Microsoft chairman and chief software architect


Microsoft will be shifting its products to 64-bit only beginning later this year, Bill Gates told more than 3,500 attendees at the company’s Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Seattle on Tuesday. It’s a clear message, starting on the server but moving down to the client over time, that 64-bit is pervasive and here to stay. [It] allows us to achieve record levels of performance that even more expensive machines can’t achieve.Bill Gates>Text

The Microsoft chairman and chief software architect also used his keynote at WinHEC to announce the availability of beta 2 releases of three major products: Microsoft’s latest and long-awaited operating system (OS) Windows Vista, its next office suite, Microsoft Office 2007, and Windows Server, codenamed Longhorn.

While the beta 2 of Windows Vista is available, the consumer version of the new OS could be pushed back past the stated January launch date, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said at a news conference in Tokyo.

The operating system was due to be launched this year but in March the company said it wouldn’t get broad release until January 2007. Ballmer said the planned January launch may slip further based on feedback from a beta release program and the product road-maps of hardware vendors.

“We think we are on track for shipping early in [2007],” the Microsoft CEO said. “We’ve talked about the month, but we get a chance to critically assess all of the feedback we’ll get from this beta release then confirm or move [the launch date] a few weeks. “We put the beta out today … so we should start getting feedback right away.”

Microsoft holds WinHEC to educate its partners on hardware requirements for its upcoming releases and its future roadmap, and obtain feedback on from hardware manufacturers. Gates said the company is taking advantage of processor advances from Intel and AMD to be even more ambitious in what its software can do, calling it a virtuous cycle of innovation.

“As the hardware advances it inspires us to be more ambitious and innovative with our software to take advantage of it,” said the Microsoft chairman said. “The innovation feeds on itself.”

Gates also said with the release of Exchange Server 2007 later this year all of Microsoft’s products, starting on the server side, would eventually be 64-bit only.

“It’s a clear message, starting on the server but moving down to the client over time, that 64-bit is pervasive and here to stay. [It] allows us to achieve record levels of performance that even more expensive machines can’t achieve.”

The next major shift, Gates predicted, would be to multicore processing. That shift is already happening on the hardware side, and Gates said Microsoft is investing heavily to re-architect its software to fully harness multicore.

“If we’re going to keep those cores working for the user and not just sitting idle it’s going to require some very innovative architectural work.”

Microsoft’s other major challenge is the expanding device ecosystem, from desktop PCs and laptops to tablets, handhelds and new form factor devices. Gates said the goal is to make it a seamless user experience across devices, and he said Microsoft is investing heavily in new synching technology.

“The PC is in no way standing still and that provides opportunity for all of us, but we need to make sure there are standards so all levels of the stack are working together,” said Gates.

Joel Martin, vice-president, enterprise software with IDC Canada in Toronto, said with Vista supporting both 32-bit and 64-bit natively there’s a clear migration path for enterprises to 64-bit processing.

“Obviously servers will be the first to move to 64-bit just because of the amount of data [they’re dealing with],” said Martin. “From an application and workload standpoint, once you start seeing 64-bit take off and being implemented at a server level, I imagine desktops will probably follow pretty quickly.”

Martin said he sees Windows Server Longhorn as the tipping point, as companies, when they deploy Longhorn, will likely deploy a 64-bit server solution. Once it’s proven on the server, he said, desktop migration will likely follow.

Martin said businesses revisiting their hardware roadmaps with the requirements for Windows Vista in mind should also look at 64-bit computing on the server and at the desktop for power users and at multicore processing, which he said will soon become the de facto standard for enterprise PCs.

To highlight how companies can benefit from Microsoft’s new software tools, Gates shared the stage briefly with Allen Nunns, general manager, global technology and strategy with oil company Chevron. Nunns said Chevron generates a great deal of data that needs to be analyzed and harnessed to make business decisions.

Chevron has more than two petabytes of data in its database, which is growing by two terabytes daily, making their biggest challenge data management.

They’ve been working with Microsoft since 1998, when Chevron rolled out Windows NT 4.0 as its global standard desktop. In 2003 – when it merged with Texaco, doubling the size of the company – Chevron migrated to Windows XP and introduced new collaboration tools like instant messaging.

“We really created a global community at that point,” said Nunns. “We’re really looking forward to the Vista management capabilities, particularly the laptop encryption, and the server benefits [with Longhorn].”


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