The Future Of 32-bit Support

Tue, 7 Sep 2021

I've received some questions about the future of my 32-bit x86 kernel builds so I thought I'd answer by putting out something public.

The questions seems to stem from some GNU/Linux distros dropping support for these machines, citing a lack of popularity.

Popularity is not the deepest way to consider this issue though: It's important to consider what's good for our software freedom.

Looking at this through the lens of software freedom, there are some 32-bit x86 machines supported by libreboot. Those machines are out of production and will become harder and harder to find over time which, as I talked about in Evacuating The Titanic, is a big problem for our own sustainability.

As I talked about in that other article I continue to support exploring other options as well and that was my motivation for adding more architectures to my Linux-libre APT repository.

At the same time it doesn't make sense to drop support for some of our most well-supported hardware (well-supported from a software freedom point of view) just because it's old. That hardware will continue to function just fine for many years to come and, if we want people to use those systems for the sake of their freedom, then they need to be supported.

There's no way to know what's going to work out well for software freedom in the long term. It doesn't make sense to put all of our eggs in one basket. Indeed, there can be multiple efforts going on at the same time and, as one of those efforts, I have no plans to stop making 32-bit x86 kernel builds so as to continue supporting what we already have.