back to article Debian preps ground to drop 32-bit x86 as separate edition

After a recent meetup in Cambridge, Debian developers are discussing how to start gradually dropping 32-bit x86 support. At the end of November, some of the Debian development team met at a mini-DebConf in Cambridge (not any of the Cambridges in Canada, Australasia, the Caribbean, the USA, or any of those other copycat …

  1. Rattus

    Good thing too

    About time this happens!

    The only people that 'should' be running processors that old are those running retro games / or possibly vintage applications, or a museum exhibit.

    If that is the case then it is almost impossible to run your 'classic' / retro game or application on the current release anyway - all of the support software is almost guaranteed to be missing because the underlying API and libraries have changed (i.e. sound, window manager etc). So the chances are this won't affect you anyway, because you will either be running an older OS in a VM on top of both a newer version of Debian and more modern hardware...

    Or you could be be running genuine vintage software on a genuine vintage machine (lets face it Debian released AMD64 support - i.e. machines with either AMD 64bit CPUs with AMD64 extension and all Intel CPUs with Intel 64 extension, and a common 64bit user space way back with the release of Debian 4.0 Etch in 2007)

    A machine of that age is likely to be a museum piece - in which case run it with equivalent age software (and if you must connect it to the internet then please, please, make sure there is a decent firewall between it and the rest of the world!), so again you probably shouldn't be trying to install the latest version of Debian on it...

    If you are still using a machine of that vintage for any other reason, chances are that you will do the environment a favour by replacing it with a more modern machine that will consume far less power to do the same job...


    1. Happy_Jack

      Re: Good thing too

      I guess you've never heard of embedded systems, then?

      1. containerizer

        Re: Good thing too

        I'm sure there are embedded projects crazy enough to (a) use an x86 and (b) use a Debian distro for their platform, but I'm going to guess they're probably few and far between!

        1. WaveSynthBeep

          Re: Good thing too

          The AMD Geode was 32 bit only and was sold until 2019. The Vortex86 chips are too and still on the market today. Don't underestimate the longevity of embedded products.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Good thing too

            "The AMD Geode was 32 bit only and was sold until 2019."

            Wow! I didn't know that was still around so recently! My last and most abiding memory of it was when it was used as a basis for a tiny WinXP PC and only just barely managed to run with enough oomph to be useful as a basic office desktop. Then MS released the first service pack for XP along with a load of extra bloat that killed the Geode microPC dead :-)

            1. Rattus

              Re: Good thing too

              And you missed point...

              Debian is not dropping i386 support, it just isn't going to be producing installers for it any more.

    2. bolangi

      Re: Good thing too

      > If you are still using a machine of that vintage for any other reason, chances are that you will do the environment a favour by replacing it with a more modern machine that will consume far less power to do the same job...

      Ah, no. Most of the power consumed by CPUs during their lifetime is spent in manufacture. The longer you keep running old devices, the more energy you save.

    3. WaveSynthBeep

      Re: Good thing too

      This will actually affect me. I have a tablet that I'm planning to fix to the 3d printer as a control panel, but since it's running a first generation Atom there's no 64 bit support. Perfectly good hardware, it's got one job to do and it'll do it just fine. No reason to upgrade, new hardware won't be the right form factor unless chosen very carefully, and will add nothing to the chosen application.

      1. Grogan Silver badge

        Re: Good thing too

        I still have an Atom netbook (that I haven't powered up in years because I'm not doing on-site service anymore) and I have a Xubuntu (xfce flavour) install with a custom built kernel (takes hours on that CPU but it does it lol!). It's the model with the 6 cell battery and 120 Gb hard drive. It'll be bloody old now, but I used it mostly for configuring networks. Quick pointy clicky network manager for switching networks and a browser for web interfaces and a terminal for SSH, telnet and tftp. That's all it needed to do. It could also serve to pass time at a coffee shop if needing to kill some between jobs. It's better than using a mobile browser anyway.

        I should revive that while I can still get a new 32 bit distro.

        1. Rattus

          Re: Good thing too

          and you can still use it with Debian.

          What you won't be able to do is install Debian 13 or later.

