy pre-built computers usually find comfort in XP's user experience, and are ready to sacrifice some RAM to get that comfort. But as an enthusiast, it brings tears to my eyes. Why would anybody want to waste RAM? You payed for 4 gigs, why are you only using 3? The solution to this problems is obviously getting people to adopt and keep 64 bit operating systems, and there isn't a million operating system vendors out there; the one company that can make things change is Microsoft. What MS doesn't seem to realize, is that they have the tool to finalize that transition out in the hands of the public right now: Windows 7.
The successor to Vista, often referred to as "what Vista was supposed to be", is becoming a widely acclaimed product, even though it is still in it's release candidate phase. People everywhere are raving about how smoother the experience is with 7,the added stability, the enhance performance. This new product will surely be a hit, and unlike Vista, I think it's going to catch on from the time it is released to the market, unlike Vista which had to get a service pack before being half-reliable.
Why not use this OS to impose the new standard? At a certain point, you have to show the finger to backwards compatibility, and 7 should be the one to do so. If you aren't running anything more recent than a later model of Pentium 4, then maybe you should not be running a more recent OS, and for all the older machines, XP is still available, although it reach it's EOL last summer.
It's always a rough thing, upgrading. People didn't want to leave Win98, nor did they want to ditch XP in favor of Vista. DDR2 was frowned upon at first, and DDR3 is still lagging behind in term of popularity. Upgrading is not a pleasant thing for most, but it's a necessary thing, and whatever you do, there will always be a small group of people who will ***** and moan about what the market forces them to adopt. Microsoft has chosen to please this small share of the market, and to offer their newest OS in 32 bit flavor... something we should all frown upon. All this does is encourage the 32/64 bit ambiguity, and making software developers job more complicated than it should be.
Shame on you Microsoft.
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