This week, both Apple and Microsoft have announced updates to their operating systems which take full advantage of 64-bit processing power. Stephen Cole speaks to Microsoft's Brad Goldberg about what the new system has to offer, and gets a sneak preview of the next version of Windows codenamed Longhorn.
Desktop PCs have had to wait quite a long time to make the move to 64-bit operating systems.
Mr Gates announced the transition to 64-bit computing on Monday
PCs were using 16-bit systems in the 1980s and moved up to 32-bits in the 1990s and soon it will be time to change again.
Hardware systems that can take in 64-bits at a time have been around since the late 1990s.
But soon both processors and software will both be able to use 64-bits in harmony.
Crudely the amount of bits a system can use describes how much information it can take in or manipulate with each tick of the very fast clock that helps co-ordinate everything a computer does.
Playing with more information at every possible moment means an instant speed boost because in one tick twice the work can be done of a system half as fast.
Chip-maker AMD claims that most 64-bit users will see a speed hike of almost 10%, simply by running 64-bit Windows. However, not every application will enjoy such a boost because many will have to be re-written to take advantage of the bigger memory space.
Brad Goldberg, general manager of the Windows Business Client Platform, has overall responsibility for Windows 64.
He explained why he thought the new software was so compelling.
"64-bit is a lot sexier because it is a whole new architecture. It uses memory in a dramatically different way from how 32-bit computing does today.
"In that sense, it will be able to take memory intensive applications like creating digital content, editing photos and videos, and process those via much higher memory limits and much higher performing ways than is available today."
Users will benefit, he says, from the increased speed, agility and response time in using a PC.
"For example, it should be 50% faster to edit photos and combine photos than it is today.
"If you were in the film industry you would see some things happen a thousand times faster than they do today.
"There's no price premium that's being associated with the move to 64 bits, so Windows costs exactly the same amount on a 32-bit machine as it does on a 64-bit machine."
Brad Goldberg says 64-bit systems should be much more secure.
"We've done a lot of work with Intel and AMD who have changed how software is processed at the chip level, to enable new levels of security in 64-bit computing.
"We've done work at the core of the system, such that if a virus attacks your machine it will prevent it from taking over your PC.
"So there are things that we've done at the core that will enable higher levels of security than we see today."
Almost at the same time that I was speaking to Brad, Microsoft - across the Atlantic in Seattle - was hosting its annual Windows hardware engineering conference.
And to many people's surprise, just after it announced the new Windows 64, it presented a work in progress of the next version of Windows - code-named Longhorn.
Brad Goldberg says: "With Longhorn we're trying to enable people to both work with their PC the way they are comfortable working with it today, yet enable them to do dramatically new things.
LONGHORN FEATURES DEMONSTRATED
Transparency and glass effects
User cues and highlights in buttons
Display driver allowing re-scaling of applications
"If you think of how the world has changed over the last five years - the number of devices that people have, the amount of digital content that people are using - we've really designed Windows to be optimised for this world where there's much more digital information, where there are many more devices than there are today."
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates says: "Longhorn is our big investment here.
"If you look at Longhorn as a whole, it is very broad what we're doing. It's easy to say it's a next generation platform. You have to go back certainly to Windows 95 to see something where we did the broad set of things that really enabled more types of applications."
In terms of the computer needed to run this software, Mr Gates says the criteria here are reasonably straightforward.
"We're asking for a modern CPU (central processing unit), 512 meg and a display capability that can be run with a Longhorn display driver."
But all that, as we say in the trade, is vapourware. In other words, we won't believe it until we see it.
Brad Goldberg says Microsoft's plan is to deliver Longhorn in the second half of 2006, and have it available for the holidays.
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