We’re going to go off the beaten path a little bit here and start with Joe Walsh — the musician, not the politician — of all people.
In his latest album, Joe proclaims he’s an “Analog Man.” He’s an analog man in a digital world, and that’s something to which I can clearly relate. Here’s why: Until yesterday, all of my non-Macintosh hardware in the “Jungle Room” — I call it a lab because it’s filled with hardware, though I really don’t do anything in this room that remotely resembles research-and-development — is of 32-bit vintage.
In comes a castoff ThinkPad T500 from a friend in Seattle and I’m now in the 64-bit club.
I get the advantages of the better/faster/stronger processor capacity, obviously: From Computers 101, say it with me, “The number of bits in a processor refers to the size of the data types that it handles as well as the size of its registry. A 64-bit processor is capable of storing 264 computational values, including memory addresses. This makes it capable of accessing over four billion times as much physical memory than a 32-bit processor.”
Yes, that will be on the final exam.
However, with the exception of the Mac which I rarely use — running Debian, thank you — the old desktop Dells are running at their maximum under the 32-bit threshold, and it’s been just fine that way. Even the Sun Ultra 10 — yep, Sun OS 5.9 (that’s Solaris 9, for those of you keeping score at home) — is still humming along as well.
You yawn while reaching for your cup of coffee, saying, “Hey, that’s great, Lar, but what does that have to do with anything?”
Glad you asked.
While it’s not really on anyone’s radar, and barely on mine, several communities are either openly discussing curtailing — some are already outright walking away from — a 32-bit version of their distro, opting instead to go 64-bit only. Understandably, more of today’s focus is on some of the more pressing issues of the FOSS day, like how systemd will end life as we know it while plunging the entire universe into its black hole of doom.
Hey, I know the drill: New users are going be using new hardware, and that’s going to be 64-bit. In order for Linux and FOSS to thrive, we have to stay current and be on the cutting edge. Keeping a 32-bit version around is a lot of work, taking valuable time and energy from moving forward.
That’s a debate for another time. Here’s why those who think 64-bit uber alles are being myopic. Putting aside for a moment that not everyone has the same resources to the newest hardware, there’s a lot of 32-bit capable hardware out there still running and still being used by people who may not be, for whatever reason, on the cutting edge of computerdom. I’m speaking not only of those of us in North American who, either by choice or forced by economic condition, to use older equipment. I’m also speaking of those in other countries who don’t have the same widely available resources as we do here in what we used to call the “first world.”
This is where distros like Debian — which, to its magnificent credit, seemingly makes so many versions of its distro that one will run on your electric toothbrush — gets it right. In addition, Fedora — which, Janus-like, is looking forward with ARM development while keeping a PowerPC version around that also benefits users of old Macs — is also on the right page. There are many others who are still doing the 32-bit/64-bit dance — and thank you for that — but there is an uncomfortably high number of distros which are walking away.
I have an appeal for the latter: Turn around.
So as I head out to work today at the ungodly hour of 5 in the morning to edit financial documents (I have to be at work while the stock market is stoking its machinery in New York), I’m packing the ThinkPad T500 and giving the ThinkPad T60 which has been with me constantly for the last 10 years a rest.
But I’m still at heart a 32-bit guy in a 64-bit world.