Bidding farewell to 32-bit computing

A number of recent events reminded me of how much time has passed since I started using Linux. Among these, the retirement of several 32-bit CPU architectures from the list of supported platforms on Debian and Ubuntu.

The first architecture to fall was m68k. Release Managers at Debian proposed to drop support for m68k after Sarge, which indeed happened: Etch was released earlier this month and, for the very first time in Debian history, without m68k support. Granted, a number of dedicated developers are working on porting the GNU toolchain to Coldfire (an embedded platform that supports about 80% of the m68k instruction set) and good chances are that they will succeed but, let's not fool ourselves: m68k is gone.

Around the same time, Ubuntu dropped support for PowerPC, just before releasing Feisty. Granted, there is still some PPC64 hardware being manufactured, but this is on the server side and thus getting farther away from the desktop market that constitutes Ubuntu's core business. Of course, given the plethora of 32-bit PPC hardware in circulation, in the form of second-hand Power Macs, the platform still has some lifespan left but, again, let's not fool ourselves: PowerPC is gone too.

And now, a message sent to Debian mailing lists suggested that, as of Linux kernel 2.6.21, support for 32-bit SPARC was broken and, due to an insufficient developer interest for maintaining the GNU toolchain, 32-bit SPARC was likely to be dropped for the Lenny release. Yup, we really cannot fool ourselves: support for 32-bit architectures really is gone.

Not surprisingly, my own computer collection has followed a similar trend: this morning, my beloved PA-RISC host left for the home of a happy computer hobbyist who had won the online auction on it. My Atari TT030 is likely to follow a similar route fairly soon. Ditto for the exotic Atari Stacy sitting besides it ...and let's not mention the huge stack of Pentium II and K6 desktop hardware sitting in the corner.

Looking back, I'm glad to have shared so many brilliant years with 32-bit hardware. The variety of CPU architectures and hardware designs was quite a learning experience. This being said, life goes on and my current needs are fully covered by my Linutop and by my aging ThinkPad.

Thank you for all those years, 32-bit computers. Enjoy a well-deserved rest in bit heaven.

1 kommentti:

joey kirjoitti...

A few words: arm. mips.

These are not going away any time soon. 32-bit computing will be quite alive and well, thank you, until there are 64 processors that are suitable for any kind of embedding.

(Same reason why 8-bit computing has not gone away either, but in fact still accounts for $LARGE_PERCENTAGE of all deployed systems.)

And if you think embedded isn't relevant to Debian / Linux, think again. A few other words: cell phones, routers :-)