Goodbye Windows XP Professional x64 Edition
By dom on Jan 05, 2006
It's time to say "Farewell" to Windows XP Professional x64 Edition. When I bought my Acer Ferrari 4000 Laptop, it seemed the obvious choice - have 64 bit AMD processor; buy 64 bit operating system. I also have Solaris and Suse Linux on the laptop so why do I need XP? Well, I'm doing benchmarking on Windows so it helps to have a sandpit to develop stuff but I have to protect myself in the face of those anxious to promote Solaris on the desktop (i.e the other 400 people in this building) by repeating this mantra.
Many things work OK on XP 64-bit as you would expect; Macromedia Flash, Mozilla, NetBeans, OpenOffice, Quicktime, even more arcane things: PostgreSQL, R, Ptolemy, Vim. So in general, binary compatability was fine, at the application level.
However there was a list of things that just didn't; some didn't attempt to install; some got to the end of the install and then showed their disdain for their new home; some installed but would not run.
Most spooky of all was Microsoft's Windows Utilities for Unix. This is developed for the server market so you would think...but no. Also, there is no Realplayer for x64 or any sign of there being one in the near future; you have to make do with a similar but less functional alternative.
There are no drivers for my scanner - a very popular HP model. This was when doubt began to set in. If these are not available from HP, is there a real problem? Yes of course there is. Yes of course there isn't. ("You work for who?") Solaris got around this when it moved to 64-bit in Solaris 7; it was 64-bit but retained the 32-bit framework and loaded appropriately; also if you didn't like one flavour of addressing, you could simply boot into the other.
Microsoft could have gone down this road but haven't and the reasons are not hard to guess. Many if not most of the drivers in that world are written by 3rd parties and also there are good business reasons for a firm distinction between the 32 and 64 bit products. Its also only fair to say that take-up of Solaris 7 within the installed base was not immediate by any means (Y2K forced the pace eventually) so looked at in those terms, Microsoft are simply where Sun were, about 8 years ago.
Continuing on down the list, I thought the new XP was responsible for the failure of Apple's iTunes to make contact with the iTunes store site. In fact hundreds of new iPod owners thought the same and mused about firewalls, virus protection software and all manner of other possible barriers to their enjoyment on Apple's self-help forum (note singular absence of input from Apple!). Amusingly it never dawned on any of these people (and I'm sure Apple would never admit to the notion) that as it was December 25th and the whole world had just unwrapped their new Christmas present and installed the software, eager to make their first iTunes purchase. The iTunes site might just have gone completely and utterly tits-up and be refusing any further custom due insufficient advertance to IT capacity planning on the part of its owners (who are, er, an IT company). Its one possible explanation but I'm sure Apple can provide a more rational one.
I had already predicted the final nail in the coffin when the HP scanner drivers failed to exist. If Cisco's VPN drivers were not available, I would not be able to work from home; there's not much point in having a laptop if you have to leave it at the office - and VPN drivers are pretty low level stuff and might take a while to write and test. The good news is I will be able to work from home. The bad news is it won't be until the courier van turns up with a shiny new copy of the 32 bit version of Windows XP.
It would be tempting to reiterate the advice given to those contemplating marriage ("Don't.") but the actual moral of the story is that drivers in this world don't ship with dual 32/64 frameworks as Solaris did and you can't just reboot your way from one world to the other - if you wish to go down the XP x64 Edition route, take advantage of the evaluation program and make use of the repository of drivers at PlanetAMD64. What I really hope is that the vendors will co-package the 32-bit and 64 bit versions and detect appropriately at install time (or even runtime). Chances?
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