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Ramblings of a 64 bit Desktop User

Now that I have taken some time to feel how someone deals with a 64 bit desktop, I have certain “confidence” to write about this. Of course, this is only my experience and, obviously, doesn't pretend to be a universal opinion. The following notes and comments refer mainly to Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit.

First of all, it's safe, usable and seems mature enough. The drivers diversity is more than acceptable and, finally, you  take advantage of the hardware you have purchased for.

Anyway, I thank Microsoft to take care about backwards compatibility and let (user space) 32 bit applications run seamlessly. Unfortunately, here is where things start to get “a little bit” difficult. In fact, if one user lacks of certain IT expertise or doesn't have access to third party support, his/her experience can become certainly annoying.

As far as I can remember, we have been running Windows 64 bit systems for 8 years. It is amazing to look at the amount of software that haven't even started a transition to 64 bit. The complexity degree of the ecosystem doesn't make things easier. Think on how many dependencies you have with Add-Ons, Plug-Ins, connectors, adapters, providers, components, libraries, ActiveX controls, Internet Explorer versions, etc.

It is a very complex landscape, indeed. I don't know if you already have started this journey or not. In any case, this is my “List of Surprises”. Please, note that this is a complex topic and changes, and even my own mistakes, may easily change this list. So, please, if you see something that should be corrected, just let me know.

Web Browsing

  1. Windows ships with two versions of Internet Explorer side-by-side: a 32 and a 64-bit ones. You are expected to know which one to use in every case…
  2. You have to install both 32 and 64 bit versions of Java Run-time Environment. Each one will be used on the right browser.
  3. Flash Player is a is a 32-bit only application. This force you to use a 32-bit browser.This is true for all other Adobe browser plug-ins.
  4. Adobe AIR is a 32 bit run-time. Accordingly, AIR applications like Twhirl, are also 32 bit.
  5. SilverLight is a 32-bit only application. This force you to use a 32-bit browser.
  6. FireFoxis a 32-bit only application.
    • There is an unofficial port that I didn't try out. To make things “fancier”, the only ¿official? reference I've found delays native 64 bit support to version 4.0.
    • If you happen to migrate to 64 bit, you will have to review all your Add-Ons and Plug-Ins and, just in case you find one that is is “32-bit only” and you depend/rely, you will be stuck in the 32-bit world until that component gets migrated.
  7. Google Chromeis a 32-bit only application.
    1. There is a nice discussion about this topic on the Chrome Support Forums.
    2. Managing Add-On and Plug-In dependencies follows the same pattern followed by FireFox.
  8. Skype is a 32-bit only application. Again, if you use the Browser integration features, it will force you to switch back to a 32-bit browser.
  9. Windows Live Essentials are native 32-bit only applications. Again, if you use the Browser integration features, it will force you to switch back to a 32-bit browser.
  10. Other Browser Toolbars and Add-ons. This is a hole universe by itself. In fact, on this particular subject, I try to be as minimalistic as I can: your browser will thank you with Speed and Reliability ;-D. My bet, in any case, is that all this artifacts are all 32-bit. Of course, I can be wrong.

I've started with the browsing experience because we all know that browsing is a memory and process intensive task. Today web sites are full of interaction and multimedia elements (AJAX, video, feeds, etc.)… 64-bit has a tremendous impact on all this areas.

In fact, given that modern browsers implement tabs, multi-process and multi-engine architectures (just remember Coral IE Tab and Chrome View in FireFox, for example)… Why don't care about 64 bit transition? Why don't we have 32 bit and 64 bit tabs side-by-side? Why don't we have automatic 32 bit dependency detection and a fall-back facility from 64 bit to 32 bit? Do we, as end users, still need to know which one to use? Of course, it's always easy to make questions. I know. It may be hard to implement … but a tabbed multi-process and multi-engine Internet Explorer is here… Actually, is it that difficult?

Enterprise Experiences

  1. Cisco VPN Client. If your company is stuck to version 4.x, you won't have a 64 bit support.
  2. Support for Internet Explorer 8 and old 32-bit ActiveX and Components on Enterprise Web Applications.
    • This will mostly depend on how Software Life Cycles are managed within your company.
    • Relationships with Third Parties like Customers and Suppliers also tend to constrain the degree of Legacy Applications you will have to deal with.
    • Internet Explorer 6 is still a driving force in many companies.
    • The nature of the affected application does matter. If you bump into this issue with an LoB application, it hurts. But, when the Legacy application is the Certificate Enrollment Website the consequences can be “uncountable”.
  3. Office 2010 and the Windows Mobile Device Center.
    • This has been one of my biggest surprises. Even though Windows Mobile Device Center is delivered with Windows, it is not a full 64 bit application. Some 32-bit components remain there. You can find a nice description of this issue on the TechNet Office 2010 Forums. As you can imagine, if you want to synchronize your mobile devices with Office, you will have to install the 32 bit version of Office.
    • The problem seems to lay on Windows Mobile Device Center. Therefore, even though I didn't try Office 2007 64 bit, I guess it should behave in exactly the same way…
  4. The world of Office Add-ins.
    • As Browser Toolbars and Add-Ons, this is a hole universe. There are many Business Solutions that use Office as a Platform to deliver their services.
    • This time, Office makes extensive use of .NET. So, you may be lucky, be platform agnostic and run nicely inside a 64 bit environment. Nevertheless, I think most cases will depend on some 32-bit component: .NET 1.x is itself a 32-bit-only platform. Of course, I can be wrong.
    • Again, being minimalistic on this area is good for your Office Performance and Reliability.
  5. Office Communicator 2007 R2 is still a 32 bit application.
  6. PowerShell and the Jet Database Engine.
    • I found this issue while testing NMTools on 64 bit systems. It looks like this engine will not be ported to 64 bit as long as it has been replaced by the Microsoft Access Connectivity Engine (ACE).
    • Consequently, every application that depends on Access 2003 databases (.mdb) and use the Jet Database Engine will run as 32 bit processes.
  7. FreeWare and Open Source.

The case of Microsoft Products deserve a particular note. From an end user perspective, this lack of coherence it's harder to understandOffice Communicator, Windows Live Essentials, and, over all, SilverLight and Windows Mobile Device Center

Even the Common Engineering Criteria, being an effort on the right direction, I'm not sure whether it covers this topic with the required level of detail or not. Unfortunately, devil lives in details.

To be fair, it is true that most of these issues come from third parties and legacy software. I should aso admit that CEC doesn't show this level of detail in public and I can't know if Microsoft is managing this issues internally and if they are achieving some positive progress.

Anyway, it is year 2010. It's been 8 years, or more, since the 64 bit journey has started and we are still on the way. Amazing, don't you think so?


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Except where otherwise noted, ThinkInBig by Carlos Veira Lorenzo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Published in IT Infrastructure System Management Technology