Gradually, oh so gradually, we’re changing from a world of 32-bit computers to 64 bit computers. What does this mean for Microsoft Office?
Microsoft Office and 64-bit
Microsoft Office 2007 only has one version – the 32-bit edition. It installs and works fine on 64-bit computers (we’ve been running it for a long time).
Office 2007 on 64-bit Vista is installed to C:\Program Files (x86)\ where all 32-bit software is placed (64-bit software goes to C:\Program Files\ ). Otherwise it works normally and most people would not notice any difference.
There was a separate 64-bit edition of Office 2003 – though you can also install the more common Office 2003 32-bit version on a 64 bit operating system.
Why go to 64-bit computer for MS Office?
As far as MS Office alone is concerned, the only benefit in running on a 64-bit computer would be for very heavy processing tasks. Large and complex Excel worksheets or large databases running with Access – in other words heavy calculation loads.
There’s no harm in running Office alone on a 64-bit computer but the benefits would only be noticeable for users with extreme CPU use.
However looking beyond Office itself there are benefits in going to 64-bit computers. The ability to work with RAM over 4GB means you can run faster with more simultaneous programs. Installing a 64-bit operating system on more than 4GB of RAM can make more ‘real’ memory available for all the programs running at once. For example running the resource hog Outlook means there’s less room and power available for other programs – more RAM can give room for Outlook and other programs to work more quickly. Virtual machines work much better with enough RAM to operate – either Microsoft’s Virtual PC or VMWare Workstation.
Most people don’t need the advantages of 64-bit on desktop machines while the hardware costs remain higher than 32-bit computers. A 32-bit machine with between 2GB and 4GB of RAM is enough for most purposes.
Office 2010 will come with both 32 and 64 bit versions
Windows Vista Home Basic, Home Premium, or Business, a licensed 32-bit customer can get the 64-bit edition for the cost of shipping a new DVD. Windows Vista Ultimate includes the 64-bit version already. See the bottom of this page.
With that precedent we hope that both versions will be ‘in the box’ so customers can easily install the right one for their needs. Or at least you'll be able to switch with little hassle and little cost.
Will Microsoft be able to resist the impulse to milk 64-bit customers for more money? Time will tell.
‘64 bit’ is a major change in the way that computers work – it’s not just a marketing push. 64 bit computers (strictly speaking the main computer chip / CPU) can handle data in larger chunks which means faster processing and expanded hardware capabilities.
Heavy processing burdens on your computer, like video editing, large databases and really big Excel worksheets can work faster on a 64-bit computer. The main immediate benefit of 64-bit systems is the additional memory that can be installed (32-bit Vista is limited to 4GB while 64-bit Vista will work with much more RAM).
The core of the move to 64 bit is the CPU but to make that work you need a special 64 bit version of the operating system. There is a 64 bit edition of Windows Vista and will be a 64 bit edition of Windows 7.
While 64-bit is becoming common for server computers (Small Business Server 2008 will only work on 64 bit computers) it’s less common on desktop computers. Even then you often end up with a mixed configuration of 32-bit and 64-bit software.
Once you have the 64 bit hardware and operating system you can install software. This is where is gets a bit messy. Ideally you install a special 64 bit version of your software – this version should take full advantage of the expanded power of 64 bit CPU’s.
However 64 bit software isn’t always available or costs more than the 32 bit incarnation. Windows Vista will let you install 32-bit software on a 64-bit operating system – it handles the switch between 32 and 64 bit architecture automatically. There is a small performance hit in running 32 bit software on a 64 bit operating system but that’s balanced against the faster operation of the computer overall.
Occasionally you’ll strike 32 bit software that won’t work on a 64 bit machine – the only major troublemaker we’ve encountered is Adobe Flash which won’t work on the 64-bit Internet Explorer that comes with Vista. The workaround is to view the Flash enabled web site in the 32-bit IE that’s also supplied with Vista.
Article posted: Monday, 23 February 2009
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