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Will 64-bit Win2k for Merced ship later rather than sooner?

This week's 'impressive' demo leaves a lot of questions unanswered

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How close is the 64-bit version of Windows 2000? Well, Microsoft demoed it at WinHEC this week, but an examination of the detail of the demo suggests that it's a little bit further off than Microsoft might be suggesting - for the Merced version, anyway. Microsoft showed the product running, apparently rather well - so it's just around the corner? Read on. The grand unveiling was fronted by Microsoft president and spinmeister Steve Ballmer, who told the assembled audience: "We've had a lot of interest in the 64-bit version of Windows. When will Windows be 64-bit?" When, indeed. Steve gets the tricky stuff over with first by not answering his own question and leaving some leeway for future fuzzing: "We will launch a 64-bit version of Windows based on the Windows 2000 code base as soon as we can after the shipment of Windows 2000." There, so if you accept that Win2k is still going to ship before the end of the year, the "as soon as we can" period commences in January 2000, or thereabouts. But Steve carefully doesn't specify how long it lasts. Now the fuzz, which will no doubt disappoint those of you who figure this period might be short: "When we ship Windows 2000, we'll also ship an intermediate form factor that actually supports 36 bits of addressability on today's Intel chips. So four gigabytes of memory is sort of standard maximum [for 32-bit], with the extended, what we call PAE addressing, you'll have up to 64 gigabytes of virtual memory, and with the full 64-bit version, you get up to eight terabytes of virtual addressing." Kludge, do you reckon? The notion of an "intermediate form factor" seems to confirm what we heard last year, that there will be a lengthy period before 64-bit, and that MS will initially go for a 32/64-bit product while it finished 64-bit properly. The more extensive the intermediate form factor is, the longer you're likely to have to wait. Now, the demo itself. Ballmer's man Richard Waymire points out that "We're currently building both 32-bit and 64-bit Windows 2000. Every night, we go through the build process. It's the same source, just a different compile. So there's no special development effort per se underway on 64-bit, it's the same stuff." That makes it all sound a doddle, but he's not specific about whether or not he's talking about both Intel and Alpha versions here. He shows 64-bit running on a Merced emulator, basically doing nothing, then switches quickly over to Alpha, and then does a demo of 64-bit SQL Server, running on Alpha. That demo runs fine, of course, but how come Microsoft chose not to do it on the Merced emulator? If you're suspicious you'll reckon the Alpha version is a lot further advanced, and that Microsoft is heavily in hock to Compaq as far as 64-bit development goes. This isn't entirely news, as Microsoft has historically leaned heavily on DEC's Alpha NT engineering. Something else that might slow, or provide an excuse for the slowness of 64-bit Merced development, is pointed up by Ballmer a little later: "Most of the system designs in PC servers today are not well balanced, with respect to use of CPU, I/O, et cetera, for these very large system designs. The I/O architectures aren't that effective. "If you really want to run very large database problems, we're going to need more parallelisation over the bus. Network optimisation, as you put bigger and bigger loads on fewer and fewer servers." We're going to need, says Steve, a whole bunch of stuff, and you can bet heavily that a lot of that stuff is going to be developed after the 64-bit Win 2k's initial shipment. If Steve is currently talking down expectations for PC 64-bit performance, it's going to be a long haul. ®

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