Microsoft's 64-bit netbook conundrum

The success of low-cost, 32-bit netbooks may retard the evolution of Windows just as users were finally accepting a 64-bit OS

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Contrast this against the trend toward 64-bit Windows, and you begin to see the dichotomy: The most popular computing platform, by volume, over the past year and a half is fundamentally incompatible with the most popular version of Microsoft's latest desktop OS.

Essentially, Intel has undone nearly a decade of progress by foisting a bastardized 32-bit implementation onto the industry at a time when virtually all of its mainstream desktop and mobile CPU products support x64 -- and have since the turn of the century. It's as if Boeing decided to outfit its first-generation 787 Dreamliners with old-fashioned piston-and-prop engines. Suddenly, every major air carrier is forced to stock up on old-style aviation gas when the world has long ago moved on to Jet-A, all because a (hugely popular and successful) subset of planes can't run what should be the current standard.

Will the success of the netbook platform ultimately retard Microsoft's march toward a 64-bit desktop future? It certainly seems that way. Without a dominant base of 64-bit capable systems, Microsoft will never risk abandoning its 32-bit code base. And as long as that code base exists, Microsoft's attention will remain divided between it and the technically more advanced 64-bit version.

We've all seen what happens when Microsoft finally stops dividing its attention within an OS product line. The company abandoned 32-bit in the data center with the release of Windows Server 2008, and by every conceivable measure the end product is better for the change. Microsoft needs to apply these same lessons to the consolidation of its 32-bit and 64-bit desktop code bases, but it can't do that as long as the volume PC platform remains captive to a legacy, 32-bit-only subset. Thus, the conundrum.

This article, "Microsoft's 64-bit netbook conundrum," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more from Randall C. Kennedy's Enterprise Desktop blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com.

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