Gates Promises Speedy Transition To 64-Bit Windows

Speaking in Seattle at the Microsoft Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2005, Gates also highlighted advancements such as the next-generation Windows operating system, code-named Longhorn, which is slated to be available at the end of 2006.

There were few surprises in Gates' keynote or the first public demonstration of Longhorn on Monday, as Microsoft Group Vice President Of Platforms Jim Allchin had just wrapped up a two-week road show that highlighted much of the same material.

Gates said Windows x64 and Longhorn are two key advancements for Windows and represent milestones in the platform's 20-year history.

"This is the decade of greatest importance [for Windows] and one, therefore, of the greatest competition and greatest opportunity," Gates said. "That's why you see us putting record levels of R&D into the Windows operating system."

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One new feature in Longhorn unveiled Monday is Metro, a graphics platform built atop XML that enables documents to be replicated, viewed and printed in any format, said Arvind Mishra, a Microsoft product manager. Metro, which will be the native spool file format for Longhorn, also will be distributed royalty-free to the developer community.

Gates' promise of a quick transition to 64-bit Windows is a dubious bet for Microsoft, which is known for product delays and taking its time to upgrade its software. For instance, when first announced in 2003, Longhorn was expected to be released this year, but the general availability for the OS has since been pushed all the way back until the end of next year, with Longhorn's first beta to come this summer.

Still, Gates said the current move from 32-bit to 64-bit Windows should be fairly smooth, even though he admitted that previous Windows memory transitions--such from 8-bit to 16-bit and from 16-bit to 32-bit--were "messy."

"This is going to be, among these transitions, the simplest one there has been, and it's going to happen far more rapidly than any of the others," Gates said.

Microsoft on Monday released 64-bit versions of Windows 2003 and Windows XP Professional. Expected later this year is release two of Windows Server 2003, with a Compute Cluster Edition for high-performance computing available shortly thereafter, Gates said.

The ability to run 32-bit and 64-bit applications simultaneously on x64 Windows will help pave the way for x64 Windows support, with server applications ramping up before client-side apps, Gates said. Database-oriented and terminal services applications will be the first to move to 64-bit Windows, with hosting, directory and other applications to follow, he added. "On the client, it will take more time," he said.

Also in his keynote, Gates showed off a prototype of a new PC, which is called the Ultramobile 2007 internally at Microsoft. He said it's one of a next generation of small form-factor PCs that will drive the future of digital information and communications.

The Ultramobile 2007, or "the Nth PC," as Gates dubbed such devices, will cost less than $1,000 and weigh around 1 pound to 2 pounds, with an all-day battery life, he said. He didn't specify when such a device would become available.

"The new form factors will make a big difference," Gates said. "The new experience of Longhorn will make digital activities far more mainstream than they've ever been."