Going 64-Bit, Revisited

In my last post I expressed my frustration with HP’s lack of 32-bit OS support on a laptop purchased by one of my clients.  I received some constructive criticism on that post that I think deserves special attention.

ArunHorne Expands my Vocabulary: “Luddism!”

A user name ArunHorne on Dzone made the following comment:

If you are arguing that manufacturers should not have switched to 64-bit operating systems this is Luddism to the extreme. If you really need to use a 32-bit OS you could always try something like VMWare to run legacy software.

My post wasn’t intended as a rant against 64-bit technology. Obviously my style of writing needs some adjustment because I didn’t get the point across that I was trying to make.  I did try to make it clear that I was talking specifically about the lack of 64-bit support for software and devices used in niche markets such as that of my customer, a hearing specialist.

I’m all for moving ahead with 64-bit architecture, and I don’t think I made a case against it in my article.  I simply live in a reality where I (and my customers) cannot embrace the 64-bit revolution.  My complaint was that HP has locked us in to using a 64-bit operating system on a laptop that should have no problem supporting a 32-bit OS.

JP Says: We Got Exactly What We Paid For

A reader named JP made the following comment:

So, the technology should not evolve because there are some legacy applications out there? If the laptop had windows vista 64 bit as advertised (and they DO advertise it), it is a well known fact that you won’t have 16 bit support. Its not like there aren’t any laptops with xp or vista 32 bit. So, if someone made an ignorant choice, now is the manufacturer’s fault?

Btw most of these issues can easily be solved using vmware, virtualbox or something like it. If the laptop’s cpu has VT support, a vm will be a lot faster than a 4 or 5 year-old computer.

Should Legacy Applications Hold Back Technology?

Certainly not.  However on behalf of my clients and as the person who supports them I have to ask: how is this our choice? Again my complaint was never with changing technology, it was with the fact that HP was locking us in to a 64-bit operating system when many industries have yet to adopt it.

The Customer Knowingly Bought 64-Bit

JP makes a good point: the OS that an OEM system runs is advertised in it’s description and so we can’t plead false advertising regarding the purchase.

Had the client asked me to select a laptop for them this system would have been red-flagged and there never would have been an issue. Unfortunately I can’t stop anyone from making a bad purchase if they don’t ask for my advice ahead of time; I can only help remedy the situation after the fact.

Again, HP said they would not support the laptop if we installed a 32-bit OS (which the hardware supports).  Why should installing an operating system 100% compatible with the hardware I’m installing it on to void my warranty? Fans of Linux and other open source operating systems should be very scared of this line of thinking.

Another point to be made is that 64-bit versus 32-bit means nothing to the average consumer unless they have memories of the video game console wars where we all just assumed that “more bits is better.” Even if my client had read “Vista Home Basic 64-Bit Edition” they wouldn’t have had a clue what it meant.

Virtualization as a Solution

JP as well as other users posed virtualization as a solution to this issue.  It was noted that I could easily use VMWare, VirtualBox or VirtualPC to run a 32-bit OS on top of the 64-bit operating system.  Taking only the technology involved into consideration this is certainly one possible solution, however there are other factors involved.

The first kink in this plan is that my clients are not technically inclined individuals and don’t have full or even part-time IT support.  I come around about once a month to help with IT issues, so adding the (what we might consider minimal) complexity of virtualization software and a second operating system on top of a technology they already find a little confusing isn’t a viable option for either one of us.

The second issue is that, from my understanding of Microsoft’s EULA, they’d have to pay for a second Windows license to run the OS under the virtual machine.  I’m against this simply on the principle that I don’t think someone should have to pay for a second operating system just to make their computer work the way that it needs to.

Third and possibly most important issue is that I’m not sure how well any virtualization technology will support their hardware.  I have a fair amount of experience with VirtualBox and VirtualPC but not VMWare.  Though both programs seem to support serial and some USB communications, I required flawless USB support as well as Bluetooth, which I’m not sure that either one supports. I know someone will feel free to correct me if that’s not the case.

Gene: You Made a Bad Purchase, Deal With It!

Gene writes,

Sounds like he just bought a laptop that wasn’t suited to the task. Would you have blamed HP if the user’s software was all Linux-based? The first step in buying hardware is making sure it will support the software you need it for.

I completely agree with Gene. It was a poorly thought-out purchase and we shouldn’t hold it against HP that my customer bought a laptop incapable of doing what we wanted it to do. In the future I’ll encourage (or insist) my clients include me in all computer purchasing decisions so we avoid this type of complication.

KL Says: Your Story Sucks!

A reader named KL says,

Sorry, but this is a terrible story for the title. I thought it was going to be an analysis of the state of 64 bit systems, etc, etc. But it’s a story about someone purchasing (most likely accidentally) a 64-bit computer, and you (the author) are saying it’s the manufacturers fault? This article has little relevance to 64-bit architecture.

It’s like saying a man went in to buy a Diet Coke, but instead walked out with a regular Coke. Is Coke jumping the gun and adding sugar unnecessarily?

The Problem is, it’s My Story KL!

All I have to say is this: who writes this blog? Me, and not you? Because if this were my blog I’d tell you that I wrote  exactly what I advertised in the title and description.  Remember the description? The one that said “If you intend to run niche software or devices, think twice before switching to a 64-bit operating system?” Remember how I then wrote about switching to a 64-bit OS to run niche industry software and devices?  Remember how I then wrote about how that failed? Yeah, I don’t remember that either.  Just kidding KL. I kid because I care.

