WinHEC: Microsoft’s last 32-bit Server – 64-bit only from now on…

A WinHEC this week, Microsoft (confusingly at times) made comments about the future of 32-bit operating systems.

It seems that Windows Server 2008 (previously code-named “Longhorn”) will be the last server OS to come in 32-bit editions (as well as the new 64-bit editions).  In fact, even the R2 (due 2009/2010) may be 64-bit only.

There was some confusion over an announcement that made it sound like Vista will be the last 32-bit OS for the desktop, but this was apparently clarified – they were not saying that.  That doesn’t mean it wont happen of course…

Many desktop computers bought in the last year or two may actually be 64-bit capable, but still have the 32-bit edition of XP or Vista on them, but even 4 years from now, introducing a new OS that wont run on 32-bit machines bought today would likely be a mistake, especially since so many drivers aren’t available for 64-bit.  The average developer –  the early adopting supporter and promoter – can’t be relied upon to promote 64-bit since many developer tools aren’t natively supported.

Anyway, back to servers…

Unless you’re a financial, insurance or communications company rich in cash, a change to 64-bit servers is the kind of change you may consider at the end of a leasing period, so it may take 3 years for adoption to trickle through.

The switch to 64-bit will likely occur an a role-priority basis, probably with mail and database servers first: Exchange Server 2007 already requires a 64-bit edition of Windows Server 2003.  I’m curious to learn if this has stalled take-up of the product.  This also doesn’t help customer-adoption of Microsoft’s Unified Communication strategy I imagine (see my upcoming post on that). 

I can see domain controllers moving up last unless an organisation can make significant WAN-based Active Directory replication gains to be made from the new features in 2008.

Windows Server 2008 also does away with separate builds for single and multi-processor.  Apparently the optimisations for single processor aren’t worth it anymore.

Going 64-bit, breaks the 4GB directly addressable space barrier.  The need to go 64-bit can also be simply related to the population of the planet (which is estimated at over 6 billion, over the 4 billion that 32-bits can represent), pushing the need for larger databases and identifiers.  The same can be said about IPv4 addresses (and they can’t even use the whole range).

If you are thinking about buying new server equipment this year, you may want to think about at least getting 64-bit capable machines.

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Microsoft’s Mobile World Strategy at WinHEC

In his WinHEC keynote (at 07:00), Craig Mundie (Microsoft’s Cheif Research and Strategy Officer) talked about the fact that in ‘ermerging market’ countries, the main computer that millions do have, is a mobile phone.

He showed a video of a Windows Mobile phone playing audio and allowing illiterate individuals to seek services through icon choices, e.g. getting help dealing with a child’s medical symptoms.

Note that he talked about ’emerging market’ countries, rather than ‘developing’ countries, but I still don’t think it’s realistic to think that hoardes of people can afford a Windows Mobile phone but are still illiterate, so goverment or remote funding would likely be required.  In fact, he illustrated (with a pyramid) a view of the richest 1 billion people (that have computers), the 2 billion that has limited disposable incoming, and the 3 billion that do need government or agency sponsored programs, all under the umbrella of something called “Microsoft Unlimited Potential” (complete with local and slogan).

Craig’s keynote was quite dry and there wasn’t really anything too novel or far future-looking from Microsoft Research; in fact the first half of his speech was mostly about application and strategy.

While there was talk about medical assistance for other markets, this keynote really seemed like Microsoft airing it’s idea for how it can get to the 2 billion (who largely have mobile phones that are not Windows-based, but were having an interoperable Windows-based device could bring new activities) and the 3 billion where perhaps medical needs could justify getting a Windows-based phone in were there is still the opportunity to compete from a fresh start.

Remember, while this may sound like a cynical view, Microsoft is a publically traded company looking to increase stock price which often means growing its market reach, and Craig is the Strategy guy.  While it would have made for a cooler keynote, we aren’t ready for Windows SpaceCraft edition yet, especially when it’s proving so hard for Microsoft to penetrate into the automobile market (but I wish they would).

UMPC and Tablet PC mobile goodness at WinHEC

For some reason, whenever Microsoft launches a new wave of non-PC form factors, it’s websites do a terrible job of pointing to the available hardware and how to buy one.  The sites are seldom updated with the latest hardware as it’s released.

Take for example Pocket PC Phone devices.  Go to Microsoft browsing site.  If you live in the US, you are immediately limited, largely because you are presented with what the carriers carry.  I buy most of mine through Expansys which can get me pretty much any device from Europe (where there’s always more choice) and yet the Microsoft sites seem to dutifully segment customers in a way that effectively limits choice to the uninformed.  HTC isn’t listed as a brand, and yet not only are they the original manufacturer for a huge proportion of carrier-badged Windows Mobile device, but they do sell their own brand – browse for HTC at Expansys and pick the appropriate country.

Back to the UMPC.  Take a look at the Microsoft UMPC site – click on the Hardware link at the bottom of the left-hand list.  You get to see just two devices and they are from the earlier round!

So here are some of the new devices that Bill Gates showed during the WinHEC keynote – see around 11:40 (video) and 13:00 (on stage) into his keynote video)

  • Fujitsu FMV-U8240
  • HTC Shift
  • Samsung Q1 Ultra (which is a horrible name since the previous one was just the Samsung Q1 and Ultra is the first world of UMPC so you’ll likely see the old model mixed into the results if you search for the new model)

These devices have varying availability.  On the surface, I’m inclined to look at the Shift because of the keyboard versatility and I’ve had plenty of HTC devices.  I also have a Fujitsu Tablet PC however, and that’s lasted quite nicely.  The Samsung Q1 was not cheap and I’m not sure about the split thumbing keypad – althrough it may actually be the most practical.  Having HSPDA built in, may also be a great plus.

You’ll probably want to consider things like:

  • Does it run Vista Aero?
  • Does it have built in 3/3.5G?
  • What Wifi spec does it have?
  • How long does the battery last?
  • How big is the screen and what resolution is it?

Bear in mind that none of these devices is likely to be that much cheaper than a regular notebook.

A number of new Tablet PCs were also shown on stage and in video.  I recall seeing the Gateway E-155c and E-295c.  There was also an official-sounding video from Dell posted yesterday to confirm rumours that they will have a Tablet PC coming later this year (but no specs). 

In a new Tablet PC I’m looking for these things (in no particular order):

  • Windows Vista with Aero
  • Convertible
  • Windows SideShow (which may be difficult wiring-wise with the convertible hinge)Widescreen
  • LED-backlit
  • Windows ReadyDrive-capable HDD
  • 6+ hours of battery life with standby swap capability
  • Pen and touch interface

I’m beginning to wonder if a UMPC would do it for me at home, rather than a full-blown tablet.

Tablet PC needs to push into the mainstream such that all notebooks at least have the pen and touch digitizers (and the stylus) – this isn’t as easy as it sounds though.

UMPC seems to be stepping up with specs, but battery life and price is still not there on the 2nd generation.  I think they do make a great round-the-house ad-hoc computer with the full power of Windows.