Microsoft: 64-Bit OSes Gaining Traction

Despite our technophile-ness, we haven't seriously considered moving to the i 64-bit version of Windows Vista, mostly because we figure we will have application or device driver woes. However, in a blog post on the Windows Vista blog, Microsoft product manager Chris Flores said that Microsoft has noted a shift in adoption of 64-bit operating systems. Microsoft has been tracking this shift by tracking the number of 64-bit PCs connecting to Windows Update. According to Flores,
The installed base of 64-bit Windows Vista PCs, as a percentage of all Windows Vista systems, has more than tripled in the U.S. in the last three months, while worldwide adoption has more than doubled during the same period. Another view shows that 20% of new Windows Vista PCs in the U.S. connecting to Windows Update in June were 64-bit PCs, up from just 3% in March. Put more simply, usage of 64-bit Windows Vista is growing much more rapidly than 32-bit. Based on current trends, this growth will accelerate as the retail channel shifts to supplying a rapidly increasing assortment of 64-bit desktops and laptops.
We'd certainly love to be able to address more than the approximately 3 GB of RAM that 32-bit Vista can use. But is 64-bit Vista ready? According to Microsoft: kinda, sorta. As they said:
Preconfigured 64-bit PCs obtained from retailers or PC manufacturers should work quite well. This is in stark contrast to the experience of many technology enthusiasts who built their 64-bit PC from scratch and may have had to scour the Web looking for drivers. So, unless you really love to tinker with your PC, we suggest you buy a pre-built 64-bit PC at retail or directly from a PC manufacturer.
Obviously if the OEM offers 64-bit Windows Vista as an option on your PC, it's compatible. But what about all those peripherals and what about your favorite programs? A check of a few printers and scanner shows the following:
  • Epson Perfection 3490: 64-bit drivers and utilities available
  • HP 1320n Laser Printer: 64-bit drivers available
  • Canon PIXMA ip3000: 64-bit drivers available
Software-wise, we just checked a few:
  • NOD32 v3.0: compatible
  • Nero 8: compatible
  • PhotoImpact X3: compatible
  • System Mechanic: not compatible
  • BOClean: compatible (really surprised with this one)
  • Threatfire: compatible
  • HP Upline: not compatible
And just for fun (pun-intended), we checked some games:
  • Crysis: compatible
  • World of Warcraft: compatible
  • Spore: compatible
Makes sense that the newer stuff seems to run without an issue. So, it seems things are not as dire as many may think. In fact, it really tempts us to take a chance, make a system image and try 64-bit Vista on our systems. Of course, as Microsoft says, do we really need to?
But if you only use your PC for a few tasks, and rarely do them at the same time, then you're unlikely to realize a measurable performance benefit today. Of course, buying extra capacity for your future, unplanned needs is always worth considering. In the future, we expect both compatibility and performance of 64-bit PCs to continue to improve. Most hardware devices have 64-bit drivers today and most software products work unmodified because of the 32-bit emulation technology in 64-bit Windows Vista (called WOW64). But there are some gaps, especially in the long tail of the market, but we expect rapid improvement now that 64-bit PCs are getting so popular. Over time we'll see more 64-bit-optimized programs hit the market, which promise dramatic performance and experience improvements.
Yeah, future-proofing, there's the ticket. But for most, 32-bit Vista is just fine. If you're getting a new system, and it's available, and you have mostly new peripherals and applications, you might as well go for it. But there's probably little to no reason to change from 32-bit to 64-bit on an existing system.  Readers, how many of you have made the switch?