September 28, 2017 // 10:50 a.m.
Canonical, the corporate entity behind the Ubuntu Linux distribution, has formally dropped support for the 32-bit release of its operating system - but that doesn't mean it won't be available for those who go looking.
The launch of the AMD Opteron and Athlon 64 processors in 2003 marked the first formal outing of x86-64 - known then as AMD64 - and its extension of the standard from 32 bits to 64 bits. Designed as a simpler alternative to Intel's IA-64 architecture, which is not compatible with 32-bit x86 code, AMD64 offered the ability to run existing 32-bit x86 programs and 64-bit programs side-by-side. Coupled with support for more than 4GB of RAM without recourse to artificial address space extension schemes, AMD64 proved popular enough that Intel would follow AMD's lead and launch its compatible Intel 64 equivalent in 2004 with the server-centric Xeon Nocona and in desktops with the Prescott-based Pentium 4 family.
Today, almost every single mainstream processor on the market is based on the AMD64 or Intel 64 architecture - bar a handful of specialist lower-power parts such as a small number of Intel's Atom models, the Quark family, and AMD's Geode range. Although some manufacturers still ship 32-bit operating systems, almost any desktop, laptop, or even x86-based tablet or two-in-one sold in the last few years is more than capable of running a 64-bit operating system - which is why it's no surprise to find Canonical ceasing building of 32-bit Ubuntu Desktop Live ISO.
'Please action the below and remove Ubuntu Desktop i386 daily-live images from the release manifest for Beta and Final milestones of 17.10 and therefore do not ship ubuntu-desktop-i386.iso artifact for 17.10,' Canonical's Dimitri John Ledkov told colleagues in a list post late yesterday. The reason: 'As a followup to this thread it has been confirmed that argumentation below is sound, and furthermore there is no longer any effective qa [quality assurance] or testing of the desktop product on actual i386 hardware (explicitly non x86_64 CPUs).'
The move, however, will not prevent users from installing Ubuntu Linux on their older 32-bit hardware: While the live ISO, which allows users to boot from a DVD or USB storage and experiment with Ubuntu prior to installation, will no longer be available in 32-bit format, the minimal installation and network installation ISO images will still be built for 32-bit as well as 64-bit machines. The change also doesn't affect anyone currently running Ubuntu Desktop on a 32-bit machine: Upgrades and security patches will still be made available, though with the caveat of a lack of testing on 32-bit hardware.
Canonical's shift away from offering a 32-bit desktop build of Ubuntu comes as the company seeks to focus its efforts on embedded and Internet of Things (IoT) projects where x86-32 is still very much a thing. 'i386 is becoming more of a purpose built architecture, similar to how in the past "embedded" devices label was applied. Today, I would call it an IoT; single purpose device; and a cloud/container guest architecture,' wrote Ledkov in his original proposal.