Canonical is the latest software maker looking to end support for Intel’s once-great 32-bit platform
Software makers are continuing to shift away from the 32-bit Intel hardware platform, with Canonical, the developer of Ubuntu Linux, the latest to discuss plans for ending development for the platform.
Such 32-bit chips became the standard for desktop computers and even low-end servers following their introduction in 1985, but many developers say so few chips are now capable of running only 32-bit software that it isn’t worth the development resources needed to continue providing 32-bit versions.
Shift to 64-bit
First used in supercomputers, today even many smartphones now run on 64-bit chips, with the first 64-bit handset being the ARMv8-A Apple A7-powered iPhone 5S, launched in 2013, and Canonical earlier this year introduced a 64-bit platform aimed at embedded “Internet of Things” devices.
Sixty-four-bit chips allow computers to directly address larger amounts of memory than is possible with 32-bit, potentially providing greater speed and allowing certain types of programs to run more efficiently.
Microsoft stopped shipping 32-bit versions of its server software several years ago, although it still provides a 32-bit version of Windows 10, while Apple’s last 32-bit capable version of Mac OS was 10.6 (Snow Leopard), introduced in 2009.
Linux is a particular case, since some users rely on it to bring older laptops or netbooks back to life, but Red Hat’s Fedora and OpenSuse Leap are now 32-bit only.
Canonical has already said it will not make a 32-bit image available for Ubuntu after 16.10, but plans to make it available via installers.
Now the company has suggested that Ubuntu 18.10, set for release in the autumn of 2018, could scrap 32-bit versions entirely, allowing them to run only in virtual machines.
By the time of Ubuntu 18.10’s release many third-party tools, such as Google’s Chrome and the ZFS file system, will not have been available in 32-bit versions for more than two years, said Canonical software engineer Dimitri John Ledkov in a message discussing the plan.
“Building i386 images is not ‘for free’, it comes at the cost of utilizing our build farm, QA and validation time,” he wrote. “Whilst we have scalable build-farms, i386 still requires all packages, autopackage tests, and ISOs to be revalidated across our infrastructure.”
Intel’s 32-bit platform is sometimes referred to as i386 after the company’s 1985 386 processor.
OpenSuse, too, has said that support for 32-bit platforms doubles its testing burden, in spite of the relatively low demand for the software.
“I know some people passionately enjoy thier old 32-bit hardware, but I think now’s the time to consider letting it go,” OpenSuse said in a post discussing its plans.
The company ceased support for 32-bit with OpenSuse Leap 42.1, released in November of last year.
Ubuntu’s latest long-term support (LTS) version, 16.04 LTS, released in April, is set to be supported until 2021, giving 32-bit users some time to adapt.
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