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It is the response from Microsoft to the new Athlon64 64-bit platform.
It enable Athlon64 to run in native 64-bit mode, while still being able to run legacy code at 32/16 bits.
Before XP 64, only Linux supported Athlon64. Without 64-bit OS, an Athlon64 is just a pricy fancy 32-bit CPU.
Note that without an Athlon64 or an Opteron processor, there is absolutely no use of upgrading to Windows XP 64. I havn't seen XP 64, but there isn't probably any difference in the look, from the currect 32-bit XP. It just enable 64-bit mode of the new processor, and probably have it's drivers and apps re-compiled for 64-bits.
So far, there isn't a lot of support for 64-bit platforms. Almost every programs on the market is still 32-bits. It's like when Win95 came out. It took some time before apps started to pop out at 32-bits. It will take some time before having 64-bits apps.
So, as long as you run 32-bits apps on XP 64, they won't go any faster. And there isn't probably a lot of fields that require 64 bits, but some of the most promising apps that would benefits are graphical apps, and other apps that need a lot of processing.
One of the nice side of Athlon64 though are the new registers, which were somewhat very limited on 32-bit processors. This could really speed-up some programs, when the compiler cache some variables in those registers instead of always loading/storing them to memory (due to the limited registers of 32-bits processors).