Microsoft has laid out plans to add 64-bit extensions to Windows NT that will let users host huge databases on the enterprise operating system.
The 64-bit extensions to the Win32 API -- which will ship with Cairo in 1997 -- will add muscle to users' servers because applications will be able to load more than 2Gb of data in memory.
But native 64-bit applications will still not be able to run on NT.
Some observers say Microsoft's plans to add extensions, rather than rewrite the OS for 64-bit processors, could mean the company is paying lip service to the very high end of the application market.
"There's so much smoke and mirrors around the whole 64-bitness issue," says Michael Goulde, senior consultant with Patricia Seybold Group, in Boston. "The vendors have to 'fess up: Either it's 64 bits or it's a kludge."
However, another analyst says Microsoft is doing its developers a favour by offering improved performance and loading a lot of data in memory without introducing a new API set to learn. Moreover, users won't have to rewrite existing 32-bit Windows applications.
"The advantage is it's a minimum impact for programmers," says Philip Johnson, an analyst at International Data, in Mountain View, California.
Digital Equipment will work with Microsoft on testing, consulting and providing tools such as 64-bit compilers, according to officials at both companies.
The upgrade will initially run on Digital's Alpha processor but will also be available for other chip architectures that run Windows NT when these processors climb to 64 bits, company officials say.
Yet one market Microsoft is targeting with this enhancement -- the database market -- most likely will stay faithful to the current and upcoming 64-bit Unix implementations, Johnson says.
"The place where Unix has been rather successful in selling the 64-bit message is large databases," Johnson says.
"NT is continuing to move toward Unix capabilities at the enterprise level, but I think you'll find Unix" the platform of choice for large databases, Johnson says.
Unix vendors are already converting their operating systems to 64-bit architectures.
SunSoft and the Santa Cruz Operation-Hewlett-Packard alliance are planning 64-bit implementations of their OSes.
SunSoft has already incorporated a number of features into Solaris, and plans to release a fully 64-bit implementation of its Unix OS in early 1998, according to SunSoft officials.
SCO and HP are slated to release in 1998 their 64-bit Summit 3D OS, which will merge HP-UX, UnixWare, SCO Open Server, and NetWare.