PC World confused about Bitness

Steve Fox wrote an article for the November 2009 issue of PC World called “Will Windows 7 Leave Users Champing at the Bits?” It’s been a long time since this magazine has had technical content. This article is confusing to readers, whiny, and ill-informed.

Fox claims that Windows 7 will “shake up the computing landscape in ways that Windows Vista didn’t” by begging upgrade decisions and selling lots of PCs. One of Vista’s major problems at its launch was incompatibility with existing hardware because of the changed driver model, and the failure of Microsoft to work with vendors early enough to get new drivers in the pipeline. When hardware vendors didn’t write Vista drivers, they brought lots of their peripherals and components to end-0f-life, and provided Vista support for the newest hardware. Users had to upgrade, and they felt it was terrible to trash equipment that was only a couple years old, still working, and simply inoperable with Vista.

Windows 7 doesn’t have this problem, and doesn’t force users to upgrade. Releases of Windows have historically been coupled to increased hardware sales, however.

The author says that 64-bit computing is a “brave and zippy new world” but doesn’t describe the tangible benefits of 64-bit operating systems when compared to 32-bit systems. While the author does acknowledge that 64-bit systems have more addressable memory, he doesn’t explain how this helps anyone.  He says that some of the “systems power goes to waste” when running a 64-bit capable machine with a 32-bit operating system, but it’s really just potential that goes unused. And for the majority of applications today, the extra memory isn’t really that important.

Somehow, the author predicts that users installing 64-bit versions of  Windows 7 will “probably have problems with device drivers”, but offers no evidence to support this assertion. Such an extraordinary claim certainly needs some support if it is to be taken credibly.

Quizzically, the author says that he’s disappointed that Windows 7 64-bit won’t install as an upgrade from 32-bit versions. But he points out in his own article that a hardware upgrade is needed–since many older machines don’t support 64-bit computing, they wont’ run the 64-bit OS. And because they probably don’t have more than three or four gigabytes of memory, they won’t see any benefit from Win64.

While Vista shipped a very viable 64-bit edition, the author claims that we’re “stuck in 64-bit land” for the time being and still at least one generation away from “a common 64-bit experience”. It’s not clear what that “common experience” really is, or why it is at all important. Fox ends the article with a call to action for users to “make noise” about 64-bit machines, and to “agitate for change”. This cry goes out without any explanation of the resulting benefits. After all, won’t we just have driver problems” if we try to use 64-bit versions of  Windows, as this author claims?

The author says that one of their test machines—an overclocked Core i7-920 machine—would have torn through 64-bit applications. But they didn’t run 64-bit applications because their benchmark suite doesn’t support them. Fox should have started with his own organization, it seems. And if they did have a 64-bit version of the suite, a direct comparison would’ve been possible. This would either support his own point, or demonstrate that the improvements really aren’t beneficial for corporate desktop users.

Steve Fox’s article is full of weakly-supported assertions and terribly reasoned arguments, a pinch of nonsense, and calls readers to rally around a vague cause with no clear benefit. I’m not sure why PC World publishes such pieces.







One response to “PC World confused about Bitness”

  1. GregM Avatar

    Authors that are still claiming that 64-bit device drivers are hard to come by are certainly living in a past. The argument held up with Vista’s early life, but even as time passed things improved pretty quickly – from my own experiences anyway!

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