          You can install Debian 12 and then upgrade...

          but then you are not trying to run the latest application on it so no real need to install a newer OS is there

    4. Jrx1216

      Re: Good thing too

      I'd generally agree with you... I'm surprised that (before I got to it, anyway) your post had more downvotes than upvotes.

      I'm wondering if anyone downvoting this has a legitimate use-case for x86-32 in 2023/beyond that they'd be willing to enlighten me with? I'm not trying to poke fun or upset anyone, I'm genuinely curious what situations this is still useful for.

    5. demon driver

      Re: Good thing too

      Limiting choice hardly ever is a "good thing", and while we've learnt to expect nothing else from closed source, the support for a wide range of diverse and even odd hardware architectures is one of the more prominent aspects that drew me to open source and Linux to begin with. Back then, I never would have thought that major Linux distributions would phase out something as mainstream and recent as x86-32 support as early as, say, Ubuntu did, when there still are lots of 32-bit devices around that are perfectly capable of performing typical computing tasks. And there I'm not even thinking of my own remaining x86-32 device, an old Fujitsu-Siemens laptop that's running the last and long-outdated Ubuntu-based Linux Mint version that still came with 32-bit support, because that laptop already was a low-budget machine when I bought it new (although I even went as far as to install a PATA/IDE SSDs, potentially extending its usable life for a short while), rather of the fact that the largest parts of earth remain extremely poor. All of that said, I perfectly understand why distro maintainers might not want to keep x86-32 support up forever...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: ... my own remaining x86-32 device, an old Fujitsu-Siemens laptop

        Dammit, I refuse to be beaten on this ... I will now have to fire up my own old Fujitsu-Siemens laptop, which I had recently retired ... after about 20 years of running slackware (even upgraded to 15)


      2. ianbetteridge

        Re: Good thing too

        Sure, I agree. And it's open source. So you should maintain it.

  2. containerizer

    "x86-32" huh ?

    I can find no reference, anywhere, for the term x86-32. Did you guys just make it up ?

    The 32-bit variant is pretty much universally known as simply x86, or sometimes ia32.

    The 64-bit version has been variously branded amd64, intel 64, x86-64 or x64.

    There's also a thing called x32, which was an attempt to have a hybrid. It runs on amd64 but limits itself to 32-bit pointers.

    Introducing yet more nomenclature is not at all helpful.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      It's our gift to you this Xmas

      Yeah, there's x86-64 so x86-32 worked in our minds. It's not that much of a leap. Merry Christmas.


      1. containerizer

        Re: It's our gift to you this Xmas

        it's not the hard leap that's the problem, it's confusing people with newly invented terminology.

        Anyway, I'm off to get a life now. Happy Christmas.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: It's our gift to you this Xmas

          "Anyway, I'm off to get a life now. "

          I tried that once. It's not all it's cracked up to be. I sent it back for a full refund as not fit for purpose and misleading advertising :-)

          "Happy Christmas."

          Likewise :-)

  3. EvaQ

    Same as what Ubuntu did some time ago?

    ... "Ubuntu 20.04 does not support 32-bit. You will need a 64-bit computer to run Ubuntu 20.04. It supports running 32-bit apps on 64-bit system"

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Same as what Ubuntu did some time ago?

      [Author here]

      > Same as what Ubuntu did some time ago?

      No. Comparable but not the same.

      The announcement specifically mentions Ubuntu's approach, and says that Debian will not be doing the same thing.


      We're not planning to make i386 a partial architecture in the way Ubuntu has:

      arch:any will still contain i386 so everything builds by default.


  4. Will Godfrey Silver badge


    Still got one in working condition. I used to use it for work, my colleagues laughed at it... till one was with me working on a {cough} mature printing press and I pulled it out and with the aid of a serial/USB adapter was monitoring the telemetry. At the time there wasn't much other kit that could handle the high vibration and shock loads. Since retiring I just give it a run from time to time to keep the electrons 'fresh'.

    P.S. With those older presses half the time you were working in them rather than on them! When inside them you always made sure the supply fuses were in you pocket.

  5. Zack Mollusc

    New Shiny

    As a young TokTik influencer, I have no idea who Debian is or what a 32-bit x86 might be, but I applaud its dropping (or 'release for sale', as the old fogies might call it).

    I am hoping it is a new kind of tattoo, piercing or gender.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

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