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With Windows 7 imminent and 64 bit capable hardware more common, many people are wondering if it's time to make the switch to 64 bits with Windows 7.
My computer has the 32 bit version of Vista Home Premium on it. I've ordered Windows 7 Professional. My computer is actually capable of handling 64 bits. Should I install Windows 7's 64 bit version, or stick with 32 bits when the new software arrives?
This is actually a fine question, and one that I've been struggling with myself. My primary desktop machine is currently running 32 bit Windows XP, my laptop is running 32 bit Windows Vista, but both are quite capable of running 64bit operating systems, and in doing so perhaps using up to 8 gigabytes of RAM.
It's lucrative, at least for me.
I'll walk through my thinking, the steps I plan to take, and the one major roadblock that was removed for me just this week.
My concern, as usual, is all about compatibility - more specifically device compatibility, along with some software.
Until recently I'd planned on sticking with the 32 bit version because I knew that one of the tools that I rely on - Parallels for Windows - explicitly did not support 64 bit platforms. Parallels is the virtual machine technology I rely on to run other operating systems - including Windows 7, Vista and Ubuntu - within Windows XP.
This week Parallels announced Parallel's Desktop 4 for Windows (at this writing it's not yet on their web site). Not only does it support 64 bit platforms, but it does so in both directions: for example I'm running 64 bit Windows Vista in a virtual machine on my 32 bit Windows XP machine, and I'll similarly be able to run both 32 and 64 bit virtual machines after I upgrade to 64 bit Windows.
For me, using virtual machines is an important way to be able to run, test and play with different operating systems without having to dedicate a machine to each, or perform some time consuming backup and restore each time I want to switch. Now that I know it's available, I'm more likely to make the 64 bit switch when I install Windows 7.
I use that scenario as an example for two reasons:
You may have software that you rely on that will not work in 64 bit Windows. To be clear, most applications will work just fine - Windows 64 includes 32 bit backward compatibility for programs, just as 32 bit Windows contained 16 bit backwards compatibility until recent years. However, some applications - typically special purpose applications like Parallels - may not work, or may not work as expected in a 64 bit environment. You'll need to do a little research.
Virtual machines might actually be an answer! Windows 7 is already coming with a "Windows XP mode", which as I understand it is nothing more than Microsoft's own virtual machine technology running Windows XP within Windows 7. If you do have an application that is for whatever reason problematic in 64 bits, running it in a 32 bit virtual machine might (I do have to stress might) be a viable solution.
The other area of concern is hardware compatibility. Hardware vendors need to update their drivers for 64 bits, and some have not. Hopefully, more and more will over time, but it's the most likely area of concern, particularly for older machines. Hardware vendors will of course focus their efforts on newer hardware and are less likely to provide updated drivers for their older equipment.
Personally, I'm hoping that my printers and other devices will work. But since it's only a hope, I'll be making that leap to 64 bits very carefully. In short that means:
The good news is that I hear regularly from many people who are running 64 bit Vista with few problems. Since that's been out for a while I think it bodes well for the possibilities of Windows 7 64 bit also working well.
But clearly the compatibility issues you may or may not run into will vary on a case by case basis.
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