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Microsoft NT 5.0 for Merced could be 32/64-bit hybrid system

Getting NT on Merced from the off may mean a repeat of the Windows 95 experience

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Microsoft has been having problems getting NT 5.0 out of the door, but once it has, it will have another hill to climb - getting to 64-bit. And it seems the company is planning a repeat of the Windows 95 experience by offering a hybrid 32/64-bit system. In the run-up to 95's launch, Microsoft billed the forthcoming OS as 32-bit, for good reason. At the time OS/2 was seen by the company as a serious threat, and there was a possibility that IBM could take advantage of the switchover from 3.11 to 95 (IBM? Well, just goes to show even Microsoft strategists can have a vivid imagination). In reality 95 turned out to be a sometimes uneasy mixture of 16-bit and 32-bit, with consequent disadvantages in terms of converging operating systems around the Win32 API. Speaking at a UK Hewlett-Packard function yesterday Microsoft UK exec Oliver Roll insisted that NT 5.0 would ship next summer (which is a slight advance on "second half," but maybe a tad optimistic), and also maintained that "we will have a derivative of NT.50 [for Merced] when Merced ships." Urged to get more specific about what this meant, Roll seemed not quite capable of blurting out the 64 word. Gartner research director Ed Thompson, who'd been doing an excellent job of blabbing out truths in a Gartnerish sort of way (the Microsofts and Intels may not like it, but they know they can't stop them), enlightened us - he figures a hybrid system. That would Microsoft to introduce 64-bit features without a ground-up rewrite, probably at some cost to the integrity of the operating system. As indeed was the case with 95. Taking this route would certainly make it a lot easier for Microsoft to get a 64-bit (-ish) product out of the door, but it's not necessarily going to be convincing. The Unix vendors are beavering away furiously on Merced 64-bit implementations, and they expect Microsoft's slowness in getting to a full 64-bit Merced NT to be a valuable sales aid for their products. Microsoft's hope, undoubtedly, is that it can go just far enough to avoid corporate customers defecting, and deliver the real thing a little further down the line. Which is what it's doing currently with NT 4.0 pending the shipment of NT 5.0. Thompson, who seems the sort of satirical cove we ought to talk to more often, also delivered a smart kick in the teeth to Microsoft. He (and of course, this is mighty Gartner talking here) still reckons NT's share of the cake will grow, and that Unix spending will start to decline next year, but he disputes the truth of the usual NT negative - scalability. "The question is not whether NT scales, but it's stability," he says. We had meant to end this piece on that backhanded compliment, but then we remembered something else Oliver said. "We develop software in seven year cycles," he told us, meaning that Microsoft's applications software was currently going through a serious refresh. But (abacus out), we seem to recall NT first popping its head out in around about the 1991 timeframe. Shoot - and it's not even stable yet... ® Click for more stories

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