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When We're 64

How times change. When Paul McCartney added "When I'm Sixty-Four" to the psychedelic parade of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, he wasn't Sir, he only had four analog tape tracks to work with (and that was considered the cat's pajamas), and computing was still largely the province of corporate and military mainframe nerds. Today, 64-bit digital processing is around the corner -- and for you, my fine readers, it looks like it's going to be your immediate server future.

As my colleague CMP Pipelines Editor Scot Finnie says in his extended inside look at Longhorn, it's a no-brainer to take Windows-based servers over to 64-bit. For one thing, the code base is now there for Windows Server customers with Microsoft's release of the 64-bit version of Windows Server 2003. As Scot points out, it's going to take a while for the desktop to shift to 64-bit even when the operating system is there, due to such issues as total incompatibility with 16-bit apps and the lack of device drivers for peripherals. But, no such problems with the server. No less than Bill Gates points out that 64-bit on the server is price-competitive, boosts memory and processing efficiency markedly, and is going to help with overall server needs and their ancillary issues like heat and redundancy. Now, Gates is in the business of boosting his next-gen software, but he rings true on this topic. It's not going to cost much more to choose Opteron or Itanium 64-bit boxes when you're upgrading, and the overall benefits of 64-bit across the entire server platform is now officially enticing to Windows server admins.

Of course, that's the entire Linux community I hear yawning in the background. Indeed, Linux has been solidly 64-bit-capable for a long time now, with the real push into 64-bit on the server dating back all the way to autumn 2003. That's also given impetus to the development of 64-bit Linux on the desktop, an area where it's likely to retain some advantage over Microsoft for a while yet. InformationWeek's John Foley rightly points out that a relative lack of 64-bit apps looking outward is the Achilles' heel of Microsoft's 64-bit vision (only now are we hearing any indication of a 64-bit version of Office for the desktop, for instance, and that only happens to be Microsoft's largest product suite). Still, there's that minor matter of Microsoft's roughly three-fifths market share in server software. 64-bit Windows has been the Holy Grail for Intel and AMD to push their platforms ahead, and that time has arrived -- and it's going to help Linux too. Market researchers Gartner estimate that the installed server base is going to be almost entirely dual-core by 2007, dragging along 64-bit processing with it, and I wouldn't bet against that. Who knows, it may even happen by the time Sir Paul turns 64.