Friday, 08 July 2016 12:00

The days of 32-bit Linux appear to be numbered


Should Linux distributions continue to issue 32-bit images any longer or phase them out over a year or two? This question was resurrected recently by Ubuntu developer Dimitri John Ledkov, with a cutoff date of October 2018 proposed.

At that time, Ubuntu would have been around for 14 years and it is increasingly getting more and more bloated. The same goes for many other distributions.

So, even if anyone wanted to run Ubuntu on an older machine, it would not be a good idea. Computing would have to be done at a rather glacial speed.

The idea of dropping the 32-bit build was first raised on the Ubuntu mailing lists in February by Bryan Quigley. Several other distributions like Fedora and openSUSE have already dropped their 32-bit images.

Most hardware these days comes with 64-bit processors. There are older processors like the Intel Atom which are only 32-bit but moving on now is certainly not too soon.

Of course, there will be some who grumble about this; Linux users are famous for grumbling about anything and everything.

But it is more than a decade since distributions started providing 64-bit images; I switched to 64-bit Debian back in 2003.

At that stage, there was no version of Flash for the platform and several applications had yet to catch up. But now, practically everything that is in common use is available in 64-bit so the disappearance of the 32-bit images should not pose a problem.

There are proprietary applications like Skype which are still available only as 32-bit for Linux, though Microsoft, the owner, provides 64-bit apps for its own platform.

Open source developers have no control over such proprietary apps – though I note that one enterprising person has made available an unofficial version of Skype for the Ubuntu Phone!

Given that there are more than 300 distributions, there will always be some distro or the other which can be run by those who like their 32-bit machines.

One of the great things about Linux is that there are plenty of choices, so one doesn't have to always run the Plasma or Gnome desktop environments which are both quite bulky and require robust hardware. Rat Poison, for example, is a minimalist environment which runs extremely well on older hardware.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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