Key Linux developers such as Canonical are looking to phase out support for 32-bit processors, citing their increasing rarity and that the effort required to maintain 32-bit code would be better spent on new applications.
Intel introduced its first 32-bit x86 chip way back in 1985 in the shape of the 386, which is why 32-bit code is still referred to as "i386". However, with 64-bit x86 chips in circulation for over a decade, the number of systems only able to run 32-bit code is increasingly small.
With this in mind, some developers have begun to call for 32-bit builds of LInux distributions to be scrapped to allow more developer time for 64-bit editions and their applications.
Dimitri John Ledkov, a software engineer for Ubuntu developer Canonical, has proposed that 32-bit installations are increasingly unnecessary, as so few machines run on 32-bit processors.
However, while this is unlikely to affect many organisations running Linux-based servers, the move may face a backlash from end users who have opted to use Linux to revive an old netbook or laptop.
Many such machines were based on Intel Atom processors which have only 32-bit capabilities, and the withdrawal of the major players from the Linux 32-bit market could pave the way for smaller distros such as Puppy or Mint to find a niche catering to the have-nots.
It has already been confirmed that there won't be a 32-bit image available for the next release of Ubuntu after 16.10, but it would be available via installers.
Under the plan, Ubuntu 18.10, due for release in autumn 2018, would see the end of 32-bit versions of the OS, favouring virtual machines or containers.
Fedora and OpenSuse Leap are already 64-bit products. Fedora said on Reddit: "I know some people passionately enjoy their old 32-bit hardware, but I think now’s the time to consider letting it go.
"32-bit support doubles our testing burden (actually, more so - do you know how hard it is to find 32-bit hardware these days?). It also doubles our build load on OBS. You also have to ask 'do we really want to support 32-bit for another three years?' That's a lot of work for a long time, and we won't have any 32-bit-specific support from Suse for its SLE parts."
Given that Ubuntu 16.04 LTS will be supported into 2021, it's unlikely that many people will be affected if the proposal to ditch 32-bit goes ahead.
Google has already ditched 32-bit builds of Chrome for Linux, while Skype has become increasingly frustrating for Linux users, so the hour of reckoning is being played out not just by the distros, but by their software vendors.
Linux developers are not the only ones making the switch; Microsoft has shipped only 64-bit versions of its server products for several years now, although it continues to offer 32-bit versions of Windows 10 for end users that may be upgrading older systems.
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