Ubuntu Server Plans to Move Away From 32-Bit Computing

Christopher Tozzi, Contributing Editor

August 23, 2012

2 Min Read
Ubuntu Server Plans to Move Away From 32-Bit Computing

It took a while, but the era of 32-bit computing may finally be coming to a close. At least, that’s what the Ubuntu Server Team’s decision has implied with its decision to cease providing 32-bit installation CD images for the upcoming 12.10 release of the operating system. Here’s a look at this plan, and what it reveals about hardware trends more generally.

Like most major operating systems, Ubuntu is currently available in both 32-bit (i386) and 64-bit (x86_64) versions. Unless you’re a geek, you probably don’t have much reason to care about the differences between these two builds, but there are certain technical advantages to installing the 64-bit variant of Ubuntu. The catch, however, is that not all computers support 64-bit operating systems — although virtually all machines manufactured in the last few years should.

Goodbye, i386?

Ubuntu’s full support for both 32- and 64-bit architectures is set to change with the debut of Ubuntu 12.10 in October, however. In a move that highlights the increasing obsolescence of 32-bit computing, Canonical tentatively plans to release ISO images for Ubuntu server only in 64-bit form, according to the release notes for alpha builds of Ubuntu 12.10.

Ubuntu desktop users need not fret. There has been no talk of removing the 32-bit builds of the desktop flavor of Ubuntu. But on servers, change appears to be on the way.

That change, however, is limited in scope. Ubuntu server developers are not abandoning 32-bit altogether. Users can still install 32-bit Ubuntu 12.10 on servers using methods other than the traditional installation CD, such as the Minimal CD image and netboot, and 32-bit builds of applications will continue to enjoy official support.

Nonetheless, the decision to stop providing 32-bit images of the standard Ubuntu server installation CD is significant. It’s one of the first examples of a major operating system scaling back full support for the computing architecture that has dominated PCs and servers alike for the better part of the last two decades.

It’s also a move that may irk some users who want to install Ubuntu server on older hardware that doesn’t support 64-bit code. Repurposing legacy machines as Web or file servers will be a bit trickier — though by no means impossible — without a standard 32-bit installation CD for Ubuntu server.

By all indications, of course, the total demise of 32-bit support in the Ubuntu world — and in the open-source channel more generally — remains far beyond the horizon. But Canonical is set to take one small step in that direction this October, heralding what could become major changes down the road not only as 64-bit CPUs became the exclusive standard in the x86 family, but also as emerging ARM chips shake up the hardware market for both PCs and servers.

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About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Contributing Editor

Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.

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