This week, two of the biggest forces in the IT industry called on developers to begin porting their applications to x86-based 64-bit architectures.
Microsoft and Intel said hardware and software pieces are in place to convert the computing industry away from a 32-bit Wintel ecosystem to a world where all platforms, from servers and workstations through desktop and mobile, can run at nearly twice the speed with a larger address space.
"The message is: Develop for 64-bits now. The transition is under way," Pat Gelsinger, a former CTO at Intel, said during his keynote at this week's Intel Developer Forum. Gelsinger also said by the end of the year, about 100 percent of the servers Intel ships will come with EM64T 64-bit addressing.
Jim Allchin, Microsoft vice president, joined Gelsinger on stage with a message to developers that Microsoft would release its first Windows x64 Editions in a month. Microsoft also said it would stand by Intel's latest virtualization technology as well as its I/O Acceleration Technology (I/OAT) in a future version of Windows Longhorn Server.
I/OAT is expected to debut in 2006, starting with Intel's Blackford chipset for its two-socket Xeon processors, code-named Bensley. The two companies first teamed on 64-bit architectures when Microsoft debuted Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2000 running on Intel Itanium-based systems.
"We are locked on 64-bit," Allchin said. "We like multithreading, we like virtualization and we like [multiple processor] technology." Allchin warned that developers would still need to convert the drivers under the new architecture. A lengthy process to be sure, but one that Microsoft said it would begin addressing during its WinHEC conference next month in Seattle.
The prospect of Microsoft and Intel talking up 64-bit chips, dual-core architectures and virtualization may seem abrupt, given that six months ago, Intel executives were telling customers the time was not yet ripe to begin porting applications to 64-bit. So what's changed?
According to IDC analyst Roger Kay, it's a combination of Microsoft getting closer to finishing its Longhorn operating system, the completion of technologies like Intel's I/OAT and Virtualization, and AMD.
"Intel is obviously trying to fight back the advances of [AMD's] Opteron," Kay told internetnews.com.
Kay, who is also a member of the Longhorn beta process, said Microsoft must be closer than people give them credit for, based on the amount of activity discussed between mailing list servers.
"It used to be more sporadic when I'd get these requests to download a build and try it out. Now they are coming two or three at a time," Kay said.
While PC gamers cry out for 64-bit systems and help drive more adoption, Kay said another possible driving force in the transition is digital photography. The amount of computing power it takes nowadays to edit video or layer effects for photography is staggering, he said. Kay recounted a personal experience where he could not transfer or even play a video he uploaded to his PC because its 4 GB of memory was not enough.
Although Microsoft has abandoned its plans to develop separate versions of Windows XP for workstations, the No. 1 software vendor said it will continue supporting licensing policies that are based on processors and not on cores.
Gelsinger said although Intel is focused on Windows this week, the company will not be exclusive with its 64-bit development and will continue to add support to non-Windows operating systems, like Linux distributions from Novell and Red Hat.
This article was originally published on internetnews.com.