Microsoft: Nearly Half of Windows 7 installations are 64 bit

Today Microsoft announced on the Windows Team Blog that Windows 7 is starting the migration to 64 bit ubiquity. The OS which recently hit the 150 million milestone mark has a 46% market share when it comes to its 64 bit variant.

As of June 2010, we see that 46% of all PCs worldwide running Windows 7 are running a 64-bit edition of Windows 7. That is, nearly half of all PCs running Windows 7 are running 64-bit. Compared to Windows Vista at 3 and a half years after launch, only 11% of PCs running Windows Vista worldwide are running 64-bit. With Windows 7, running a 64-bit OS is becoming the norm.

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My migration to 64 bit started in April 2005 when Microsoft introduced Windows XP Professional x64. It was surprisingly a smooth experience even back then, although I didn’t see the immediate benefits since 64 bit at the time was more of a technically targeted solution for engineers, scientist, large SQL databases and gamers who needed the unique benefits such as the ability address larger amounts of memory than its 32 bit counterpart (Windows 7 64 bit supports up to 192 GBs of RAM while Windows 7 32 bit supports 3.2 GBs). 64 bit Windows Server has seen great successes so much so that its most recent release of Windows Server, 2008 R2 is exclusively 64 bit. Some of the early pain points of running 64 bit Windows have vanished over the past 4 years, I remember basic functionality like contextual menu extensions, or programs that needed to access low levels of the OS such as Anti-virus utilities were initially big blockers for main stream adoption. Back then you still had a lot of applications that were developed to work specifically on older operating systems such as Windows 95, even some programs that were considered 32 bit used 16 bit installers could not work on 64 bit Windows. I remember participating in the Microsoft Windows 64 bit Public Community back in 2005 too along with a fun group of eager enthusiast, really an exciting time.

A lot of credit goes to AMD who in the fall of 2003 introduced the first x86-x64 micro-processor that allowed users to transition smoothly to this new architecture. You could still run your 32 bit applications without having them re-written to work. Unlike previous efforts to bring 64 bit computing to the mainstream such as the Alpha and Itanium for which Microsoft released variants of the Windows OS the x86-x64 extensions really proved to be a way better approach. The mainstream for 64 bit Windows never really started until Windows Vista’s introduction in January 2007. I started testing early 64 bit builds of the OS on my system back in February 2006 when build 5308 was made available. A year later I got a system with 64 bit Windows Vista preinstalled and used it exclusively ever since, I later on got a desktop PC in 2008 with Windows Vista 64 bit which I have since upgraded to 64 bit versions Windows 7. I have never encountered any of the early compatibility issues that some might have experienced when Windows XP Professional x64 came to market in 2005. I still have my main desktop running Windows 7 32 bit, but this a limitation of the processor which can only run x86 instructions, but its running great.

64 bit Windows has pretty much been mainstream for me. I also notice the performance benefits too, the stability and performance of running lots of applications at the same time, such as running a AV scan in the background, watching YouTube, working on documents, chatting, playing music, even gaming (although I am not much of a gamer) or searching across my home network. It opens up so many new possibilities, and the industry is slowly but surely going there. Microsoft recently brought its family of Office applications to full 64 bit compatibility, for an intensive app such as Outlook, you can expect an even higher level of stability and compatibility, number crunchers who work in Excel can also see major benefits when working on larger workbooks. I even notice key benefits when working with the new PowerPoint 2010 and video, especially when reordering a lot of slides, 64 bit came in very handy. Most of the third party applications that are 64 bit still remain in the technical realm, I am hoping Office 2010 will change this and encourage more support from third party ISVs although the majority of 32 bit programs work just fine on 64 bit Windows. Still there are some industry favorites users can find 64 bit versions for, these include Adobe Photoshop CS5, Adobe Premier CS5, Adobe After Effects CS5, AutoDesk AutoCAD to name a few. There are also some key technical benefits when using 64 bit Windows too that were first introduced with Windows XP Professional x64 and Vista 64 bit:

Data Execution Prevention (DEP) – when combined with 64 bit capable processors, it protects your computer against buffer overflow attacks, this additional layer of security used with effective security solutions such as Antivirus utility provides a confident PC experience.

Kernel patch protection – This helps protect against programs that attempt patch the Windows Kernel. It improves the reliability of Windows by helping to disable undocumented and unsupported kernel hooks. Undocumented kernel hooks can cause reliability and performance issues and can add potential security issues to the system as well.

Driver Signing – All kernel mode drivers must be signed on 64 bit Windows 7 systems. Digital signing provides identity as well as integrity for code. A kernel module that is corrupt or has been subject to tampering will not load. Any driver that is not properly signed cannot enter the kernel space and will fail to load.

Certainly, there is no better time to be using 64 bit Windows, even if you are still running legacy applications that work on 32 bit versions of Windows only, then you can start evaluating solutions such as Windows Virtual PC with Windows XP Mode, which allow you to seamlessly run applications designed for earlier versions of Windows on Windows 7 while taking advantage of the current and next generation benefits and transitioning at your own pace.

Are you running 64 bit Windows, if so, what are your thoughts?

Resources: Windows 7 Ultimate 32 and 64 bit Review Windows Server 2008 R2 Review Microsoft Office Professional 2010 Review Microsoft Windows XP x64 Edition: Year in Review

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