Microsoft delays server, 64-bit updates

Delays to Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Server SP1 and Windows Server 2003 for 64-bit Extended Systems mean enterprises will have to adjust IT planning accordingly. The Redmond, Wash.-based software firm’s new culture of security is the likely culprit, experts say.experts say.

What this means is that the timetable for widespread adoption of 64-bit computing will suffer a minor setback. According to Microsoft, release dates for Windows Server 2003 for 64-bit Extended Systems and Windows XP 64-bit Edition for 64-bit Extended Systems have been pushed back until the first half of 2005. The 64-bit Windows XP client was tentatively due in early 2004 but had already been delayed; the server software was due for a late 2004 launch.

The Windows service packs are designed to provide server software security and performance enhancements. Both releases are tied to the launch of XP SP2, a “significant” update to Windows XP released on Aug. 6, said Samm DiStasio, group product manager for Windows Server. XP2 updates the Internet Explorer Web browser with several security-setting modifications. SP1 is dependent on XP SP2 in that it will include server-relevant security technologies from Windows XP SP2, DiStasio said.

Stephen O’Grady, analyst for Bath, Me.-based research firm Redmonk, told ComputerWorld Canada that while recent delays are doing Microsoft no favours from a public relations perspective, “the end goal of producing more secure applications is ultimately more important.” In terms of IT spending, Microsoft’s principal difficulty is that while overall spending may not be dramatically affected, in some cases the product delays are giving rival products “windows of opportunity,” O’Grady said.

On the server side, Microsoft’s delays give competing operating systems a bigger head start on systems with 64-bit extensions, said Gordon Haff, a senior analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H. Linux already supports 64-bit extensions. Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Solaris will support 64-bit x86 chips by about the end of the year, when Solaris 10 becomes generally available, according to Sun.

“I would not say…that this opens a huge strategic hole for Microsoft, but at some point this hurts Microsoft’s position against Linux, against all the 64-bit platforms already out there,” Haff said. Windows Server 2003 SP1 will provide the basis for the 64-bit extensions releases (both Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP), Microsoft said. For new server installs, the Windows Firewall will be enabled during setup so the server is protected until it is fully configured and up to date with future patches. Also, SP1 will include a security configuration wizard to enable users to further specify enabled server roles based on the specific usage model.

Eddie Chan, a Toronto-based hardware research analyst for IDC Canada, said that while it is still considered practical only for enterprises that process large amounts of data and memory, Microsoft is pushing the timeframe for when 64-bit becomes the de facto standard. The new Windows editions use the 64-bit extensions to the standard x86 instruction set in processors from both Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) and Intel Corp. Analysts note that one benefit of 64-bit extension technology is that applications written for 32-bit computers will run well on the processors.

The 64-bit extensions are currently supported in AMD’s Athlon64 and Opteron processors, as well as Intel’s recently unveiled Xeon processor, code-named Nocona. The 64-bit systems can process more data per clock cycle and have greater access to memory.

That said, given the relatively slow ramp-up of Win 64-bit computing, it’s better for Microsoft to concentrate on getting things right. “The Wintel world is still really 32-bit,” said Warren Shiau, a software analyst at IDC Canada. “If we were seeing huge upticks in Wintel 64-bit adoption, repeated product delays could become a competitive issue, but that’s hypothetical.”

— with files from IDG News Service

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