All ball-bustery aside, there isn’t much I can do about the fact that  KL wanted to read about something else, other than point him in a different direction.

Diet Coke Analogy

Ignoring the distinct possibility that KL is a Coke employee hired to keyword stuff their brand into other people’s websites, the analogy still doesn’t make sense to me.  I’m not buying a can of Coke.  I’m buying an expensive piece of hardware that is, technically speaking, is completely capable of running the software and devices that I need it to run.  Yet the manufacturer is telling me that I cannot. Elaborating on KL’s analogy, it’s more like Mack Truck telling Coke that the warranty on their 18-wheelers are void because they hauled Diet Coke, when they clearly marked the truck with regular Coke branding.

I admit this analogy makes even less sense.  But I entertained myself for at least three minutes while thinking of it, so I consider it a great success.

Bubak: Did You Even Try to Make This Work?

Finally, a reader named Bubak writes:

Did you actually __tryed__ installing those apps? 32 bit emulation is very good and it may work fine.
Also upgrade to Windows 7 may be cheep solution.

I tried knowing that I was going to fail. It is absolutely correct to say that the 64-bit editions of both Windows XP and Vista have impeccable 32-bit software support.  I’ve been running 64-bit operating systems exclusively both at home and at the office for about two years now without a single software issue.  Drivers, however, are a different story entirely.

Without exception you cannot install a 32-bit driver on a 64-bit version of Windows, and so you are at the mercy of your hardware manufacturers (or a clever, reverse-engineering third party) to release a 64-bit driver. Windows 7 has some features that will solve backwards compatibility issues with software designed for older versions of Windows, but I don’t think it has any solutions that bridge the gap between architectures.

Other Affected Industries

Though the client I was discussing works in the hearing aide sales and testing industry, his is not the only industry that will have problems upgrading to a 64-bit operating system.  I also work a full-time job as an IT Specialist at a vocational school, and I’ve run into similar issues there with hardware and software in the following industries: dentistry (drivers for computerized and network-enabled imaging and X-Ray machines), machining (drivers for routers, rapid prototyping devices, and laser engravers), electrical engineering (PLC interface drivers), and all facets of the automotive industry (drivers for vehicle diagnostic links).

Summary

Obviously my complaint that OEM‘s and hardware manufacturers are moving at a much faster pace than industry was missed by most of my readers and taken as an attack on progression toward the future of 64-bit computing. I’d love for that to happen, but I have to live in a reality where that might not occur for another three to four years.

In hindsight it was probably a mistake to post this piece on Dzone, where the audience is highly technical and naturally wanted to solve the problem by throwing more technology at it.

Thanks to all of my readers who left positive feedback and suggestions on how to overcome my 64-bit dillema.

To those who left comments treating me and my client like idiots, I admit I don’t know everything, and compared to some of you I might know much at all.  But I do know that if I approached my clients with the same “Big Man Behind the Keyboard Syndrome” with which some folks communicate, I wouldn’t have clients very long at all!

5 replies
  1. bigjust says:

    You know, to get around this issue, I simply chroot into my 32 bit environment and run my 32-bit only apps from there…..Oh Windows, nevermind.

  2. Brian Reich says:

    @bigjust: Awesome! Now if you could only find a solution to keeping Linux trolls off my blog we’d be in business!

    Seriously, what gratification do you people get by forcing your superiority complex on everyone?

    Besides my issue was one of drivers, and Linux doesn’t have drivers (32-bit or 64-bit) for the crazy hardware that I’m dealing with.

    Thanks for nothing,

    Brian

  3. bigjust says:

    Trust me, the number of negative responses from readers, the lack of clarity from the post, and general attitude taken towards critism (undeserved or otherwise), you shouldn’t encounter this problem again.

    Past this, I agree its wrong for the manufacturer to force the 64-bitiness of an OS on you (or your client). To me the only viable solution is return and purchase a new, compatible laptop. Has the laptop been owned so long that the best that could be done is an exchange? If they give you that “already opened, can’t return” nonsense, get a manager, and be prepared to pay a little more for a different, just as powerful model with your desired OS.

    And to be honest, I get no gratification.

  4. Brian Reich says:

    @bigjust:

    I’ve got to say I’m a little bit humbled. I do appreciate any relevant criticism, even when it does knock me down a few pegs. I thought I gave credit where credit was due in this post. However my response to you was over the top and for what it’s worth, I apologize.

    To explain myself a bit, my blog is almost elusively about Windows support issues (and very obvious about it) yet just about every post someone manages to find their way here and give me the “well Linux doesn’t have that problem” half-truths, and it doesn’t help anyone. So why bother?

    I’ve never gone to the Ubuntu forums to brag that my off-the-shelf Linksys adapter worked on XP without the need to edit config files (just an example, this might be fixed) because I’d be a) flame-baiting, and b) wasting people’s time. Why should I put up with the same pointless showboating on my own blog?

    I do think that feelings of annoyance at this sort of behavior are relevant but it wasn’t appropriate for me to direct it all at you. So once again, sorry for going overboard.

    Regarding what you said about my post, at least we agree on something! I had to call Best Buy on my customer’s behalf and play the “we spend a crap-ton of money at your establishment” card, and then they allowed us to do an exchange.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Brian

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