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The 64-Bit Question 2

The introduction of Windows Server 2003 may well be a watershed for business computing, but uptake may be slow
There are advantages to Windows Server 2003 besides 64-bit processing. Enterprise and Datacenter editions for x86 chips now support clustering across eight nodes. The operating system also provides utility software other vendors charge extra for (see story below). Microsoft is also releasing Visual Studio .Net 2003, its graphical development tool for building Web-services applications. And Windows Server 2003 includes Microsoft's .Net Framework, required to run Web-services apps.

"Bang for the buck, they're clearly ahead of all the other guys," says Michael Keithley, CIO at Creative Artists Agency LLC. The Hollywood talent agency has Windows Server 2003 installed on three 32-bit systems in its data center and is testing it on several others. Once the rollout is complete and add-on software such as Real-Time Collaboration Server 2003 and Windows Rights Management Services appear, Keithley envisions greater control over the 7 terabytes of video, audio, and other data in CAA's storage network. But he doesn't plan to use 64-bit systems right now. Microsoft and Intel need to first "work out the bugs. It's probably six to 12 months before I really start taking it seriously."

About 29% of 719 business-technology pros surveyed in January by InformationWeek Research plan to buy the new Windows server in its first year. More than one-third of them cite 64-bit Windows as one reason for the upgrade, and two-thirds name tighter security.

The stubborn economy doesn't make this the best time to debut a major product, and there are other reasons for buyers to wait. Some marquee vendors aren't shipping Itanium apps, and there are thousands of homegrown applications that need to be ported to the new platform.

Kasper ASL Ltd., which makes the Anne Klein New York line of clothes, isn't upgrading, mainly because its largest vendor of clothing-design software isn't going 64-bit. "Speed does matter when you're handling graphics," says VP and CIO Myron Melnyk, but Kasper "isn't on the cutting edge of .Net."

Another alternative comes from Advanced Micro Devices Inc., which this week will launch its Opteron x86 CPU capable of running 64-bit apps (see story,

p. 21). Microsoft expects to release in midyear a beta version of Windows Server 2003 that runs natively on AMD's Opteron chip for servers and a beta version of Windows XP for the Athlon 64-bit PC chip.

Even Microsoft execs aren't expecting too much too soon. During a conference call with Wall Street analysts last week, CFO John Connors said Windows Server 2003 won't contribute much revenue this fiscal year, which ends June 30. Still, for future growth, Microsoft is betting on server product sales, which rose 21% during the quarter ended March 31 to reach $1.83 billion.

Microsoft would love to see business-technology managers embrace Windows Server 2003 in the same way the computer industry adopted Windows 95. That's unlikely, but a steady upgrade to 64-bit computing isn't. --With Larry Greenemeier