Linux distributions are gradually announcing the end of 32-bit support for the x86 architecture. Instead, they recommend users switch to the 64-bit AMD64 architecture. How are individual distributions?
The AMD64 architecture has been with us for 17 years, the first Opteron processor with its support came out in 2003 - more than 14 years ago. Linux came up with architecture support shortly thereafter, virtually all newer processors were now 64 bits. So, if you do not own a ten year old netbook with the first line of Intel Atom processors (for example Eee 1000H), you have 64-bit architecture hardware.
At the same time the ammount of memory is growing, today's 4 GB is considered to be minimal, typically we encounter 8 GB or more. The amount of addressable memory is only one of the advantages of AMD64, the software translated for this architecture can benefit from a larger number of registers, SSE and SSE2 instructions, or an NX bit. There are very few reasons to stay with the 32-bit system.
If we remove the old hardware, then users either use the old architecture out of stubbornness or rather by mistake. They are used to clicking 32 on the download image, so they do it. No matter how long it has been done unnecessarily.
However, software and distribution engineers are responding to this and 32-bit support is reduced for the long term. Every other architecture is worth the energy, the time to build, the server space, and especially the time it takes to test and support. But there is no need to do anything like this - if only a minimal number of user needs it, and no developer already has enough old hardware, so he does not have enough reason to deal with anything like that.
The latest release came from Canonical, who decided that the next version of Ubuntu will no longer have 32-bit desktop installation images. Server versions will still be 32-bit, as well as some Ubuntu derivatives intended for older hardware.
But here is just a matter of time. As soon as Ubuntu ceases to maintain a central repository with 32-bit bundles, it's likely that derivatives will not have enough power to create it yourself. These are usually small projects that work largely on the work of Ubuntu developers and just fine-tune desktop environments.
Additionally, this time may not be as far away as Canonical's original plans spoke about ending 32 bit support with version 16.10. So, Ubuntu has an annual delay, but if it were left behind, it would be possible to close the 32-bit port in roughly two years. It is likely that things will not go like this quickly, but it still shows that it will not be a matter for a decade, but rather for a few years.
Arch Linux stopped publishing 32-bit images in February this year (2017). Still running their support, but by the end of the year they will be moved into unsupported architectures. The official announcement of this plan says there is little interest from users, developers, and communities. Starting in November, developers will not have to rely on the i686 architecture in packages - older processors are no longer supported for a long time.
If the members of the community are interested, they can continue to support the project, and the project will provide them with a patronage. However, it is unlikely to be active, key developers have refused to develop 32 bits, so it's really all in the community. If anyone is going to need a 32-bit Arch, he'll have to put his hand to the work.
The Manjaro Linux distribution, which directly builds the desktop system on the Ark, is also the same. At the same time with the 32-bit abandonment of Arch, of course, this chapter closes 32 bits development for Manjar. In order to confirm this step, bittorrent installation images download statistics were also presented: 64 bits downloaded by 86% of users, leaving only 14% on 32 bits.
The Tails distribution, which focuses on user security and privacy, has left the support of 32-bit processors this summer (2017). The new version 3.0 is based on fresh Debian 9 Stretch and has just been released for AMD64. Developers explain this by supporting the new architecture to dramatically increase system security by offering the already mentioned NX bit or PIE support for binaries and the ASLR.
Fedora is still holding its 32-bit version, but has ended Cloud support some time ago. The main reason is the very small number of users of this variant and the effort to save time for compilation and testing. Similarly, the release of Fedora 24 has ended support for 32-bit processors at the Server variant. On the old computer, you can only install the latest Workstation.
With the release of the seventh, CentOS has officially ceased to support the i386 32-bit platform and is based only on AMD64. This is, of course, due to the fact that you do not install RHEL on 32-bit machines anymore. Images marked as AltArch (alternative architecture) can be obtained from the SIG community project. But you'll need a PAE-enabled processor.
In openSUSE, the situation changed with the arrival of Leap, in 2015. The new version of the distribution did not offer any 32-bit images anymore, and this January (2017) ended support for the latest 32-bit openSUSE 13.2. So, users of the green chameleon system in the log are no longer able to use the old architecture.
Also, many smaller distributions have, for various reasons, stopped supporting 32-bit processors. For example: BackTrack, Kali Linux and Sabayon. A lot of distribution, of course, still supports the support even though older processors are being cut off from the bottom. For example, Debian, for example, ended 486 in Squeeze years ago, with the latest release of Stretch then stopped supporting 586.
It certainly does not matter that in a few months it will not be possible to run 32-bit Linux. Ubuntu 16.04 LTS is supported by 2021, so you can use your older computer few more years. For a long time, there will also be dedicated distributions that focus on less powerful machines or on old hardware support.
However, it is necessary to realize that 64-bit processors are nearly two decades with us and developers do not usually want to spend time supporting very old hardware. Large distributions and projects will therefore soon also stop support the 32-bit processors, and there will be only smaller projects of enthusiasts who are worth maintaining broad hardware support. Perhaps because it owns a ThinkPad that is old but still works very well.
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