POWER USER

First Itanium machines will roll out before 64-bit Microsoft OS

John McCormick

We can all look forward this year to the arrival of an Intel Corp. microprocessor, the first in memory without a Microsoft Corp. operating system.

I'm not talking about the Pentium 4. The P4 chip is a faster, 2-GHz Pentium III with largely unsupported multimedia features. I'm excited about the long-delayed 64-bit Itanium. First scheduled for release in 1997, IA-64 might make the scene sometime before July.

MICROSOFT HAS ANNOUNCED that its workstation and server OS, code-named Whistler, will be its first software to fully support IA-64. But release of the final version isn't promised until the second half of this year. For more details, visit www.microsoft.com/windows2000/guide/platform/strategic/64bit.asp.

Many developers have had their hands on Itanium, and the holdup seems to be the motherboards. But some 64-bit Linux Itanium systems, including Dell PowerEdge servers, are already in the marketplace. Could this represent a real crack in Microsoft's armor?

Until now, Linux has had three things going for it: stability, price and no Microsoft connection. Now it supports a hot new Intel platform.

Microsoft's killer advantage has always been that its OSes came preinstalled on Intel platforms. Few administrators were willing to go to the trouble and expense of replacing such an OS.

Now we might have to wait at least six months before the new Intel platform will have a Microsoft OS. Itanium can emulate Pentium, but it has no native x86 code, implying an enormous performance loss for old software in emulation mode.

Meanwhile, Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., will bring out its 64-bit Hammer early next year with a twist. It will incorporate the legacy x86 code Itanium lacks.

The big plus for 64-bit microprocessors is that they can stuff in terabytes, not just gigabytes, of memory for gigantic caches and virtual memory.

I can't wait to see what sort of media software developers will use to distribute future office suites. With 2T of virtual memory available, I doubt even a DVD could hold Microsoft Office 2005.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at poweruser@mail.usa.com.

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