Between A Rock and A Hard Place . . .

I said yesterday that MS has an unpleasant surprise for those who think they’ll get Vista cheap by buying OEM.

Well, MS has figured out a way to justify charging twice as much for the retail as the OEM copy, which can be summarized as “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.”

There are multiple flavors of Vista out there, people know that. What they may not know is that each flavor comes in two versions, the 32-bit and the 64-bit.

Buy a retail version of Vista and you either get both 32- and 64-bit (if you buy Ultimate) or you get 32-bit and can get 64-bit shipped to you from MS for shipping and handling (if you get anything else).

Buy an OEM version, and you get one or the other, not both. You want both, sooner or later, you pay two times.

For sure, the copies of Vista now being shipped by the big OEM are going to be the 32-bit models, which will be perfectly fine until the day they buy a 64-bit app or game. Then they’re going to find out that not only does their app/game doesn’t work, but that they’re going to have to pay MS again to replace their OS, too.

And so will you if you buy an OEM 32-bit version of Vista.

Some reading this no doubt are saying right now, “You fool! There are 64-bit OEM versions of Vista out there. It’s supposed to run 32-bit apps, too. To hell with the Dellers, I’ll just buy that.

Yes, you could do that and avoid buying Vista twice. You’ll just pay a different price.

For openers, some of your equipment may not work at all. First, all your components that need drivers will need 64-bit drivers. 32-bit drivers won’t work, period. Second, just having a 64-bit driver isn’t going to be quite good enough; any driver that includes “kernel mode code” will also have to be “digitally signed” before Vista 64-bit will load them. No signing, no loading.

What does “digitally signed” mean? It doesn’t mean MS has to test them all first (that’s WHQL certification). It means a driver writer has to first get a Verisign Class 3 Commercial Software Publisher Certificate (that costs $500 a year), then get and use a Publisher Identity Certificate (PIC) from Microsoft (that’s free).

In previous OS changes, a fairly decent amount of equipment (especially somewhat older equipment) end up being orphaned because the company didn’t feel like writing a new OS driver for it. These additional requirements aren’t exactly going to encourage these folks to write 64-bit drivers, especially when most Vista users will still be using 32-bit drivers.

Yes, most equipment will work now, and more will work later, but this isn’t an area where two out of three ain’t bad.

The same applies to software. WOW64 may well handle most major pieces of software, but again, if you have something you rely on that doesn’t . . . .

Even if the equipment and software work, they may not work terribly well. Some games (especially non-Direct X) run a good deal slower in Vista64 than in XP. Is it the game? Is it the video driver?

Yes, eventually, the game or video driver will be brought up to speed, but patience isn’t known to be a gamer virtue.

At the very least, someone who wants to use Vista64 is going to have to do a lot more legwork to make sure it won’t break anything important that someone wants to use.

Finally, you have to wonder when, or even if, 64-bit applications are going to become mainstream. Yes, some will, and recompiling for 64-bit isn’t the toughest programming task in the world, but if most of the Vista systems won’t be able to handle them without a new version of the same thing, how much of a push is there going to be to make your average app 64-bit?

There’s a big difference this time between 64/32 and 32/16. Windows95 was 32-bit by default, and ran the software to handle 16-bit apps (which Vista64 can’t handle, which may be no big deal to you until you have a 16-bit app

This time around, 32-bit is effectively the default, and the longer it is, the less likely it is that 64-bit will have a real chance.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t exactly feel stimulated to buy a new system right away after seeing all this, in fact, I feel the exact opposite.

And the more punch-drunk I get looking at all these problems and these “Resistance is futile, just give us $400 for Ultimate Retail” tactics, the more the OS beer goggles grow, and the better that Penguin looks.


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