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Getting it wrong about Windows Vista x64

In a rare moment of synergy, I awoke this morning to discover two supposedly trusted sources giving the same bad advice about x64 versions of Windows Vista. Seriously, sometimes it’s just tiring.

Walter Mossberg gets it wrong

First up is the Wall Street Journal’s Walter Mossberg, a man who suggests switching to Mac OS X as a cure-all for whatever issue you may be having with Windows at the time. In today’s Mossberg’s Mailbox, Walt offers up some stunningly bad advice.

Q: I have a new PC that came with a 64-bit version of the Windows operating system. It gives me a choice between using a 32-bit Internet Explorer or a 64-bit Internet Explorer. Which should I use?

A: The 64-bit version of Windows, which is rarely used by average consumers, can make the computer faster, but only when running programs that have been written in special 64-bit versions.

If I can quote the "great" Ted Stevens, former senator of Alaska, NO, NO, NO.

Native 64-bit applications do not “make the computer faster.” Just moving to a 64-bit operating system, with its massive and flat memory address space, can make some difference. But any performance improvements you may get with that platform will come about from adding more RAM, a situation that, incidentally, is true on 32-bit systems as well.

In the consumer arena, there are too few such programs, and thus too little benefit, to justify paying extra for 64-bit machines.

NO, NO, NO. That is simply not true. You do not “pay extra” for 64-bit machines. All PCs are 64-bit machines now. And you don’t pay extra for PCs that come with 64-bit versions of Vista. They’re the same price. What you get when you go x64 is more available memory, even on a PC that is constrained to 4 GB maximum. There are huge benefits to this.

In fact, most people who have computers running 64-bit Windows are mostly using older 32-bit programs, which run fine, but aren't made quicker.

So there’s no downside then. Thank God for backwards compatibility.

So, the 64-bit version of Internet Explorer may run faster.

NO, NO, NO. It won’t.

Well, except in one hilarious circumstance: Since all those add-ons you prize so much (see below) won’t work in the x64 version of IE, then yes, maybe it will actually run faster. But then, so would the 32-bit version of IE if you uninstalled those add-ons.

But there is a downside. Because of the relative rarity of 64-bit users, some browser add-ons and toolbars and some of the Web technologies that power the features of Web pages, aren't compatible with the 64-bit version of IE. On top of that, you may not notice any huge speed difference as the perceived speed of Web browsers depends more on the speed of your Internet connection than anything else. So, for now, I would stick with the 32-bit version, for compatibility's sake. You can always install the 64-bit version later, if you decide that the Web sites you frequent and the add-ons you use work well with it.

You can’t install the 64-bit version of Internet Explorer on Windows Vista. It just comes with Vista. You can choose between the 32-bit, 64-bit and No Add-Ons versions on the fly.

When it comes to this topic, this guy has no idea what he’s talking about, plain and simple. If you’re looking for the truth on Vista x64, please refer to my earlier blog post on the subject, Suddenly, 64-bit Windows is mainstream. It works just fine.


Windows Secrets gets it wrong

Next up, we have the Windows Secrets newsletter. (Full disclosure: I briefly wrote for Windows Secrets a few years back.) This newsletter has come under fire a lot recently for its sensationalist and easily debunked headlines and stories. Here’s the latest example:

Vince Heiker, a retired IT executive in the Dallas area has used 64-bit Vista for some time — and hates the OS.

All versions of Vista have serious compatibility glitches, including problems with Office 2007, but the 64-bit release also suffers from a lack of applications written to take advantage of that version's ability to address more than 4GB of RAM.

Um, what?

Just so we’re clear, this entire article—and all of the charges it makes—are based on the feedback of a handful of readers with very specific issues. Since this is 2008, and everyone gets a podium, we must thus consider these statements as gospel truth. Consider the following bits of silliness:

“Vista-64 is junkware. It is absolutely the worst, the buggiest software Microsoft has ever released," Heiker tells Windows Secrets.

(He must have never used Windows XP x64. But I digress.)

"ACT, a fairly popular contact-management program, will not work in 64-bit, and currently Sage has no plans to support it," reader Frank Boecherer said in an e-mail.

Also on the list of software that readers say is missing in action is a 64-bit version of Adobe's popular Flash player. And don't forget Office 2007, which comes only in a 32-bit edition.

Um, again. What??

Adobe Flash and Office 2007 work just fine in Vista x64. In fact, I use them every day.

Among the problems Heiker cites is "a jerky mouse cursor" that interprets mouse clicks in one spot on the screen as an action on a different spot.

That's not OK, particularly if you're a day trader like those Heiker supports for, where a click on the wrong spot can cost serious money. Heiker says he's experienced the mouse-location problem with three different mice, all relatively new purchases.

So I’ve been using Vista x64 on a variety of machines, every single day, since April 2008. I’ve never experienced the jerky mouse thing. But this begs the question, how is it possible that Windows Secrets didn’t blame the current financial crisis on Windows Vista? It seems like Heiker spells that out pretty clear. Wow.

Heiker finally isolated the cause: the 64-bit version of Vista Ultimate failed to remove old device drivers ... "The only way to get rid of the hardware drivers was to reinstall Vista," Heiker said.

Um. How did they get on there? Did Heiker install them (and thus “Fail to not install them”)? Because there’s no way they were on there to begin with. And you can’t upgrade from Vista 32-bit to Vista x64. Sounds like user error. In fact, this whole thing sounds like a user issue, to be frank.

This is my favorite bit...

Another glitch Heiker continues to confront is a real doozy: with no explanation in sight, his 64-bit Vista PC has accumulated some 23 million Registry entries. No, that's not a typo — 23 million.

So I’m curious. How exactly did this guy “count” the Registry? Did he use a 32-bit app for this? Seriously. I’d love to know. And I’d love to know what the difference in size between the Registry in the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Vista.

"[Microsoft] haven't fixed a single problem that I've reported," he adds.

LOL. No doubt. They’ll find Sasquatch first, I bet.

You know, there’s a big difference between providing a service for readers and just scaring them over nothing. Vista x64 is a huge accomplishment, and it’s made 64-bit computing mainstream. I use it every day. And while all software has issues--obviously--there is nothing endemic going on here at all. Shame.

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