Bill Gates Discusses 64-Bit Windows, Longhorn Transition - InformationWeek

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Bill Gates Discusses 64-Bit Windows, Longhorn Transition

Microsoft chairman calls 64-bit memory a 'huge' boost for demanding PC and server applications, but says most business desktop users can probably wait for Longhorn before upgrading.

Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates will announce availability of four new 64-bit versions of the Windows operating system at the company's WinHEC conference for hardware engineers, which begins April 25 in Seattle. The new Windows x64 will allow customers to run existing 32-bit applications and newer 64-bit application on the same PCs or servers, providing a bridge between Microsoft's 32-bit software environment of the past decade and its emerging 64-bit software environment for the future. On April 20, Gates sat down with InformationWeek editor in chief Stephanie Stahl and senior editor at large John Foley on Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., campus to discuss the new 64-bit product line and how it compares with the next-generation Longhorn operating system.

InformationWeek: You're about to announce availability of Windows x64. What's the business case for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 x64? Who should get it and why?

Gates: I think the transition to 64-bit is the biggest thing happening in the computing space, and in some ways, the reason it's not getting this huge attention is because at a technical level, the way the transition's being handled, this is going to be the simplest address-space transition ever. And yet, it's the biggest address space transition ever. Going from 32 [bit] to 64 [bit] is more than we've ever done. We haven't had an address space transition since 1986. Thirty-two bit's been enough, even at the server level, 4 Gig of physical [memory] felt like enough.

For the last five or six years, people have been feeling the pressure. Not everyone, not the general purpose desktop, but a high percentage of servers and a high percentage of high-demand desktops -- financial analysis, scientific computing -- the kinds of things that were the last to flip over from Unix to Windows, the super high-end thing, where even for a time people had two machines on the desktop. They wanted Office, yet there was some application that Unix had that they didn't have. We got this nice period where at the desktop level and for most server [workloads] the standard hardware was good enough for everything. Now, the 64-bit thing, it's quite dramatic on the server because the cost of memory has come down so that putting huge amounts of physical memory on a server is economic and the demand for performance you want these Web sites to be very fast. The size of the material we have out there, whether it's the amount of text, images, click databases, everything has just expanded dramatically, so 64-bit is a huge thing and it gives us pretty unbelievable headroom.

The range of applications that benefit from 64-bit are incredible, so to go back to your question in a very direct sense, as people are rolling out new applications, as they're looking at any application they want to up the performance on, moving to 64-bit is one of the magical ways. You can simplify the application and have it be very high performance. After all, the 64-bit hardware isn't premium priced. You want to buy an Intel-based server, an AMD-based server, these things are going to be priced just the same as they were as 32-bit systems. That's pretty unbelievable. We didn't have that in the past. Many elements of the system have been sitting waiting to be enabled for 64-bit -- we've had 64-bit file system stuff for over a decade. Windows actually had that before most versions of Unix. We've had 64-bit development tools for developers for quite some time now. Recompiling your code isn't that hard. There's a little bit of a challenge to get all of the device drivers. You can mix 64-bit apps and 32-bit apps, but when you have a 64-bit operating system, you need 64-bit device drivers. During the next 12 months, there will be a lot of focus on that. I don't have any concern about it; it's just that we need to keep the message very strong that we need all those device drivers.

So, whenever you buy a new server, no matter what the reason is, unless it's very lightweight use, you're going to buy a 64-bit server. In fact, you might even buy it without thinking about it because it's something like 15 months from now that Intel and AMD basically won't be shipping server chips that aren't 64-bit. Even on the business desktop, it's all going to be 64-bit. There's a few other silicon features we're getting with 64-bit -- putting in some things to help with memory protection, virtualization is on a slightly different schedule -- but it's in the same basic time frame, and those are pretty exciting things, too. But the 64-bit, this is just an amazing transition where, whether it's a high-demand desktop or almost all of the servers, they're going to have the ability to use this much memory, and it really simplifies your application. Your ability to take the disk performance out of the equation, where you've got something like SQL caching in memory or IIS or its competitors like Apache caching application stuff in memory, you're going to see really nice benchmarks.

InformationWeek: To what extent do IT departments need to plan the move to 64-bit Windows versus it's just going to happen? Do they have applications tuning to do? Infrastructure considerations? Do they need to talk to their ISVs about 64-bit versions of applications?

Gates: Wherever they want more performance, this is a huge opportunity for them. If every application they have is running every bit as fast as they want, they don't really have much to do here because you can buy 64-bit hardware and run it in 32-bit mode. We're continuing to ship the 32-bit applications, the 32-bit operating system. There will be some time, like five or six years from now, where a lot of application updates will start to be 64-bit only, but that's quite some time off, where people will take the simplification not to have both. And maybe in some niches, like chip design, some of those high-end things, those guys will be 64-bit only even in the near term, but the people who want that kind of software will know that from the ISV. So you really should look at this as opportunity, you should say, can we make our Web site faster? Nowadays, when you look at a Web site, and you compare what it takes in terms of human programming effort and all the different costs that it would take to double the speed of the software, changing the hardware to let you run twice as fast is going to be the most economic way to do that. So everybody should go through where they're running into performance or size limitations and assume that 64-bit is here. It's mature.

We've been running a ton of stuff internally at Microsoft on 64-bit. One of the most amazing stories is we're doing this new search server farm to compete with Google, and we were able to do it with dramatically less machines -- it's still 5,000 machines -- but a lot less than they use because the individual machines have a lot more memory because we assumed a 64-bit design point. They did it back when you couldn't assume that. Our finance department runs all these simulations and the 64-bit, because that now works in memory versus having to go out to disk, they're able to complete those things like ten times faster. [For] most things, the kinds of speed-ups you see are in the 1.5 to 2 [times faster range], but you get some where it's very dramatic. People have to be careful not to think everything is going to be this very dramatic thing. But it turns out most server things are memory starved, and even client-side things, some really push those limits. So this will be much faster on the server, but an impact for some workstations even in the next year.

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