System32: Why is it 64-bit?

Anyone who’s looked into the system files on their Windows computer will be all too familiar with the C:\Windows\System32 directory. This folder is where the essential Windows executables and libraries reside. The folder first appeared in Windows 95 (perhaps earlier; I don’t have any older Windows installers to verify this) to hold the 32-bit EXEs and DLLs if your system supported 32 bits; 16-bit files were placed in C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM.

System32 has 32 at the end of it to indicate that it’s a place for 32-bit applications, to differentiate it from the 16-bit applications placed in System. With time, 16-bit systems were phased out and 32-bit systems were the norm. Similarly, 64-bit systems have started becoming the norm and 32-bit systems are being phased out. 64-bit Windows doesn’t include a 16-bit emulation layer, meaning that they won’t run 16-bit applications. As a result, 16-bit applications are not included with 64-bit Windows (they are still included with 32-bit Windows) and the System directory is no longer present.

One would expect that the next logical step would be to have a System64 folder for the 64-bit system files, but no, that’s not what Microsoft decided to do. Instead, 64-bit files are placed in System32 and 32-bit files are transparently redirected to C:\Windows\WoW64, where WoW64 stands for Windows 32-bit on Windows 64-bit. This is apparently done for compatibility reasons, especially since many programs hard-code System32 paths, and some 32-bit programs can be recompiled into a 64-bit executable without changing the source code.

Yes, I understand it’s for compatibility, but really? The name System32 has lost its meaning. When we eventually switch over to 128-bit systems, assuming Windows is still around and the system tree hasn’t been changed significantly, the system folder will probably still be called System32. It’ll become one of those obsolete symbols that are still widely used and understood but whose origins have been forgotten by the common folk.

Oh well, what’s in a name? It’s been said that Windows 8 should be called “Tiles” instead because the emphasis is no longer on the windows, but it’s still called “Windows”.

Whatever, I’m on Linux anyway.

1 comment
  1. I deleted my System32 folder and my laptop became much faster!

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