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During a Ziff Davis Media Inc. eSeminar on desktop prospects for 64-bit computing March 9, attendees wondered what they’d get from the advent of Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s AMD64 or Intel Corp.’s EM64T machines with their 64-bit superset of the familiar x86 platform.

Windows users at the seminar learned of Microsoft Corp.’s March 3 promise of a 64-bit Windows as early as next month, exploiting the improved security of 64-bit PCs.

Microsoft has rejected the possibility that its next major update, code-named Longhorn, might be offered only in 64-bit form—but Microsoft would clearly benefit from 64-bit CPUs’ ability to block sections of memory from being treated as executable code.

That “no-execute” feature will pose a substantial barrier to buffer overflow attacks, which continue to dominate security loophole listings.

On the whole, attendees did not seem to resent that Microsoft might therefore nudge them in the direction of buying a new machine:

Only 3 percent expected to be, in effect, forced to do so while gaining no real benefit.

On the other hand, attendees seemed to be in no hurry to make the 64-bit move.

To read more assessments from the 64-bit eSeminar, click here.

Fewer than 40 percent of them expected to reach a 64-bit tipping point, with most of their newly bought corporate desktop systems having 64-bit CPUs, before the end of next year—even though most of them hope to get meaningful benefits of greater capacity and speed in a broad range of applications .

Those expectations of benefits were almost evenly distributed among 32-bit performance improvements, 32-bit multisession capabilities, native 64-bit capacity for enterprise applications and native 64-bit capability for multimedia tasks.

The lead application expected to demand 64-bit resources was image and video editing, closely followed by data mining and visualization.

One-eighth of those responding to the corresponding poll put a Windows “compatibility box” at the head of their applications wish list.

This feature would let them move most applications to Linux while retaining a side-by-side Windows capability.

In the same way that 32-bit PCs built momentum by multitasking 16-bit DOS and Windows applications, so will 64-bit x86 PCs likely gain ground among power users with next-generation, multisession mojo.

Next Page: Compatibility crossfire.

Attendees wondered if they would be caught in a compatibility crossfire between Intel and AMD, asking what kind of cooperation they could hope to see between the latter’s AMD64 and the former’s largely imitative (and less throughput-optimized) EM64T (Extended Memory 64 Technology) architecture.

So far, it appears safe to say that 64-bit Windows software will run on both—because Microsoft has told Intel, in public, that AMD got there first and that Intel had better be compatible.

The incompatibilities that will exist between EM64T and AMD64, so far as eWEEK Labs can determine, will be similar to those between a Pentium III/4 and an Athlon XP.

For example, it seems likely that the rival CPU families will continue to use some different three-dimensional graphics extensions.

Other attendee questions concerning computing/TV convergence might presage a fundamental change in the PC business.

Click here to read more about Microsoft’s plans for 64-bit versions of its Windows client and server.

The home media server, wirelessly serving portable terminals throughout the house, starts to look both plausible and attractive when that shared device can virtualize multiple Windows or Linux sessions—while it also demodulates and delivers HDTV content via digital-wireless links to portable flat-panel displays.

What else will users do with 64-bit power? As 15 percent of the attendees replied to that poll question, “Something I won’t know I want until I see it.”

Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at

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