With Windows XP Professional x64 Edition now available to the public, we were eager to get our hands on the final version of the product and compare it to the earlier release candidate versions. We found no major surprises. The final shipping version of XP x64 Edition looks exactly like its predecessors and could easily pass for the 32-bit version of XP Professional.
After a week of using the final version of XP x64, I did notice one major difference when compared with the release candidates: Windows Update now navigates to the Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1) version of Microsoft's Web-based software patch and update service. That makes sense, since XP x64 is based on the Windows Server 2003 SP1 code base. According to Microsoft lead product manager Greg Sullivan, this means that XP x64 is the most secure Windows client ever created.
As with the release candidate versions, application compatibility is a mixed bag with the shipping version of XP x64 Edition. There are some improvements, however. Microsoft has done away with the Windows Media 9 Series-related errors that previously dogged some application installs--most notably that of Adobe PhotoShop Elements 3.0--and Microsoft Office 2003 SP1 now installs without any complaints, a welcome change.
Some other applications, however, now display strange error messages. Apple's popular ITunes, for example, pops up a dialog when run, alerting you that the application's drivers are "valid but incompatible" with this 64-bit version of Windows.
Indeed, finding compatible drivers will continue to be an issue for quite some time, and Microsoft is upfront about the fact that the x64 platform probably won't be mainstream until Longhorn ships in 2006. However, XP x64 includes over 15,000 device drivers, more than any previous Windows version, and many more will be available on Windows Update in the near future.
"Over 400 companies are lining up to support XP x64," Sullivan says. "But clearly we won't have full driver support this year."