Interview: Do ordinary users need 64-bit Windows?

We seek to discover how they differ from 32-bit versions…

Interview with a leading programmer from fCoder Group inc.

  • Modern 32-bit operating systems meet the requirements for the overwhelming majority of users. Why then are 64-bit operating systems developed and in which situations do users who have lots of photographs feel the necessity to switch to Windows 64?

Fortunately, not a single electronic device, scanner or camera, has yet advanced to the point where it would be necessary to migrate to a 64-bit system, but first I need to explain what “bits” mean for the user:

The read only memory (RAM) of a computer consists of hundreds of thousands of locations, each of which has its own address. These addresses are used by the operating system and programs. In 32-bit operating systems 232 are accessible, but no more. The operating system reserves the majority of addresses for its own services and kernel, while the remainder is available for programs installed by the user.

  • Can you give us an example to make it easier to understand?

Imagine that you have installed 4 gigabytes of ram. Usually the operating system uses up 1-2 gigabytes of memory, which is necessary for it to work correctly, while the remainder is at the disposal of programs.

  • Take, for example, a simple program for viewing images. How does that work?

An image is read, decoded and placed into memory together with the program, which can now easily display the image. If the program needs to perform some operation with the image, for example to increase the contrast level, then as a rule it requires the same amount of memory as the original image. Data is taken from the original image, processed and placed in a new copy. The original is either saved or deleted. In other words, we encounter a situation which requires twice the amount of data stored in memory.

When images were small, some algorithms required even three times the amount of memory. In addition, the program stored a large number of previous copies of images for undoing changes.

  • What changed when large size photographs appeared?

With the growth of photograph sizes, the situation became worse for the user. For example, limits were placed on the number of times a user could undo changes in editors. Technology progressed, and new developments in programming made it possible to achieve more rational use of RAM. In the battle to free up memory, computer hard drives were used. Modern hard drives have enormous caches for quick access to data and this made things easier. Nevertheless, 90% of programs for viewing images, as before, require the program to fully load the picture into memory before it can be displayed. However, this is an unnecessary requirement for some images.

  • And what is the result of this?

It turns out that the largest image that can be displayed by the majority of viewers are pictures with sizes of approximately 32000×32000 pixels. Do many cameras support such image sizes? Until these limits have been reached, there is not a compelling reason to switch to 64-bit systems.

It’s also worth mentioning that the majority of programs made for 32 -bit systems will also work on 64-bit platforms, but have the same characteristics as 32-bit programs. In other words, effective memory use will increase only by using professional programs specially created for 64-bit platforms.

  • How will problems with size limitations for addressed memory arise on 32-bit systems?

Let’s suppose that you have an image with a size of 120000×120000 pixels. What can you do with it? All standard programs for viewing images immediately refuse to display the picture since they don’t have enough memory. Imagine, for example, you found such a program and were able to view the image. Now, other problems appear: you can’t copy the image to the clipboard and paste it in just any image editor. In addition, you can’t save such an image even in the JPEG format. The limitation for JPEG files is an image size of 32000×32000 pixels. The most optimal solution for this situation would be to save the image in the TIFF format, for example, using Flate compression.

Nevertheless, your hands and feet are all tied up: you can’t work with such images. You can’t even simply edit such images. It would seem that this would be the reason to migrate to a new 64-bit platform, but such is not the case. The quantity of genuine 64-bit programs is very limited and all of your 32-bit technical resources, as before, remain incapable of working with your images in the new operating system.

  • It seems the most rational approach remains storing the original in the TIFF format, and for editing, using a reduced copy of the image. In other words, you need to use various image sizes for various purposes.
    That’s not very convenient, is it?

We solved this problem of working with huge files. Our software was specially designed for the situation described earlier. Users can convert images with reduced (or increased, if they wish) resolutions, do simple editing, view them in their original sizes, but for work and publication use a reduced copy.

It seems to me that this is the most optimal solution. Of course, it requires a lot of disk space, but this is not a big deal compared to the programs of our competitors which are complete incapable of working with such images.

I would like to point out that consumers will not encounter images of such sizes for a long time and their computers are more likely to become outdated before the need arises to use 64-bit operating systems.

  • Why then do we need 64-bit operating systems?

This is not the sphere of consumer tasks: databases, web servers, shared network resources, archiving, editing video films, 3D modeling, and sound editing.
All of these are professional activities that require the installation of expensive software products.

The time to migrate to 64-bit systems has not yet arrived!